Supporting Our Children Through a Pandemic How to Talk to your kids about COVID-19 By Charity Hagains MA, LPC-S
The world we are raising our children in looks different today. COVID-19 changed that world for us, and at such a rapid pace our emotions struggle to keep up with it. Unfortunately, it’s not just us adults that it changed, our children are now living in a world that is different. Not just different from yesterday, but different from the one we were raised in. This makes it hard for us to chart the path forward for our kids. It’s complicated to know what to do, or how to proceed.
An environment of fear is taking hold, and it is complicated for us parents to keep that away from our children. We have suddenly become in charge of so much more of their world. Not only are we charged with their health and safety, we are now tasked with their education and emotional well being in the midst of a global pandemic. Everything from college funding to learning how to read and write has been placed at our feet, not to mention keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table. It’s a lot, too much really.
I can’t tell you how to chart that path, or what the future holds for us or them. Fortunately, I can help guide you on how to engage your children in a positive way, and protect them from some of the fallout that COVID-19 has created (at least emotionally).
Some of this you probably already know from past mass tragedies.
Don’t keep the news on all of the time
Don’t talk too openly about COVID-19 or your fears surrounding it.
Don’t let them get too involved in social media or the internet where COVID-19 is concerned.
This is how we treat most mass tragedies, right? We know to keep our kids away from the news stations, and limit discussing “adult” concerns with them. But this situation is different, because we need them to know things, to do things. There is little they can do to mitigate mass shootings or terrorist attacks. With the pandemic they can do things, and thus it is our responsibility to instruct them on doing so. Hand washing, social distancing, forced homeschooling… These are new norms for our children, and we can’t avoid the conversation about those. Here are a few ways to talk to our children without placing too much undo responsibility or fear upon them.
Talk about germs. Not in a “Coronavirus is a thing and you have to prevent it.” way, but in a “Germs are real, and right now is a time to prioritize healthy behaviors” kind of way.
This is just like the flu. As much as the media and health specialists don’t want us to think of this as a “more serious flu” season, our kids need to. It’s a frame of reference that they understand, and one that they are comfortable with. While it is important for us adults to understand the difference in these two situations (including the increased contagion but also the severity), it isn’t for our children. Children, especially younger children, need to be able to put this into terms their mind can understand and feel comfortable with.
Resilience We adults have much more experience with resilience. We have lived through seemingly impossible situations (9/11, World Wars, Mass Shootings, infectious diseases), but they haven’t. This is likely the first, or at least the closest to home hitting situation of their young lives. They don’t have the knowledge that things get crazy, but then they stabilize and return to normal. It’s important to share those experiences with them. Tell them about hard experiences you lived through and how they got better. Explain the process of fear that was relieved by stabilization. They need to hear this, especially our older children.
Disappointment I’ll write more on this in the coming days because this is going to be a big one for our children. Some kiddos are in kindergarten, and while they don’t really know what they are missing out on, they have a sense. Some of our kids are high school seniors and are facing the possibility of not experiencing senior prom, graduation ceremonies, or their final moment of competition on the field. This is BIG for them and we can’t undo that by saying “well you lived through a moment that will be written about in history books.” They don’t care, and I feel them on that. We can’t make this better for them, and it’s insulating to try. Let them be disappointed, listen to them rant, hold them when they cry, help them feel this. I don’t have words to make it better for them, and neither do you. I implore you to let them be sad, angry, disappointed, or bitter. It won’t last forever, but it’s important they get to express their feelings now.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of how to handle our current situation. Could anyone give us that? But I hope this hits the high points of how to talk with your children in this unique time in our history. There is more…so much more and so many of us will need the support of others during this. Counseling is a gift we can give, not only to ourselves, but to our children as well. Our therapists are ready to be that boost of support and unconditional regard during these difficult times. We are always here for input for your family and are honored to hold that place in your lives. We aren’t in this alone. We have one another.