Most of us have undoubtedly been talking to our children about COVID-19, or the coronavirus, for at least two weeks now. It has been in the news since January or February, first reporting from overseas and now, of course, from our own backyard. Our faithful school nurses have been reteaching and reinforcing proper and thorough hand-washing, and children have been reminded to sanitize their hands more than ever throughout a school day. And as parents, we have never been so keenly aware of how many times we touch our face than in the last two weeks! Our faculty and students have been diligently preparing for remote learning from home, and the day has come for us to begin.
When it comes to speaking to our children about the severity of the coronavirus, however, we may struggle with how much information to give. We don’t want to scare our children, or give them more to be anxious about than they already have. But we also want them to be careful, to be diligent about protecting their own health. So how much information is too much? Or too little?
Experts from the Child Mind Institute recommend that, as parents, we should filter the information that we have regarding the coronavirus, and give it to our children in a way that is thoughtful and reassuring. This means that children should be receiving their education about the coronavirus from their parents and guardians, not from the media. Children should have a basic understanding of what is happening, because not talking about it could create even more anxiety. There is an important reason that we are not holding school on campus right now, and parents can explain that in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Parents can reassure their children that this disease is actually very rare and does not appear to produce significant symptoms in children, but that we are staying home so that it does not continue to spread and put other people at risk. And parents can focus on what they are doing to stay safe and healthy.
It is important that parents be developmentally appropriate in what they share with their children. What you share with your thirteen year-old will be very different than what you share with your six year-old. And parents do not have to offer a great deal of information; instead, encourage your child to ask questions, and answer them honestly and succinctly. You can do this by asking what they have heard about the coronavirus and how they feel about having school from home, and taking your cues from them. But avoid allowing them to go down a rabbit-hole of catastrophic (or worst-case scenario) thinking; the goal is to educate them, provide reassurance, and connect emotionally with your children.
It is crucial that parents manage their own anxiety levels, so that we can better support our children. This may mean turning off the media coverage of the coronavirus, taking time off of social media, and spending more time talking with the Great Physician. When we are feeling overwhelmed, scared, or frustrated, we should take a break ourselves and do what we can to alleviate our own anxiety. Go to your bedroom and pray, take a quick walk around the block (or your yard), practice some deep breathing, or talk to a trusted friend or family member. Before answering your child’s questions about the coronavirus, make sure that you’re in a calm state of mind yourself.
Structure and routine are also crucial at a time like this. Your children’s teachers are going to be reinforcing this during the remote learning school day, but you should also take time to develop a structure and routine for the remainder of your day. Include plenty of outdoor play time, family bonding, and talking to friends/family on the phone or through Google Meet. This schedule can be flexible, but having a daily routine will help children adapt to these changes more easily, and keep them happier and healthier in the long run.
Finally, as difficult as this can be to do during stressful times, how we view this whole chapter in our lives is going to impact the outcome. What I mean is, if we dwell on this whole thing as being a major hassle, a total inconvenience, and allow ourselves to sit in anger and stress, we will most certainly feel anxious and overwhelmed. We can become angry, accusatory, short-tempered, and quick to react.
When we can alter our perspective by looking at a situation in a different light, we will ultimately cope with it better. We will be better equipped to extend grace to our neighbors, have empathy and understanding for what others are experiencing, and have more patience for our children. But where are the silver linings? As Mr. Rogers always said, “look for the helpers,” or perhaps BE a helper. Take time to pick up the phone and call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Reach out to elderly relatives, neighbors, church members, etc and see how they’re doing with all of this. Connect with your family. Connect with your Maker. My prayer is that we may all look back at this chapter in our lives as a time where we were able to pause, reset, and become better versions of ourselves.