Whenever kids hear about a pandemic like the Coronavirus, they are going to have questions. Lots of questions. Possibly a lot of fear as well. It is easy for us as parents to not be sure exactly what to say. We want to keep them safe, but we also want them to feel safe. We want to teach our children how to handle fear and uncertainty well.
Those good desires can turn into a lot of pressure for us as parents, and even tempt us to avoid talking with our kids about these uncomfortable issues altogether. After all, we do not want to make things worse!
But here is something key to remember — it is better to have hard conversations with our children than not to have them at all, even if we do it poorly. We may stutter or stumble or say something that we have to go back and rephrase, but even so we are teaching our kids the invaluable lesson that, in our family, it’s okay to discuss hard subjects – in this family, there is safety. In this family, we are here for each other when life is hard.
So it is okay to make a mistake in your conversation. Our children will still gain insight and trust through the conversations we have. With that being said, here are a few pointers for how to talk with our kids about tragedy.
Usually as parents we want to have all the answers to thoroughly explain any given situation. We tend to overdo it. A helpful rule of thumb is that shorter is better, because we want our kids’ attention to last through the whole conversation.
Keep it simple: “Earlier this week there was a virus that started to spread and make people sick all over America. It has been named the coronavirus. In order to protect ourselves and make sure you do not get sick, the people in charge of protecting us asked us all to stay home until people are well. Once people are well again, we will go back to normal life.” This may be all you need to say for this point.
For younger children you may need to explain how germs can be spread and make you sick, so we wash our hands and cover our mouths if we cough. These are ways of helping us stay safe.
When a pandemic happens it shows us our frailty. It makes us feel vulnerable and scared. Even when we are not sick, we feel the strong desire to stay in our homes and make 100 percent sure the same tragedy does not happen to us. Be safe, but also help your children maintain as much normalcy as possible. This is because children tend to grieve and express fear based on how much their life changes. Think from a child’s perspective of what changes they see:
This is a high level of change in anyone’s life, and your children will express that in different ways. One of the most common reactions is what is referred to as a fight-flight-freeze reflex.
Help your children understand these reactions like this image: “We all act different when we are scared. For some of us, we get angry. For others, we want to hide and disappear. For others, we don’t know what to feel. We freeze. Or maybe we feel confused or numb. Whatever you feel, it is okay and normal. You can always talk with Mom and Dad about what you’re feeling.” If your child is showing more of the fight or flight responses, here are some helpful steps on guiding your child through a meltdown.
We cannot live in fear. A good passage for kids to memorize about this is Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” Psalm 23 is also a wonderful source of comfort, pointing to our Good Shepherd during the dark times. If your child experiences fear frequently, it would be worthwhile to review our articles on anxiety and other emotions.
Lastly, pray with your children. Thank God for the safety he gives us every day, and pray for those that are hurting and grieving. Thank God for the doctors, nurses, and medical teams who help care for those who are sick. Pray for their families. Pray for those who feel scared, and for those who feel alone. And pray for your family to find ways to love others well during this time.
You’re not alone and we would love to join you as you take steps toward a stronger, healthier future.
I believe we all need a safe place to explore the issues that may be preventing us from experiencing a full and satisfying life. My greatest reward as a therapist is helping my clients examine ways to make the changes in their lives that will allow them to look forward to the future with hope. I am a bilingual (Spanish-English) LPC.
Our team will reach out to you soon!