It’s important to invite kids to ask questions and give them age-appropriate answers. If we don’t, then kids and teens will fill in the blanks with something far scarier. (Resource guides from credible sources are listed below.)
For example, when I explained my brain surgery to a three-year-old Charles in 1999, I don’t think I gave him the opportunity to ask more questions. Even after I explained it, he thought once I came home, the wound would be open, the brain exposed, and family members would have to take turns putting towels on my head to prevent losing all my blood and getting it all over the place. I guess I forgot to talk about stitches and staples.
We have to remember our children have little context from which to draw similar experiences which means they fill in those blanks with fantasy. Explanations you offer need more step by step and they need reassurance that your family is doing everything possible which increases the chances that you will be safe.
One to two percent will die from the virus which means that 98-99 percent of those who get it will live
And we can explain to kids that the reason we are not having large gatherings is because it is more likely to spread fast in big groups which means that those who might need a hospital bed to save their life won’t get one because there are not enough. So we are all doing our part to slow down a fast spread.
Limit news broadcasts
It’s also important to note that the news shouldn’t be on TV or radio 24/7. After 9/11 many, including youth, were traumatized by the repeated images of the planes crashing into the twin towers on 24-hour news channels and further by scenes of people jumping from burning buildings.
Today’s news can easily scare and oversaturate us. You have more control over content for younger children but make sure to discuss topics with your teens, too. They might find a disturbing article and this is a perfect opportunity to ask if it’s a credible source and also allow them to express their fears without interruption and let them know you understand and you’ve had moments of anxiety yourself.
This would be where you’d interject coping strategies that have worked for you–breathing exercises, headspace apps, keeping yourself in the present, and so on. Then ask what strategies they might use to manage their anxiety. If we run around like an anxious hot mess, whispering in fear, they will pick up on that and their fears will escalate.
Kids need to feel some level of control
That means they can wash their hands more often and try to keep from touching their faces. Maybe they participate in cleaning surfaces in your home or volunteer in a way that is safe such as fostering a rescue pup since most shelters are closed.
The articles and video links below are curated from credible sources and I have to give source credit to Melissa McGinn, MSW, LCSW, and Lisa Wright, MSW, LCSW, RPT-S, CTP of Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) and the Richmond, VA TICN (Trauma-Informed Care Network).
Resources for Talking About the Coronavirus and Helping Children and Teens Cope
- Article: Helping Children and Teens Cope with Anxiety About COVID-19 from Seattle’s Children’s
- Video: Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus from the Child Mind Institute
- Article: How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus from PBS KIDS
- Comic: Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus from NPR
- Podcast: Dr. Robyn Silverman, How to Talk to Kids About Anything, How to talk about anxiety with Karen Young
- Article: COVID-19, School Cancellation, and Trauma from STARR Commonwealth
- Article: Understanding Coronavirus and How Germs Spread from BrainsOn! science podcast for kids
- Article: Helping Children Cope with Emergencies from the CDC
- Email tips: Sign up for daily tips on youth and the coronavirus at Child Mind Institute. (Their facebook page)