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Talking Covid with the kids



How to be informative without freaking them out

Talking Covid with the kids


Humans, especially children, are inquisitive by nature. In fact, encouraging your child to ask questions, and answering the ones you can, are among the most important parental duties. The unprecedented pandemic continues to bring up questions for al of us, and because adults are more likely to receive information before children, it falls to us to share, or not to share. Or to half-share. To help navigate this often-nerve-wracking terrain, the Child Mind Institute’s Rachel Ehmke offers some guidance.

She writes: “Many parents are wondering how to talk to children about the impacts of the virus in a way that will be reassuring and not make kids more worried than they already may be.”

Similarly, I have found myself in situations with kids ranging from preschoolers to teens. Of course some are more inquisitive than others, and all are wise to sugarcoating. For the most part, I’m a natural optimist, but the pandemic has put that trait to the test. Rather than a “glass half full” guy, I am more “look what a pretty glass I am lucky to have.”

One thing I definitely do falls in line with Ehmke’s number one recommendation: Welcome their questions. No matter silly or serious, Ehmke says, “Encourage them to ask and, whatever the question, try to take your child’s concerns seriously. Your goal is to help your children be heard and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.”

Also: Don’t avoid questions you can’t answer. Amen to this. I have found myself saying, “I don’t know,” or, more often, “We just don’t know yet” more than ever. Ehmke notes: “It’s tempting to want to reassure your child that things will be better soon, even when you aren’t sure yourself. But teaching children how to tolerate uncertainty is key to reducing anxiety and helping them build resilience.”

Set the tone. I now avoid news-junkie friends. I am not anti-news, but my friends who fixate on it and unload on me are the opposite of what I want to present to a child. There’s a way to do it without upping the already-existing drama. 

READ MORE: Helping children understand the pandemic

Be developmentally appropriate. As Ehmke notes: “It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.”

Take your cues from your child. Listen. Don’t prompt questions.

Deal with your own anxiety. Hello. In the words of child psychologist Janine Domingues, PhD: “When you’re feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to your kids about what’s happening with the coronavirus.”

Be reassuring. This can be a challenge, especially if you’re stressed out. But try. I have found making an effort to find positive things to point out – like the increasing numbers of people who’ve recovered from Covid – can lift everyone’s mood.

Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. Child psychologist Jamie Howard, PhD, notes, “Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe.”

Recent data suggesting that washing hands not only helps against Covid, but is slowing down other viruses like pertussis and influenza, can be helpful.

Finally, Ehmke advises us to keep talking. As if we could stop.



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