How to talk to your kids about COVID-19

They’re going to ask, it’s unavoidable

Parenting columnist Joanne Kates is an expert educator in the areas of conflict mediation, self-esteem and anti-bullying, and she is the director of Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park.

When your kids ask about COVID-19, the only wrong answer is: “Don’t worry. We’re all going to be fine.” That’s a guaranteed credibility-buster. Bad for everybody, bad for your relationship. And your kids will worry more, not less, because they’ll get that you’re too scared to tell them the truth. Which then makes them more scared, and reduces your ability to teach and support them.

It’s also helpful to remember that they’re getting all kinds of info – accurate and inaccurate – on social media. Gone are the days when parents could control the message. This means that giving your kids accurate info will be helpful. This also means that depending on the child’s age, a very lightly rose-coloured filter of actual info is a good plan.

And then, the most important part is to talk to kids about the stuff they (and you) can control). For two reasons: One because we need them to do the right stuff, like hand-washing. And two, of utmost importance for their emotional well-being, when humans feel more in control, we are less anxious.

So teach them age-appropriate ways to protect themselves from contagion: hand-washing, social space…. And that their behaviour affects their friends and family.

And that they likely can protect themselves, cause kids don’t get that sick from it.

And then talk about fear. Because pretending they don’t have it is putting your head in the sand. Tell them about the coping strategies you’re using to calm down. I meditate and practice yoga. That helps. We have house rules about when we won’t talk about it, so we give fear some boundaries.

Then ask your kids what they usually do when they’re scared. Help them make a list of their coping strategies for scary situations, and remind them that coping strategies are very portable. And then – most important – take a deep breath, put on a smile, fake it till you make it, and model optimism for your kids. They need it from you now, more than ever.

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