Talking to kids about the new reality during COVID-19
Navigating life during the COVID-19 pandemic can be difficult. Like everyone, children have questions and are facing their own struggles as they grapple with this new normal.
Adults may be unsure how to broach this topic with their children. These tips may help adults talk to their children about their new reality during the pandemic:
• Provide the (age-appropriate) facts. Younger children may picture the virus as a scary monster that can sneak through their window, says Dan Santangelo, LCPC with Linden Oaks Behavioral Health. Let them know it's a small germ and talk to them about catching their sneeze or cough in their elbow, keeping their hands clean and being careful not to touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
For older children, relate it to something they already know. For example, much like a cold or flu virus, COVID-19 can spread through the air when someone coughs, sneezes or talks. The distance germs travel can be up to 6 feet, according to research, which is how social distancing became a way to avoid contracting the virus.
Provide the facts (in an age-appropriate manner) and let them ask questions.
• Give them a role in the fight against the virus. "I find that kids want to help if you encourage them and let them know you need their help," says Santangelo. Let kids know that handwashing, wearing a mask when out in public, wiping down frequently-touched surfaces, and using their elbow to play catch with their sneezes and coughs all contribute to the fight against the virus.
• Pay attention to the messages you're sending and be honest. "Kids are radars," says Santangelo. "They feel us and they know (when something is wrong). They always do." Some adults may be dealing with a job loss or the loss of a loved one. Discussing these weightier topics with children can be tricky, but providing them with information about what's happening takes away the fear of the unknown, says Santangelo. Parents might also consider contacting a counselor to help their family deal with the situation.
• Reassure them that this is temporary and they are safe. It isn't yet known whether school will be open in the fall, but tell kids what is known so they understand what to expect in the short term. Let kids know that questions will be answered as soon as information is available.
• Stick to a schedule. It may look different than what they're used to, but parents should try to maintain some structure to the day where it matters most. Keep set wake and sleep times, eat meals together, schedule family game time, and encourage kids to stay active, such as going for walks, riding their bikes or shooting hoops in the driveway.
Keeping children in the loop with clear communication will help the whole family get through this pandemic together.
For updates on COVID-19, check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.