If you are a parent or caregiver and wondering if you should talk to your children about the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), the answer is YES!
Children are observant and notice the cues of those around them. Even if we think they are not aware of the situation, chances are they heard something when we thought they were not listening. They definitely have noticed changes within your home. They have most likely overheard discussions at school, at home, on the TV, or through social media. Children can worry more if they think you are avoiding discussing a situation with them. It is important to talk to them about what is going on around the world and within your family system.
Consider a child's developmental level and temperament. To gauge their level of understanding, ask children what they have heard about the Coronavirus. This will help you know where to start and give you a chance to clarify misconceptions. Some children may require more explanation and reassurance. Conversation about hard things while children continue to play may be less stressful for them. It is normal for children to continue to play. Play is their job and how they cope. Make a space for them to ask questions as well, and know that this will probably be something you have to discuss and explain multiple times.
Let children know what to expect. Let them know you will be seeing less people and why. Be as reassuring as possible. Tell them scientists are learning new things about the virus daily and that you will have further information to share as you are updated.
Maintain a regular routine to the extent possible. Routines give children a sense of security and normalcy. Distance learning has turned many of our regular routines upside down. Consider the best new schedule for your family during this time. Involve your children in making a visual schedule or calendar reflecting the new routine. This will help children envision how things will go. Some children struggle with significant changes in their environment; give them time to adjust. Remember, life doesn't always go as planned. Be patient and flexible.
Empower children to help. Teach them proper handwashing. Practice with a song or do an activity to show how germs spread. Teach them not to touch their face and good coughing and sneezing habits. Find ways to make this fun and engaging. Let them know the steps you are taking within your home and how they can help with that.
Limit TV and social media. Set up boundaries for screen time. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present. Engage in more family time without screens.
Ultimately, this pandemic is giving parents an unprecedented gift of time with their children. It's an opportunity to have meaningful family conversations.