Authored by Laurie Belosa, MD
Reviewed by Brooks Booker, MD
During unfamiliar times, children rely on parents as their primary source of information, looking to them for guidance, comfort, and support. But how does a parent guide, comfort, and support their child through a time that is also unfamiliar and scary for them — such as the time we face right now with the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that the entire world is currently struggling to manage?
While we are deep into this crisis, it’s likely that many parents have already had some tough conversations with their children. But with no definite end in sight, now is not the time to stop talking. According to Summit Medical Group pediatric and adolescent medicine physician, Dr. Laurie Belosa, “As parents, we want to do everything in our power to shield our children from the worst things in life, but avoidance is not helpful.” In fact, as time goes on, conversations with your children are even more important and may become a little tougher. Dr. Belosa believes, “With the right techniques, a bit of preparation, and a whole lot of compassion, we can guide our little humans to a safer, calmer mindset.” In addition to modeling good behavior such as proper hygiene and physical distancing, talking to your children can relieve some of their anxiety and help them make sense of what they may be overhearing from friends, adult conversations, or on the radio or television.
Below, Dr. Belosa helps guide the child-adult conversation with six simple steps, so both you and your child can come out stronger on the other end!
Steps to Follow When Talking to Your Child About COVID-19
Step 1: Get your own fear(s) in check.
Children are quite intuitive and can sense our own anxiety. Whether it’s your tone of voice, expressions, or specific language, kids know when their parents are scared. Try to limit your discussions about COVID-19 with other adults while children are around, as well as limit media coverage about the virus. We need to be the best example for our children.
Step 2: Ask your children what they already know.
These days, children (even young ones) are bombarded with information on television, social media, and from peers. It is important to gather what facts your child already knows or thinks they know. Sitting down with them, preferably one on one, and asking “What do you know about coronavirus?” is a good place to start.
Step 3: Be straightforward and open to questions.
Don’t offer too much information as it can be overwhelming to children. Give basic facts and let your children ask whatever questions they might have, even if you can’t answer everything. Remember, even as an adult, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
Step 4: Be developmentally appropriate.
Be aware of your child’s age and what information they can digest. The younger the child, the simpler the conversation should be. For children under the age of five, less is more. Explain that there’s a virus and people are staying home to not get sick. Give them some concrete ideas such as, “To avoid getting sick, we wash our hands well and cough into our sleeves or a tissue.”
For older children, you can discuss how the virus is similar to the flu, but in some people – mainly the elderly or those who are already sick – it can be more severe. Avoid using words like panicked and worried. And again, continue to remind them of good hygiene tips.
Step 5: Be reassuring.
If your children ask if they are going to get sick, talk about how this rarely affects healthy children. Reassure them that you and your family are doing everything to keep safe.
Step 6: Make sure they know there is still fun to be had even in times like these.
You can talk to your children about different, special things that you can do because of this home time such as family game nights and puzzles. As Mary Poppins says, “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun.” So, while staying home may feel like a job (and in a way it is), families can make the most of it.
These conversations are challenging, but the sooner you have them the better. The more your children understand what’s going on in a developmentally appropriate manner, the less anxiety they will have. And remember to keep talking. Continued conversation and openness will keep the lines of communication open if other questions arise. This is an uncertain time for all of us, but by being open and honest with your children, you can give them the sense of security they need.
A Child’s Role
While open conversation is a great tool to use to help kids cope, it’s also important that children understand their role during this time. Explaining how they can help the situation will give them a healthy sense of pride and importance.
- Explain to them what social or physical distancing means – at least six feet apart when outside the home, no playdates, and no family functions or visiting. By adhering to this, they can help slow the spread.
- Explain the importance of staying connected virtually. Someone may need some extra love in their life and a quick call or video chat may do the trick. They can even color a picture to hang in the window or on the door to brighten the mail carrier’s day.
- Explain to them that mom and dad may be a bit more overwhelmed than usual due to changes in schedules, departure from routines, or home schooling. Working as a team and pitching in as a family to help with chores will keep everyone busy and ease some of the workload.
Telemedicine Options Now Available!
Our pediatric department providers are offering video visits for children and are happy to address any physical or mental health concerns virtually during this time.