How to Talk to Your Kids about Covid-19 and Social Distancing
Parents, we are in uncharted waters here. I don’t know about you, but I’m hiding from my kids in the pantry reading headlines that fill my mind and heart with the unknown. Our daily lives are shifting into new realities, and as we figure out our new normal, it’s time to sit down and think about how we help our children understand social distancing and the implications of the Coronavirus. It’s been hard enough for us to wrap our own heads around it, and now we need to convey these serious times to our kids. How!?
I’m here to help. I’m your friendly neighborhood elementary teacher and mother of young kids. I’ve also devoted my education career to getting involved in Social Emotional Learning, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support, and bringing restorative practices into my classroom. All of these professional development opportunities have helped me fill my toolbox with some great strategies about talking to kids in a way where we can be informative and set up healthy practices for dealing with strong emotions.
So, how do I talk to my kids about all of this scary, serious stuff? I’ll share 6 steps to get you through this tough conversation. You might even find it helps get you through others, as well.
Step one: Set the tone for your conversation. You should consider where and when your conversation takes place. Teen boys do better sitting side-by-side. Maybe take a drive? Maybe cuddle up together before story time to talk. Either way, you want to set a serious but calm tone for your kids. This will show your kids that you are their reliable source for serious information. If you bring a lot of emotion into the room, your kid will focus more on that than the information and reassurance that you are their pillar of support.
Step two: Explain the main points. You don’t have to get into the nitty gritty just yet. Keep this main part a general overview. Make sure that it is neutral in tone, calm, and information-based. This is not the time to bring up politics, belief systems, or an evaluation of the situation. Be honest though. I’ve heard a few parents telling their children things like, “You’ve just been doing so great, we get a break from school.” Think about the long-term message this sends to your kid. The way I said it to my almost 5 and 8-year-old kids was something like, “I want you to know about a serious virus called Coronovirus, that is making people sick all over the world. It is spreading quickly and people are trying to stop it by staying away from other people. This will help keep everyone healthy. Most people who contract it are sick for a little while, like the flu, but elderly people and people that already have other diseases are in
more danger of having worse health problems because of it.”
Step three: Describe, generally, what they can expect in their environment. Again, not the time to insert your feelings, frustrations with the person at the grocery store, or evaluations of how this situation is unfolding. Just let them know how this pandemic will affect them at this point in time. For example,
“You might notice that schools are closing for a while, grocery stores have long lines, and you aren’t able to have playdates with your friends.” As with any crisis, we all want to know how we fit into the equation. Kids are no different, and they feel more safe and secure when they know exactly what to expect. I have found that most kids adapt pretty quickly once they know how their little world is affected by the changes in their lives.
Step four: Be intentional and explicit about this one. Tell your child that you are now going to give them some time to think about all of this and when you come back together, they can share their thoughts, feelings, and questions. You might consider even leaving the room, picking the conversation back up the next day, or setting a specific time to reconvene. If your child is in tears, of course, spend this time loving on them. Let them have time to process though. Navigating our emotions and processing is such an important step for all of us when we have unexpected events happen in our lives. Give intentional processing time.
Pat yourself on the back. That was hard—walking away from the situation temporarily. We, care-givers, often want to quickly put a bandage on things for our kids. However, when we teach our children to process their feelings before we smother them with a “mama-can-fix-it” mentality, we give them tools that will help them be much healthier humans in the long run!
Step five: Reconvene and acknowledge those feelings. Start up the conversation again. Try, “Okay, I’ve given you some time to think about all of this, what are your feelings about this situation?” Then let them talk. Do not insert your own feelings here. I know that as caring parents, we often tell our kids things like, “I know I’m feeling ___ about this, so it would be normal for you to also.” Don’t. Let them have a voice that is free of yours so that they can truly be vulnerable to you. Then, acknowledge their feelings by saying something along the lines of, “I can understand why you would be feeling ___.” You will gain so much trust in your child by acknowleding their feelings free of your own. We all just want to be heard, right? A note to include about feelings: they change and are complicated. You might add that it is okay to have multiple feelings at once. They might also be feeling fine one minute, and then process things further, and have new feelings develop. Oh, you’re raising a teen..? So you totally know that already, don’t you?
Step six: Now is the time to open the floor for questions. Ask your child if they have any curiosities about what has just been unloaded on them. Give them short, to-the-point answers and let them continue asking until your answers have satisfied their need to ask. This will help you avoid over-complicating things and telling them more than they can handle.
Re-visit any of the steps, as needed. Conversations are not always linear, and often have to be re-visited with young children.
Remember to take care of yourself, so that you can take care of your little people.
If you’re looking for ways to continue to keep your kids creative, connected, and engaged, check out @MrsMamaLlama on Instagram or Facebook.
Lauren is an elementary teacher in Central Texas with 13 years of experience. She has accreditation in her work bringing Social-Emotional Learning into the classroom and developing her own curriculum. She loves sharing her journey in education and motherhood on her Instagram: @MrsMamaLlama