We’re all facing a new reality in the midst of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak: schools closed, businesses closed, and a whole lot of time spent at home. It’s hard for most adults to get their head around it let alone figure out how to talk to your kids about coronavirus.
“We are living in very difficult and strange times right now,” says Hillary Haarmann, a licensed clinical social worker and mom to a a daughter, 8, and son, 5. “Along with feeling so stressed, anxious, sad, confused and uncertain, we have to find a way to come together to support one another and be there for the people who need us.”
We asked for Haarmann’s advice as a therapist and mom for how to talk to your kids about coronavirus.
Take time for yourself
Like safety protocol on an airplane, it’s important to put on your own oxygen mask first. If you’re anxious and panicked about how you’ll handle working from home while juggling childcare and homeschooling for the foreseeable future (which is perfectly relatable), your kids will sense that unease. “We have to find a way to honor and respect our own feelings and give ourselves what we need so we can truly be there,” says Haarmann.
Have a drink with a friend over FaceTime, call your mom, meditate, prioritize your own sense of sanity and balance. “Once we can organize our own thoughts and feelings, we will be able to communicate in a calm and healthy way,” Haarmann says.
Keep a calm tone
“How you say something is just as important as what you say,” says Haarmann. Sticking to the facts with a reassuring voice will help you reduce any anxiety your kids might be feeling. “I recommend being short, sweet and to the point,” Haarmann says.
The age of your kids will obviously affect how much you’ll want to share about what’s going on in the world. But regardless of age, Haarmann advises being honest and meeting them wherever they’re at. “When your kids ask you why we can’t go on a play date, be honest with them. Let them know we are trying to protect one another by not exposing one another to possible germs,” she says, adding to emphasize the things you can control.
Here’s an example of what you might say: “I know you are concerned for the people who are sick, but they are being treated by a doctor. You also are concerned about if you get it or if someone you loves gets the disease. We can focus on what we can control. Let’s wash our hands throughout the day and make safe, smart choices. By protecting ourselves, we are protecting other people. Let’s send them healing and positive vibes.”
Point out the positives
Try to end the conversation on a promising note. “It might seem like a long time, but we can focus on the moment and what we can control—this will not be forever,” says Haarmann. In the meantime, we can schedule time to see our friends virtually, plan fun things at home, and enjoy the rare moment where we don’t have to be anywhere.
Depending on your kids’ age, you might also want to limit when you watch the news. “It’s a smart idea to be aware of what we are bringing into our homes,” says Haarmann. “I recommend limiting news, whether it’s through social media or TV—we want a safe, healthy environment for our kids.”
“It’s also important to let your child know that no matter what or when, they can always come to you for support or for answers,” says Haarmann. “You want them to be open and honest with you. Reassure them they are not alone in their thoughts and feelings—we are all together in this, supporting one another.”