How to talk to your kids about the Coronavirus

In the past week, most of our lives have been completely turned upside down. Around the world, families are navigating through their ‘new normal’. Parents are trying to figure out how to home school their kids, work from home, AND stay sane (which may be the hardest of all) while the world around us spins to a stop.

Kids, even the little ones, are seeing, hearing and feeling all of the turmoil around them. But, how do you look your kiddo in the eye and explain WTF is going on when you don’t even know.

Uncertainty is hard. It’s hard for adults. It’s causing me insane amounts of anxiety. When will this end? How long will we have to quarantine for? Will this work? How will we know if it works? How do I tell my husband there will be NO baby making during this home confinement?

Not knowing is incredibly stressful…even for kids. It’s uber important to explain what’s happening in a way that makes sense, is honest and doesn’t cause fear or more anxiety in their already disrupted lives.

In our house, we are always honest with our kids. Or at least I try to be. When they ask a question about something uncomfortable, I try my best to answer in a matter of fact way that is appropriate. And 9 times out of 10, I take my cues from our incredible Preschool Director, Joanna Port. When I need to have any ‘iffy’ conversations with my kiddos, she’s my go-to. As a former school teacher, therapist , mother of 4 and director of one of the (in my admittedly biased opinion) best preschools in Los Angeles, she is a wealth of knowledge.

So when it came to talking to my kiddos about why their schools were closing, we weren’t leaving the house, and were stocking up on pasta and more elusive items like toilet paper, I turned to Joanna’s advice. And here is what she had to say:

“It’s important to talk to your kids about what is going on. They are hearing all sorts of different information from different sources and they are overhearing us talk about it all the time. They can also feel our anxiety even if we try to hide it. Talking about it will reduce everyone’s anxiety in your house. Furthermore, by opening it up to conversation you are sending a clear message to your children that you are open and safe to ask any question or talk about any concern with you. Be honest, clear and simple in your explanations. In your conversations with your children pause at moments and WAIT for their questions.

Their questions will give you an idea of what they know and what they want to know and what their little minds are ready for. The following is an idea, a jumping off point and a general start to a conversation that might be happening many times over the next few days or weeks or months. Edit, shorten if you can, and say it in your own words:

‘People around the world are getting a virus called Coronavirus. Have you herd people talking about it? This is a very new, extremely rare and unusual virus. It’s very, very contagious, which means people can get it easily. It’s also a new virus, there is no cure…yet. Some people are getting very sick and some people are not. A very small number of very, very old people have died. Doctors all over the world are looking for a cure for the virus and creating a test for it. Right now we have to be super careful so we don’t catch it. We have to wash our hands a lot, cough and sneeze in our elbows a lot and limit the number of places we go….Your school is closed because we are limiting time we spend with lots and lots of people. No one at your school or anyone we know has it but to be safe we are taking extra precautions like not going to school. This is to reduce the risk of getting the Coronavirus.'”

We talked to our kids right away and it went really well. They understand why their lives have been shifted and we are all working towards finding a groove in our new, hopefully temporary, normal.

Tonight my 3 year old was craving alone time with me, and so I told him we could have some special 1-on-1 time tomorrow. I asked him what he wanted to do, and he told me he wanted to go to Target. I gently told him we couldn’t go to Target because we are only supposed to go to stores if we really, really NEED something. He said what if we NEED something. I reassured him that if we needed food, or anything else we could go to the store and get it, or find a way to have it brought to us. It was clear he was anxious about having what we needed – probably from overhearing conversations about empty shelves and sold out items. It’s amazing how much these little ones hold inside without us ever knowing.

Talk to your kids. Even if you don’t have the answers. Tell them what’s going on. Tell them, I don’t know, if you don’t know. But give them the space to ask questions and talk about what’s going on…because while we feel like our lives are upended, it’s easy to overlook that theirs are too and that they are hearing, seeing and feeling every bit of anxiety we have right alongside us.

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