Tips for talking to your children about coronavirus

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By Vicki Hervitz and Melissa Lebowitz

As we continue to navigate our own emotions about coronavirus, it is imperative that we — the adults — remain thoughtful in how we talk about the coronavirus to or around our children. Our children view the world through a different lens than we do. Whereas our life experiences and knowledge will shape our view of the situation, our children will form their understanding of coronavirus directly from us.

While doing our part to prevent the spread of the virus, instead of exposing our children to our anxieties, we can see this as an opportunity to model calm, reassuring and appropriate behavior in sharing this important information with our children. We wish to share a few ideas to guide you during this difficult time.

Self-Care. Manage your own fears, stay calm and model appropriate coping. Children are always listening. Be mindful of what’s on TV and what you are sharing with others while your children are around. Too often that information may not be age or developmentally appropriate. If children overhear conversations about severe sickness and death, they could begin to worry about their own health and the health of their loved ones.

Starting the conversation. Start the conversation by assessing what your children already know. “Tell me what you know about coronavirus” or, if a child asks you a question, always respond with “What do you think?” This practice offers you a baseline of how much the child already knows and how they feel about it. This will be extremely helpful when framing your response. If they seem finished with the conversation, just move on. That is often a sign that they are not ready to process more information at that time.

Provide reassurance to your children. Reassure children of their own and their loved ones’ health and safety. Share that adults are here to help keep them healthy and take care of them if they are sick. It’s helpful for them to know that symptoms in children are milder and not much different than any other virus they might get. Creating and keeping a routine can bring comfort at a time that may feel unpredictable.

Honesty is the best policy, but be developmentally appropriate. Be honest but don’t over-communicate. For younger children, leave out the specifics and stay general. For older children, follow their lead and give what information they seem to be seeking or need.

For children who do not know about coronavirus. For younger children, there is no particular need to tell them about the coronavirus. But do discuss and practice proper hygiene against germs. For older children, who may hear about coronavirus via technology or from their friends, we advise providing education with accurate information and support.

For children who know about coronavirus. Ask them what they already know and clarify any misunderstandings. Reassure them of their own and their loved ones’ health and safety.

Encourage action. Teach them about social distancing; washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds; coughing and sneezing into elbow or tissue; and avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth.

Give their actions purpose. Frame the precautions they are taking, including the many changes to their daily routine (including not going to school) as an opportunity to teach them the importance of caring for themselves and others.

As we continue to pray for the medical and emotional health of all humankind during this crisis, we are all learning firsthand how truly connected we all are.

Vicki Hervitz is preschool guidance counselor and Melissa Lebowitz is preschool director at Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Community School in Baltimore.

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