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How to Broach COVID-19 With Children

By Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA, NCC

Living in the midst of a pandemic, we are constantly being inundated with news reports, statistics, and real-life stories about the impact of COVID-19. With a so-called “second wave” of shutdowns, it is no surprise that our children are also starting to feel the effects of pandemic fatigue. Schools have been closed for months, play dates have become a distant memory, and feelings of fear, frustration, and anxiety are likely building if they have not already spilled over. Children, while resilient, are also incredibly vulnerable and still require encouragement, empathy, and support from those closest to them. Below, you will find a list to help you navigate the topic of coronavirus.

Offer reassurance

In times of uncertainty, children often look to their parents for support and encouragement. The constant influx of information pertaining to coronavirus can feel overwhelming and will likely bring about difficult emotions for adults and children alike; therefore, it is important to keep your own anxiety in check while also providing reassurance. Encourage them to talk openly about their thoughts and emotions, being careful not to dismiss their fears, and making sure to address any concerns that may arise. It is perfectly natural for anyone, especially children, to run the gamut of emotions during this time. 

Be prepared to be as honest as possible

With extensive media attention on COVID-19 coupled with such drastic changes in their daily routine, it is likely that your kids have already developed their own opinions or beliefs pertaining to the pandemic. Depending on their age and where they are getting their information, these beliefs might be causing some distress. While pretending that things are fine or making light of the situation might seem like the best option, honesty with age-appropriate boundaries is the best policy. Take time to familiarize yourself with the facts (the CDC website is a great resource here) so that you feel better prepared to address the topic. Do not feel like you have to have all of the answers, but being open with your kids can encourage them to be open with you in return. 

Talk to them in language that is developmentally appropriate 

Depending on how old your kids are, they may not understand some of the more common terminology or language being used to describe the virus. It is also not uncommon for younger children to have difficulty explaining what exactly they might be feeling because they have not yet developed the vocabulary. Using their language and breaking information down in a way that they can understand, either through stories, characters, or child-friendly language, can make the conversation more effective and help to clear up any confusion they might have.  

Draw from past experience and use examples

Drawing a parallel to past experiences can help kids better understand what exactly the coronavirus is and how it can impact the body. If you are talking to a younger child, you might consider saying something like, “Do you remember when mommy got sick and she had a runny nose and her body hurt? Well, the coronavirus is another type of sickness.” Using examples can help kids make important connections which in turn can make the virus seem less insurmountable.  

Teach habits that prevent the spread of germs 

Most parents already encourage hand washing and good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs, but these habits have become even more essential due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Taking the time to discuss the importance of proper handwashing techniques and even washing your hands alongside your children can help them stay healthy and keep others healthy. If you want to make handwashing a little more fun, you can play (or sing!) 20 seconds of a favorite song. Teaching kids to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing is also important in preventing the spread of the virus. Having them cough into their elbow, sleeve, or a tissue are all ways to lessen the dispersion of germs.

If you or someone you know is struggling with stress related to the pandemic, do not hesitate to reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling today. We can connect you with a counselor in Chicago who specializes in individual counseling, family therapy, and more.

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