You might be wondering if it is appropriate to talk with your child(ren) about the coronavirus. Some questions might include: are my children too young to learn about the coronavirus? Will I make my child more scared or worried if I talk with them about the virus? What if they ask me a question that I can’t answer? Am I ready to talk with them about the virus or am I feeling too anxious about it myself? These concerns are valid and shared by many. You know your child(ren)’s needs’ best and these tips are here to help you navigate a discussion with them about this topic:
1. Do Your Research: Before talking with your child about coronavirus and how it might be impacting your lives, it is important that you have the facts. There are many fear-based misconceptions about the virus – where it comes from, how it spreads and who is at risk. Here are some links which include facts about the virus:
2. Assess Yourself: It is important to reflect on your level of worry and anxiety before talking with your children. Pediatrician Dr. Dina Kulik states, “I think that parents should be role-models … and discuss it in a calm way.” If you think that you might feel and express panic while talking with your child about coronavirus, you might want to first take steps towards coping with your own worries/anxiety before beginning the conversation. This does not mean that you avoid showing emotions completely when discussing this topic with your child, in fact, they would benefit from you sharing your feelings and modeling appropriate coping, but becoming overwhelmed with your emotions and unable to help them cope with their feelings should be avoided if possible. Here is some information on managing feelings related to the virus:
- Coping With Uncertainty
- Coronavirus Anxiety: 4 Ways To Cope With Fear
- Coronavirus: Managing Stress and Anxiety
- Relaxation and Meditation Techniques
3. Listen and Stick to the Facts: Children hear about worrisome topics such as this in a variety of ways including from friends, overhearing information on the news, reading about it on social media, overhearing adults discuss the topic, etc. You might be wondering if your child even knows about the coronavirus, chances are they have heard about it and could be experiencing some worries and fears related to it (even those in lower elementary). They most likely need your help discerning fact from fiction/rumors and organizing their feelings about the situation. Here are some tips for the conversation itself:
- Find out what they know already – you can start by asking your child if they know why school has been closed this month. Assess their knowledge of the situation and any worries that they might have.
- Share the facts of the situation – they might have misconceptions about the situation based on what they have overheard – correct these misconceptions with facts. Most importantly, do not attempt to answer questions that don’t have an answer or make promises you can’t follow through on. It is okay to answer a question with “I don’t know” instead of creating an answer and to focus on what is within your control (see next point).
- Focus on what you and your child can control– help your child feel empowered in the situation by highlighting what they can control such as what they can do to stay healthy (prevention tips; prevention tip posters – bottom of page) and how they can stay informed (ongoing discussions with you). It is easy for children to feel a lack of control in their lives, especially during times of uncertainty such as this, thus creating more opportunities for control during this time can be helpful (ie ability to ask you questions, focusing on steps for keeping themselves healthy, smaller moments of exerting control such as choosing dinner or activity for the day).
- Validate their feelings – your child might be feeling many big emotions related to this situation including fear (safety) and confusion (related to health, school closures, etc). It is important to validate these feelings in order to help you child feel understood. Here are some resources on validating feelings:
4. More information on talking with children about Coronavirus:
- How To Talk To Kids About Coronavirus (Pediatric Psychologist Recommendations)
- Parents Guide to Addressing Children’s Anxieties About Coronavirus
5. If your child is too young to have a verbal discussion about their feelings/thoughts related to school closures and the coronavirus, it might be helpful to use other means of expression such as drawing, singing, acting, etc. You can ask your child to draw how they have been feeling and you can do the same with them. Any means of showing your child that you are interested in learning about how they are feeling can be helpful.
This is a situation full of many questions and uncertainties. Hopefully, these tips will be helpful in learning about the facts; coping with your own stress and anxiety around the unknowns and risks; and ongoing discussions with your child(ren) about the coronavirus.
Please reach out to your St. Paul Counselors if you have any additional questions related to this (find contact information below).
Catherine DiLeo – Elementary School Counselor
Liz De Franco – Secondary School Counselor