As parents our natural instinct is to protect our children; shielding them from dangerous and frightening situations as much as possible. However, most experts in child psychology will agree that the best practice is actually to have active and engaged conversations with your children about what’s going on in the world around them.
As much as we try to protect them, kids absorb so much more than we even realize — so opening that dialogue and creating a safe, controlled space to talk through things can help them process what they’re seeing or hearing. The big question is: how do we do this?
What do we say to make them understand, to make it age appropriate, and to reassure rather than alarm?
In light of the pandemic that is causing havoc globally, we thought it would be helpful to compile a list of ideas for discussing COVID-10 with your children, to help them understand the current situation the world finds itself in. From school and nursery closures, self-isolation, constant hand-washing, endless news reports with scary facts and figures, plus parents that are feeling the strain and worry too, it’s likely your little ones have already picked up on more than you know.
If they’re already asking questions, we’ve got some tips for carrying on those conversations; and if they’re not yet inquiring, we have some ideas for how to bring it up in a safe, effective way.
12 things to try when talking to your kids about COVID-19
- Focus on simple facts: For small children especially, the idea of a killer virus is a terrifying thing to process, and it’s hard for them to think logically about. The truth is, it’s all so complex and there’s a lot we don’t know, but that’s why it’s all the more important to break it down into small, simple facts.
- Be aware of your body language: Kids will pick up more from your body language than from what you’re actually saying, so it’s best to start conversations when you feel in a relaxed state yourself. Other things to keep in mind are: maintaining eye contact with your child, smiling where possible, and supporting their feelings of security with physical touch while you’re chatting.
- Embrace physical contact: Speaking of physical touch, you may notice that right now your child wants more close contact with you, whether it’s during play time, while reading, or just sitting in your lap throughout the day. It’s really important for supporting their sense of security, so making time for extra cuddles is a good thing.
- Take things one-on-one: It can be really interesting to have a family-wide conversation and bring your kids together to chat, but it’s also important to give every child one-on-one time to process and talk through things. Take a quiet moment just the two of you to ask how they’re feeling, as giving them your complete attention can lead to them opening up a lot more.
- Let them take the lead: If you haven’t yet spoken to your child about the novel coronavirus, or they haven’t been asking questions it doesn’t mean that they don’t sense things aren’t normal. You can bring it up by acknowledging that things have been a bit different lately and ask them if they have any questions about it. Let them take the lead and follow on with support where it’s most needed.
- Keep it truthful: Speaking honestly about what’s happening is really important, as avoiding the truth can lead to more confusion and unexpressed emotions. For example, if they ask if people are dying from the virus then tell them yes people are, but not everyone who has is it is dying and many have recovered. Reassure them that hospitals and doctors are doing everything they can to make people better.
- Give them the why: For really little kids, it’s tough enough to enforce regular hand washing — but now it’s all the more important. Explaining why we have to stay in our houses more than usual, and why hand washing is so important can help them understand that these are all things that will help keep them and their family safe, hopefully helping those habits stick.
- Filter the news: At some point we all have to reduce our news exposure, because there is a fine line between staying informed and becoming completely overwhelmed. While it’s important to keep communication open with your children, be mindful of what’s on the television or radio when they are around. It’s incredible what they pick up from just listening to it.
- Do regular check-ins: In light of the above, it’s also important to regularly check in on what information your child has absorbed already. They may not have spoken about it yet and might be trying to process words or images they’ve seen, and that’s hard to do alone (even for adults!). Having regular check ins can help you alleviate any concerns that have popped up.
- Rely on routines: We’re sure you’re trying to maintain regular routines where possible, but we know that so much of our daily life has been vastly disrupted. Creating new routines where there are now gaps is so important to help support your child’s sense of safety, control, and independence — and it’s also important for regulating their body clock and keeping stress at bay.
- Celebrate health: Now is a great time to talk about the importance and value of a healthy body, and you can start building healthy habits together as a family. If your child is expressing worries that s/he will get sick too, reassure them that it is unlikely they will get seriously ill but if they ddi then you would look after them. Your child might also be worried that you’ll get sick so it’s important to let them know who would look after you in that case.
- Remember the power of playtime: If your child is having a hard time expressing their feelings or doesn’t seem ready to talk about it, don’t feel as though you need to force it. But even if they’re not talking about it doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it. This is where child play comes into the picture and can serve as a really powerful way for them to work through their feelings, so make time for play. Watching how they interact with their toys, or what they’re drawing, or what they talk about during playtime can give you really good insight into what’s going on in their mind — even if they can’t verbally express it — so you can give them the love and support they need to work through it.
Above all we want our children to understand what is going on while maintaining their sense of security and safety. Building their resilience is key and keeping communication flowing avoids confusion and worry that can impact even young children.
But we don’t want to ignore one really important person in this picture: you. We urge you to give yourself grace throughout all of this too; it is an unprecedented time and anxiety and worry can take its toll on us especially when we have children to look after. We know you’re also grappling with what’s going on and trying to make sense of it all, and we hope you have someone to talk through your feelings with as well.
If you’re looking for support from other moms we encourage you to join the Baby2Body Squad, our private Facebook Group, for a safe space to share your concerns and connect with others in a similar situation.