Parenting in a Pandemic: Discussing COVID-19 with Children
For many of us, anxiety tends to intensify when we are left to infer. As adults, I am sure most of us are acquainted with the fear associated with a lack of information. A teen that did not make curfew, waiting for a doctor to return with test results, or an employer that wants to have "a talk" with us. The anticipation can be overwhelming, and the uncertainty can lead our brains to arrive at the worst possible conclusion.
Children are no different! Some parents believe they should avoid discussing the pandemic with their children as an effort to minimize fear, but experts suggest that children feel safer when they know what to expect. As a parent, it is crucial to provide children with the awareness they need to manage fears that did not exist for them in the pre-pandemic world. As a trusted caregiver, your child needs you to help them navigate significant changes and any "big feelings" that may accompany them. Here are five tips that can help parents provide developmentally appropriate information about the pandemic to their children:
1).Be mindful about HOW you present information to your children
Before speaking to your child about COVID-19, take a moment to make sure you can present information calmly and reassuringly. If you are experiencing significant anxiety regarding the pandemic, try to address this before speaking to your kids. Children are keen observers. They pay attention to both what you say and how you say it. If your tone reflects fear, it could hinder your efforts to help your child feel safe.
2). Provide age-appropriate information
When discussing the pandemic, it is essential to give children the information they need to be safe and understand changes in routine. Children don’t need ALL the information; they need the information that is relevant to the way they conduct themselves in their daily lives.
They do not need access to the type of content an adult receives. Sharing information not developmentally appropriate can exacerbate feelings of fear/anxiety. For example, A six-year-old does not need information on the number of lives lost in this global pandemic. Sharing this tragic information may incite fear and create feelings of powerlessness. Practical information is more helpful to a six-year-old than large, abstract, or difficult to understand concepts.
A child this age could benefit from discussing the importance of enhanced hygiene practices, mask-wearing, and social distancing. Parents could also establish emotional safety by talking about changes in new work-from-home or school routines. If the child is missing friends or family, it might help to reframe this distance as an act of love or kindness.
3). Be mindful of the media they are exposed to in the home
Continuous coverage of the pandemic can be incredibly harmful to developing minds. To reduce exposure, turn off the news and do your best to limit discussion about fearful topics when your child is present. You can also help protect children by being conscious of the media they consume and ensuring that the content they view does not present stigmatizing or false information.
4). Let your children know they can communicate with you and that you are willing to listen.
Make yourself available for questions, concerns, or discussions. In a world that can feel very scary, children need to know that they can share their concerns and seek guidance on managing feelings of loss, overwhelm, or fear with a trusted adult.
This article has discussed ways to communicate about the pandemic with children, but what about children who struggle to communicate verbally? Children who struggle to connect through conversation may benefit from utilizing supplemental materials. Social stories, demonstration, repetition, and visual cues can be powerful tools to help reinforce expectations, teach hygiene, and enhance safety practices.
Parents, you have one of the most challenging jobs in one of the toughest times in recent history. You are learning how to adapt to this unprecedented challenge while simultaneously working to meet your children's social, emotional, and physical needs.
If you find that you are struggling, please do not hesitate to seek care for yourself by speaking to a Licensed Professional Counselor.