Talking to Children About COVID-19 and School Closures
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
“When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.” -Fred Rogers
While the coronavirus (COVID-19) has created an unprecedented experience for our community, it has also presented a unique and challenging experience for our children. Having authentic and compassionate conversations with our children can help reduce feelings of anxiety and help them cope with the changes to their daily routine. In order to help facilitate this important step, we have a few tips for sharing information with the children in your life. MANAGE YOUR ANXIETY Children pick-up on adult verbal and non-verbal communication. In addition, children often base their reactions on the reactions of trusted adults (such as when they stumble and look at you before they cry). Therefore, if you’re not ready to have the conversation, take care of yourself and return to them as soon as you can. Most of all, avoid putting children in a position of feeling they need to help you with your own anxiety. ASK QUESTIONS & SHARE HONESTLY A great place to start is by asking children what they already know about the virus or if they have any questions about why school is closed. Consider their age when you share information and choose words that make sense to them. Be honest and factual, but you don’t have to share every detail that you know. Try to anchor the information with comforting assurances and actions they can take. For example, you can remind them that school is closed as a way to help slow the spread of germs, but that another great way they can help care for their family and friends is by washing their hands/not touching their faces/getting good rest. This will give them a sense of control. VALIDATE FEELINGS When you’re talking with a child, it is essential that you acknowledge and validate their feelings. You don’t have to agree with their feelings to acknowledge and validate them. Focus your communication on making sure they feel heard by and connected to you. For example, you can say “you sound worried, I can definitely understand that, is there something that would help you feel better right now?” KEEP TALKING Invite children to continue the conversation and ask you questions anytime they would like. Be prepared to repeat conversations and your answers. As a child processes their experience, they will continue to look to you for guidance and support. If they ask a question that you’re uncertain how to answer, it is absolutely appropriate to tell them you need time to think and will share with them soon. Approaching them with patience, understanding, and love will make an incredible difference in their ability to cope. OTHER TIPS
Help your child to keep a routine as much as possible.
Focus on emotional connection with you and other people in the home (such as, playing games, reading together, and doing something nice for someone else).
Monitor what they see and hear (on television, online, and in your own conversations).
Find ways they can help others (such as, video calls to those who are isolated, making thank you cards for doctors, or writing emails to friends and important adults).
SIGNS YOUR CHILD NEEDS ADDITIONAL SUPPORT If you notice signs that your child needs additional help, please contact a doctor or therapist. These signs may indicate your child is struggling to manage anxiety: changes in behavior, ongoing sleep challenges, intrusive thoughts or worries, recurring fears about illness, reluctance to leave parents, increased irritability, and changes in appetite. ONLINE RESOURCE If you would like more information this is a fantastic resource that provides age specific information: https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/fact-sheet/outbreak_factsheet_1.pdf