I had been dreading this moment for the last month or so since pulling our son out of preschool.
“I miss my friends; I miss all of my friends and I miss Ms. Danielle and Ms. Julie.”
I mean, the first few days of “break” he would ask if he was going to school today, to which I’d just brush off with “not today, bud.” He would then follow up and ask if it was the weekend, and then I’d reply, “Well, kind of.”
This was at the very beginning; even before mandated closures where we had pulled him out of daycare just as a precaution while things were getting sorted out.
Since then, and as we’ve learned a whole lot more about what we were actually in for, the conversation has evolved. He’s just under 4-years-old, so it’s not the easiest thing to talk about in terms of doing so in a way that he understood yet didn’t lead to tears.
But, we've made adjustments, and have found a few good methods that benefit the whole family—with kids being accepting of and at ease with the situation, for the most part, and us parents being satisfied with our parental duties in keeping minds worry free.
How to talk to kids about Coronavirus
I know you know, but it’s always worth stating—what has worked for us may or may not work for you.
The variables that make up our lives greatly influence conversation success, meaning ages of your kids, how many kids you have, and a number of other factors can make some of these points more or less important.
With that, here are a few tips to help you talk with your children about living in this new, COVID-19 world.
1. Be honest (to the best of your abilities)
Kids are smart. Kids are perceptive. Kids ask why. For all of those reasons and more, it’s best to just be as honest as possible when it comes to talking about coronavirus, and about all that’s going on beyond your front door. (If you need some factual back up, the CDC provides plenty of it.)
Of course, “honest as possible” is the key phrasing here. Meaning, if I were to go into full detail with my 3-year-old, 90% would probably go over his head, 5% would terrify him, and the other 5% would probably be understood.
Which leads me to the next point...
2. Connect the dots to points kids are familiar with
Depending on age, some kids just still won’t fully grasp what you’re trying to explain to them. So, try and do so through terms and things they're familiar with.
As in, what does this mean for them and school, and what are their friends doing during this time. Or talking about why you can’t go to the store as often and as freely as you typically do, and when you do, how it’s now different than how you’ve gone before.
You’re basically re-painting the picture of the world they already know with the one we are experiencing now. Thus, just as important is to have another conversation when things return to normal, and not just cast kids back into a situation you just recently told them was full of sick people and potential dangers.
3. Let kids know it’s “not them” or their fault
One of the most heartbreaking things a parent can endure is witnessing their children feeling sad and guilty for something that isn't at all their fault. They know something is wrong, they don’t know why, so they assume they’re the reason. It’s rough.
So, go the extra step to reassure kids that your current situation and surrounding landscape is not a product of anything your child has done.
Going back to the point above, let them know it’s not just them and your family who are affected, but their friends, their teachers, their favorite TV shows characters if you have to, etc.; everyone is being impacted...and it’s nobody's fault, really, especially not theirs.
4. Find and embrace normalcy where you can
This is more about actions rather than actual dialogue and conversations about coronavirus, but it’s a good point to be mindful of because of the conversations it can spark.
If you’re suddenly and obsessively decontaminating surfaces, or wearing a mask in public, or keeping your distance, you can be sure questions are coming.
Beyond that, though, and to this specific point, try and find normalcy where you can. Let kids know that while a lot has changed, there is still very much that can go on as it always had, whether that’s the same indoor routine you follow on a daily basis, or the same outdoor time and games you engage typically engage in.
5. Encourage kids to talk to others
Probably not about coronavirus, specifically, but let kids know that one very big and normal thing they can continue doing is chatting with friends. Most of you have probably already gone this route, but FaceTime makes it so easy for kids to stay connected.
Plus, each conversation can spark an idea or something new to get excited about, as kids learn that friends on the other end are engaging in different indoor activities, or are learning to code online, etc.
Speaking of, believe it or not, kids can still make new friends while sheltering in place.
One way in which they can do so is through online learning, but specifically through those online learning tools or virtual courses with other students. We’ve heard consistent feedback along the lines of kids learning a lot and having a ton of fun, but also making new friends in our Virtual Tech Camps.
6. Check in, ask questions (and ask for questions)
Rarely is a topic a one chat and done experience.
Especially with something so big and impactful - and a topic that’s regularly changing - it’s crucial to hold regular check-ins, not only to make sure kids are feeling “OK” with the situation, but also to see if they have any new questions (because I can almost guarantee they will.)
7. Just be available
Less of a tip, and more a general guiding principle as we wrap up here.
Unknowns are scary. This whole situation might be the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your adult life.
So, just imagine what might be swimming around in the brains of your little ones.
Initiating a chat where you encourage kids to ask questions and let them know it’s OK - and normal - to feel uneasy is a great and valuable release; perhaps for the both of you.