How to talk to your child about COVID-19
March 20, 2020
Knowing how to speak to a child about real-world problems at the best of times can be tricky – and when it feels to like nothing is normal and you’re having a hard time managing your own anxiety, it can be even harder. Here are some guidelines for what you’re aiming for when you’re talking to your child about the coronavirus (COVID-19). You might have to change exactly what to say depending on their age, but your goals should stay the same.
Manage your own feelings:
It’s ok for you to be anxious about your life and your family – that’s normal. But when it comes to being the best support you can for your child, it’s important you remember that your kids are very observant and will ‘mirror’ your feelings. Be aware not only of the words you’re using, but also your tone of voice, facial expression and other non-verbal information you’re sending your child. If you don’t want them to be scared, they can’t think you’re scared either.
Validate their feelings:
Before trying to provide answers or calm their fears, it’s important for kids to know that you understand and care about their feelings. The best way to do this to provide validation. Tell them you understand that they might feel worried or scared because of what they might have heard, and that things are a bit different right now. It’s ok to be a little worried.
Show them that you are confident and know what to do:
More than what you say to your child, it’s important how you say it – you want to make sure they feel safe, supported and taken care of. You want your child to feel that you are in control and know what to do. You can tell them, “It’s ok to be a little worried, but the adults are working really hard to keep everyone safe.”
Reassure them that they’re safe:
Your kids might be worried about what all of this change means for them, and they may have questions like, “What’s going to happen?” or “Am I in danger?” Make sure they know that you will keep them safe and everyone is working together to stay healthy.
Make sure your children know that while COVID-19 is serious, but there’s no need to panic:
It’s tough to strike the right balance, and the exact conversation will depend on your child’s personality. You want your child to understand that the COVID-19 can be a serious illness, but if everyone does what they’re being asked to do, everything will be ok. Be careful about talking about it too much or providing too much detail in an attempt to you reassure your child – you may accidentally give them more things to worry about. Just follow their lead.
Be clear with your child about what they should do:
Your kids have jobs too! They need to know how and when to wash their hands, how to cover their mouths when they cough and to not touch their face. You want to be crystal clear about exactly what they should do, when they should do it and why. Not only will this help them know what their jobs are, but having a job also gives them a sense of control, reduces feelings of helplessness and provides something to focus on.
Maintain normalcy as much as possible:
It’s going to be challenging to keep children’s lives the same if they’re not going to school and they can’t visit their favourite places, but it’s important to maintain as much structure and routine as you can. Keep mealtime, bedtime and wakeup routines consistent, and try to incorporate academic or other expectations during times they would otherwise be at school. This helps children feel as though you have a plan, you are in control, and they know what to expect day-to-day.
Limit exposure to news and other sources of information that could generate anxiety:
Particularly for younger children, you should be the primary source of information about what is happening. Be careful about watching the news or having conversations with other adults around your children about COVID-19.
Provide the right amount of information:
Give your child just enough information for them to feel like they understand what is happening. Ensure that the information you are providing is fact-based and comes from reliable sources. It is easy to provide too little information in an attempt to protect them, or too much from a belief that knowledge is power.
Be available, open to questions and willing to talk about what is happening:
Information and feelings are changing day-to-day and moment-to-moment. Make sure your children know that you are always ready, willing and able to talk to them if they have questions or worries. Keep the lines of communication open!