Published Date: 03/16/20
As more and more school districts and states shut down public schools (between two and six weeks so far), children are directly being affected by the news of the coronavirus (COVID-19). For some children (and some adults) that may cause some anxiety. It’s critical that you have age-appropriate conversations with your children so they understand what’s going on and how they can contribute to keeping our population safe.
Here are some tips when discussing the coronavirus and school closures with your children.
Be in the right mindset
First, make sure you aren’t in an anxious state of mind when you start the conversation. It’s important to process your own worries first since children pick up on our cues and if we are in a state of panic, they will start to get worried as well. If your childcare provider or school is already closed, find out what your child knows about the closure or extended spring break. It’s likely that their teacher has already talked to them about the coronavirus. Assess what they know and get a sense of how they feel about it before adding more information.
Use age-appropriate language
When talking about the coronavirus to children, make sure to use age appropriate language. For little ones, you can explain that it’s like having a bad cold or the flu. There are lots of germs that can cause people to feel icky and the coronavirus is a virus caused by germs. By washing our hands more often and keeping our hands off our faces, we can help keep ourselves healthy.
Explain how to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Emphasize to your children that they are safe and remind them of the things they already do to stay healthy, like eating their favorite fruits and veggies and taking their vitamins. Create a list of things you all can do together to stay extra healthy, like coughing into elbows, enjoying a morning smoothie full of healthy fruits, not picking our noses, doing a foot tap instead of high five, or coming up with a fun song when washing hands. Keep the conversation casual and light. Don’t talk about germs so much that you cause them to fear germs or getting sick. Washing our hands and staying healthy are things that we should always be doing anyway so we shouldn’t turn them into a big deal as if it’s a new thing we suddenly have to do.
Don’t dismiss fears - reinforce that children are safe
You don’t want to dismiss your child’s fears but help them to feel secure knowing that schools are closing so that staff can make sure to clean the school thoroughly before letting students return. Assure them that by letting kids take extra time away from crowded classrooms, we can help protect those in our community who aren’t as strong. Let them know that kids usually don’t get this virus and that most people who get sick will get better quickly thanks to wonderful doctors and we are helping by staying home and avoiding crowded places for a while. Talking casually about avoiding really crowded places can help when little ones ask to go to indoor playgrounds, the library, or children’s museums.
Focus on the positive
Make sure to hug your kids and let them know you are excited to spend more time with them and remind them about the perks to getting some extra time off so that they don’t feel nervous about the change in their routine. You can also set some fun goals together to accomplish on their extended spring break: reading X number of books, trying new recipes, starting a garden, putting on an art exhibit, or re-organizing their playroom and perhaps adding in a reading nook.
If your child’s not interested
If your child loses interest in the conversation, let it go and remind them that they can talk to you if they have any questions. By keeping them in the loop and enjoying your extra time with them, you can help them feel safe and at ease. It’s easier said than done but try to practice some self-care to keep your stress level in check as well. Staying hydrated, light stretches before bed and when waking up, neighborhood walks, and enjoying a cup of hot coffee (or lemon water) before the kids get up are easy ways to give yourself the love you need as we all cope with today’s challenges.
The Bottom Line
All parents are in uncharted territory in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Ultimately you know your child best and you need to find the right balance of giving enough information so they understand what’s going on while not inducing anxiety and fear.
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