As adults, our imaginations can run wild when we don’t have all the facts. Now imagine a 4-year-old without a full story, they will have no trouble filling in the rest. That is why it is so important to talk with our children about this pandemic; they need factual information that they can understand.
Children pick up on their caregivers’ emotions. When talking with your child about the coronavirus, it is essential to use a calm, reassuring voice. If you are anxious when speaking with them, they will pick up the signal that this is something to be anxious about, and that likely will end up spiraling out of proportion for our little ones.
As you share information with your child about what is going on with the coronavirus right now, be sure to follow your child’s lead. As the Child Mind Institute of New York puts it in their article Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus, “Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions.”
Ask your child what they already know. They likely have picked up bits and pieces of information from their surroundings and are piecing together their understanding of what is going on. Take this as an opportunity to correct any misinformation they might have.
Ask your child if they have any questions, and answer them truthfully. If you don’t know the answer or are feeling unsure of the validity of your information, tell your child that and then do some research to get accurate information to answer their question.
If your child asks you what it feels like to get the coronavirus, you can say, “Remember when you were sick with a cold/the flu? That’s what it feels like for a lot of people. Some people might also be coughing.” You can tell them how some people might have the virus but not feel sick at all while others end up feeling very ill. Reassure them that either way, the vast majority of people who get ill end up feeling better after a couple of weeks.
Your child might ask if they are going to get the virus. You can tell them that it is very, very rare for kids to get the virus and have serious symptoms. Explain that a lot of the safety precautions they are partaking in are to protect other, more at-risk people from getting the virus.
If your child asks how people get the virus, you might say, “The virus is a very, very small germ that we cannot see. It enters the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth, and it spreads by traveling from the lungs of someone who is sick with the virus coughing or sneezing it out of their body onto other things. When someone else touches one of those things, they might get the germ on their hand and if they then rub their eye, or touch their nose, they might let the virus enter their body.”
It is okay not to know the answers. You can always do some research and let them know you will get back to them with the answer soon! Be sure that the information you share with your child comes from reliable sources like the World Health Organization (WHO) or the US Center for Disease Control (CDC). There is so much misinformation circulating the media right now, and we all need to do our part to fact check ourselves when we share information, even with young children.
If you feel yourself becoming anxious at any point in the conversation, take a step back and try to calm yourself down before returning to engage with your child. It is essential that you feel calm as your child looks to you on how they should be feeling in response to this situation.
Check in with your child about how they are feeling throughout the conversation. As you speak with them, ask them how they are feeling. You can offer up emotions like “worried,” “sad,” “mad” if they are having trouble verbalizing their feelings, or use colors and numbers to help them communicate how they are feeling. Let them know that it is okay and normal to feel the way they do. Remind them that feelings come and go and change all the time and that these feelings will too.
Try to create a routine for you and your child at home. Unstructured time and a lack of routine can be hard for young kids, especially when it is coupled with the potential anxiety of what is going on right now. To help create a feeling of normalcy through these very abnormal times, create (and try to follow) a schedule for your child’s time at home, including wake up, bedtime, and meals. We have extensive weekly plans for continuing your child’s learning outside of the classroom posted at brooksfieldschool.org/covid-19.
Talk about the things your child can be doing to stay healthy and keep those around them safe. It is good to focus on what your child can control in this situation, like washing their hands and getting good sleep! Teach them proper handwashing technique with soap and warm water, scrubbing all parts of their hands, fingers, fingertips, and wrists for 20 seconds and have them do it frequently. Be a good role model of this behavior by washing your hands often and properly.
Explain that keeping a distance between themselves and people who do not live with them makes it harder for the germs to get from one person to another, protecting all parties involved. You can tell them how soap with warm water for your hands and disinfectant for household items and surfaces kill the virus, so disinfecting things in the house daily is essential. Ask them to help you identify things in the home that need disinfecting and have them keep track of making sure things get wiped down every day.
Discuss what is going on right now to keep people safe. Your child might feel reassured to know that there are scientists all over the world working around the clock to develop medicine to help people who are sick as well as a vaccine to help healthy people not get the virus. You can share with them that there are doctors and nurses who are taking care of the people who get sick and helping them get better. You can explain what is happening in public places to reduce the spread of the virus, like people wearing masks; keeping 6 feet apart; and not going to work, restaurants, or school.
Let your child know that you will always be available to talk, and the conversation does not need to end here. It is crucial that your child feels comfortable coming to you in the future with new questions or talking about how they are feeling.
It is so important to talk with your child about what is going on in the world right now. This might feel like a scary time, but the conversation with your child does not need to be a scary one. You might end up having several conversations with your child. It does not need to fit into one. You know your kid best; you’ve got this!