We are all at home and news of the coronavirus COVID-19 is everywhere: the tv, newspapers, and conversations. We are all learning how to handle this situation off the cuff when it comes to our little ones. Many parents are wondering how to bring up the topic with their little ones, let alone explain it to them in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids worry more than they may already be.
A lot of our parents have little ones that are still so young, that they won’t understand the concepts that are being talked about. They learn about germs, how they spread and get others sick, and how important it is to wash your hands and sneeze into your elbow. But for our parents with kids in preschool and kindergarten, we want to help them to understand what is going on around them in a way that provides them comfort and not more fear.
The disruptions, fears, and anxiety that adults are feeling affect our kids, even those that are too young to understand. They may not understand what is going on, but they do feel and understand the emotions involved. This is why parents need to understand that they are the primary mediators for their children and how they will understand this new experience.
It goes without saying that children should not be inundated with constant updates about the virus itself. The barrage of news and tones that are used can send a repeated rush of terror through young minds and have negative consequences. Researchers have found that after incredibly tragic situations, like the Boston Marathon Bombing, children that were exposed to a large amount of coverage were more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder. This is not to say that parents were putting the news on for their children to watch, but most had the news on and their children were around, soaking up the content.
That means that as parents, while we need to stay informed and responsible as the situation progresses, we should also limit our own intake. This is an incredibly emotionally and physically draining time for us as parents, and that will trickle down to our children.
So what can I do to help my child understand what is going on?
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.” – Mr. Rogers
The best way to comfort your children during this time is to explain to them as best as you can in a way that reassures them. Ask them what they have heard, what questions, concerns, or fears they have. They will most likely have plenty of “I heard…” type of statements.
Share age-appropriate facts and correct misinformation
Kids do not understand complex concepts yet – keep it simple. Explain to them that similar to the flu or a cold, sometimes you get a fever and a cough. Many people who catch this sickness will stay home, get rest, and get all better. And we have amazing doctors and nurses who can help people when they need it. There is no need to strike fear into your children.
Reassure them that they are safe, which is incredibly important coming from a parent.
Our children take all of our emotional cues from our tones and expressions. While you don’t want to make the situation seem like it is not important, you do want to assure your children that right now, for them, there is no need to worry. There are a lot of amazing doctors, scientists, nurses, and other grown-ups that are working hard to keep people healthy. You can also steer this topic into the fact that we luckily know a lot about staying healthy and how we can best protect ourselves, which leads directly into…
Go over again what you can do as a family to stay safe from germs
Explain to your children that what we are currently doing to stay safe from germs is something that we should always do, regardless of the type of germs. Kids, just like adults, feel most stressed when they feel helpless. Luckily, we can take this time to go over our hygiene routines that help slow down the spread of germs and diseases. Washing hands, sneezing into our elbow, keeping our hands away from our faces. These are all practices that will help keep us healthy and are our best course of action to preventing the spread of germs and disease. Let them know that they are armed with the best defenses possible, which will help empower them and reduce stress and worry.
Reiterate the four ways that you can help keep health and prevent the spread of germs:
- Wash your hands
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow
- Make sure to get plenty of rest
- Get exercise and eat healthy food
We are all learning how to cope with this as we go, and it is a stressful time for everybody. Nobody is perfect and we sometimes lose sight of how times like this affect our children. The main thing to remember is that we are the filter by which our children view and judge the world. Our actions, reactions, emotions, and words carry such an impressive amount of weight to our children. It is our job to help them to understand the basics of what is going on in the world around them without exposing them to more worrisome parts of this pandemic.
We hope everybody stays safe, and we look forward to seeing everybody again soon!