Coronavirus: Even if you aren’t stockpiling toilet paper and living in fear of physical infection, your day-to-day life is definitely not immune, and your kid’s sensitive psyche is a sponge that wants to know, well, why sponges are suddenly unsanitary.
By now, it doesn’t matter much where you live--there’s a high likelihood that your hood has been hit with pandemic pandemonium. So, if school has been suspended and petri-dish playgrounds are off-limits, how can you and your kids cope for the next few weeks? The first step is to cut through the confusion with a straightforward conversation…but we can collectively admit it’s not that simple. Luckily, we chatted with child psychologist Dr. Bethany Cook for a few tips on how to have the convo in way that’s honest, calming and downright parental.
1. Establish Safety
Let’s offer a scenario: “Mom, I want to go to that indoor play palace with the once pastel-colored ball pit!” Now, your instinct might be to follow up with a lie like “Nah, your brother has to nap,” or “don’t you want to be my dinner-making buddy?” But the experts agree it’s best to approach your answer honestly. Still, it’s important to start from a place of calm. “The first thing to do,” says Cook, “is to sit [your children] down, look at them, and tell them they are safe.” Indeed, the vast majority of children are safe; if your child is immunocompromised or in a high-risk category, your conversation will be slightly different, says Cook, but the concept is the same across the board: reduce the scare-factor as much as possible.
2. Cut Through the Confusion
Great, so you covered the basic personal safety issue, and now your kid is probably wondering why everyone is acting so weird about something not scary. Now’s the time for a more detailed, nuanced explanation, namely an age-appropriate understanding of the science behind viruses, and a general sense of how science itself works. According to Cook, “the panic that [our kids] are seeing is because we don’t understand the virus yet” and that’s important information to provide because it’s also the rationale for the public response. Basically, communicate to your kids that even the scientists are still learning about Coronavirus and society is responding by being extra careful. The language you use will depend on the age of your child, but even the youngest have probably heard you talk about being careful before--and these changes are just a big scale version of that.
You can also mention the community effort of pulling together to avoid infection (everyday superheroes!), and you should definitely make the science talk interesting. In fact Cook recommends that parents actually do a fun, little experiment at home—say, making mold on bread—to show how bacteria can spread. (And since you’re homeschooling now, there’s your first lesson plan!)
3. Address the Frustration
All the context in the world still might not make your child any happier about the changes to her life, so it’s up to you to shift the message away from We are doing our duty and have to deal with it, to Isn’t this fun?! Cook wants parents to keep in mind that “kids are all about adventure...and this is a new adventure.” She recommends driving this home with a look through the history books at other big events—and how people have come together in the past in times of hardship.
Bottom line: your kids are smarter than you think, but they also feed off your energy. So, when you sit down to talk to them, just keep it cool and keep it real.