Are you talking to your kids about Covid-19? If not, you should be.
The purpose of this document is to provide you with some simple tools to communicate with your children in a healthy way about this global pandemic.
In the midst of a crisis, children are often pushed to the back burner when it comes to communication. However, in this current crisis, their lives have been completely turned upside-down with the closure of public schools, the limiting of social engagement, and cancelling of events that they were looking forward to. And now you might be wrestling with the question of how to talk about the reality of the situation without instilling fear in your children?
Recognize that different age demographics will have varying comprehension levels and, as parents or caregivers, you are the authority on what is appropriate for your kids. In the midst of crisis, even adults struggle to put emotions into words in a healthy manner. Kids can have a tougher time, usually because they often lack some of the vocabulary and emotional understanding to tell anyone how they feel.
Often this inability to communicate comes out in actions.
You may notice:
- Acting out: This misbehavior can be simply a cry for attention. A child may have emotions that they do not know how to name and getting any attention, even negative attention, can create an easing of those emotions.
- Expression of physical discomfort: Your child may say something like “my tummy hurts” with no other sign of illness. Stress imbalances chemicals in our bodies, and often that can lead to abdominal discomfort or other physical symptoms.
- desire to be held more than usual. This can put a damper on ‘work from home’ production, but may be your child trying to seek solace in things they find stable in what might feel like an otherwise chaotic environment.
- Abnormal emotional outbursts: You may have a normally even-keel kiddo that is suddenly crying at the drop of a hat or who experiences a swing from euphoric laughter to sobbing. These are likely the honest responses to how the child is feeling in that given moment. (I often wonder if adults would not act the same way if we weren’t so good at hiding how we feel.)
Please know, these are normal reactions to abnormal, stressful events. We advise against punishment as a means to control this kind of behavior in a time such as this. If you notice these, or other out of the ordinary behaviors in your children, it may be time to have a conversation about how and why they are feeling the way they do.
- Don’t be afraid to talk with your kids: Like all of us, they fear most what they do not understand.
“Most children will have already heard about the virus or seen people wearing face masks, so parents shouldn’t avoid talking about it. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone.” (taken from: https://childmind.org/article/talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus/)
Colossians 4:6 “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person”
- Prepare yourself. We often talk about putting your own oxygen mask on before you help someone else.
- Deal with your own anxiety first. If you are feeling especially fearful, that is not the time to have a conversation with your child. Children can easily read emotion and can often mirror that emotion subconsciously.
- Do not put the burden of meeting your emotional needs on your child.
- Be ready to extend grace to your kids.
- Be Present. Conversations with your kids are not about answering all of their questions. Be developmentally appropriate with what you do share, but take the time to be with your child. They need to know that they are not alone and that someone sees them. Your presence with them is a reflection of your heavenly Father’s greatest gift when He said “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5, NIV)
- Don’t prompt questions: Open a dialogue with your child. Encourage them to openly share what they have heard, any questions they may have, and how they feel, but don’t put words in their mouth. Take your cues for questions from your child, and try not to encourage frightening fantasies. (taken from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-resilience/202003/how-talk-your-kids-about-covid-19)
- Be honest. You do not want to instill fear in your children, but the fact is that most of them probably have a measure of it anyway; they just have limited ways to communicate that fear. While you need to use discretion in how detailed you get with your child, you will need to honestly recognize the reality of the situation and the resulting emotional responses. You have an opportunity to show the gospel to your kids, and the gospel is always honest. Tell your kids how you feel and what you do to cope with it. They need to see that adults have the same feelings that they do and that there are healthy ways to handle these emotions.
- Focus on the positive: This is not a falsely positive attitude that ignores or minimizes the situation.
This is a re-directing of the conversation from what can feel like a fearful reality to:
- What you are doing to stay safe.
- How you are helping others to get what they need.
- How you are seeing God work in this situation.
- Continue the conversation:This is not a once and done interaction. Emotions will ebb and flow. Children will pick up on the tension as it comes and goes in your house. You may need to revisit things that you have already talked through over and again for continued reassurance.
Limit your kids’ media exposure. It may be helpful for you to have the latest news on the situation, but that same news feed that you have running in the living room may be creating anxiety and possibly fear in your children. Be attuned to what you are talking with other adults about while kids are around. Children pick up a lot more than we usually give them credit for and we want them to pick up the hopeful positive communication more than fearful rhetoric.
Be the example. Jesus told us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Do your children see this? Are you turning to God for your comfort? Are you showing them how to do the same? Do your kids see you reaching out or isolating; sharing or hoarding; giving or taking? Covid 19 has given us the opportunity to show the gospel to our children literally in real time minute by minute. What are your kids seeing in you?
Finally, give yourself an abundance of grace. You won’t be a perfect parent, but you are exactly what your child needs in this situation. Relieve yourself of any pressure to be the perfect homeschool teacher, the rock star guardian, and the greatest playmate all while maintaining impeccable emotional control. The current situation is traumatic for all involved, and it’s not on you to fix it. If some days end with the kids fed and wounds bandaged, call it a win and thank the Lord. Lean heavily on Jesus. His load is easy and His burden is light. He can help pick up yours.