As fear and anxiety spread about the coronavirus pandemic, many parents are left asking how they can help their kids understand. School closures, shutdowns, and cancellations have left parents and kids alike trying to figure out how to deal. To help parents help their children cope with and understand what’s going on, here are some tips.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, just watching the daily news can be enough to spark anxiety in almost any adult. Natural disasters, violence, unrest, and a general lack of safety seems to be everywhere. Our teens and tweens are constantly bombarded with the dangers of our modern world, and it’s so important to address the stress that this adds to their lives.
The rising fear surrounding the coronavirus outbreak can cause a lot of anxiety among kids. They may worry about things such as:
- What if I get exposed to the virus?
- What if someone I love gets it?
- Why is everything shutting down?
- What if I have it and I don’t know it?
- Why are people so panicked?
- Will life ever go back to normal?
As a parent, it can be difficult to know the best way to prepare your children to deal with this barrage of information. Here are 5 simple things you can do:
#1: Acknowledge their fears
As parents, we sometimes have an overwhelming desire to shield our children from the realities of our world. Telling them things like “don’t worry” or “everything will be fine” feels like the right thing to say to comfort them, but in the long run, this might actually create more stress for them.
The reality is, kids are smart. They listen, they have access to social media, and chances are, they know more than you think about what is going on in our world. So, if they feel like you are not being honest with them, you won’t be able to provide a sense of support for them.
By stifling the urge to minimize their fear and acknowledging how normal it is to feel this fear, you will help your teen feel supported and heard. Encourage your kids to talk, with statements such as, “What have you seen or read that makes you feel worried?” Or even just a simple, “do you want to talk about everything going on?”
#2: Open the dialogue
The first step to helping your kids handle the stress of what they are hearing about COVID-19 and all the other scary things facing them today is to start talking. And yes, teenagers are not always the most talkative. Especially when it comes to talking to their parents or about what scares them. This is why it’s up to you to get them talking.
Many parents find it helpful to talk about their own concerns (obviously, within reason) to get their kids started. Some things you might want to talk about include:
- What exactly is the coronavirus and how does it spread?
- How many cases have occurred locally?
- What is being done to keep the illness from spreading in your area?
- Discuss local closures and why those were implemented.
- Ask kids what about the pandemic is causing them the most stress.
This may seem like an obvious one, but when talking about something that probably scares you, parents often want to talk and don’t do enough listening. Keep in mind that your teen is hearing a lot of information – both true and false. You are the ideal person for them to come to and talk through it all. Just be sure to make them feel validated, even when some of what they want to discuss seems a little off the wall.
Remember, if they can’t bounce some of the untrue things they are hearing off you, who will they talk to? And what information will they get?
#4: Answer their questions
One of the most important things you can do for your children, in the face of a crisis, is to answer their questions. As they hear other kids talk or they see things online, they may have more questions than answers. Giving them the floor to ask their questions—big and small—can be huge in calming their fears.
Make sure they understand that they can ask, even if they have questions that might sound silly.
#5: Stay calm
The single most important thing you can do to help your child deal with an outbreak, like the recent coronavirus, is to remain calm. Even at times when it feels like the whole world is turned upside down, they are going to be looking at you as a model for how to react.
This might mean that you have to take steps to deal with your own stress, as kids can sense it and feed off of it. Do what you need to do to stay calm in the face of a potential crisis. This doesn’t mean that you can’t voice concerns, but do it in a constructive and calm way.
What NOT to say
While we talked about some things that will be helpful to discuss with your kids, here are a few things to steer clear of to keep your kids fears minimized:
- “You’re not at risk” – Avoid outlining which groups of people are the highest risk for complications. While it might initially ease your child’s fears about their own health or their parents, they will eventually identify loved ones in that age bracket.
- “Don’t worry about it” – Try not to minimize their fear. If they are afraid or worried, pushing it aside isn’t going to help.
- “It isn’t a big deal” – Even if you are not personally impacted by the virus in a major way, the level of chaos and disruption is unlike anything they have experienced before.
- “You don’t know what worry really is” – This one goes for just about every stressful situation that kids experience but even more so in this instance.
- “That’s a stupid question” – When it comes to fear and worry, there really is no such thing as a stupid question.
What else can I do to help my kids?
In an effort to help families deal with this crisis, I developed a free program for Resility Health that offers a series of guided meditations and lessons to reduce stress and calm fears about the virus. We know that the coronavirus threat is creating a great deal of stress and anxiety, and it’s important that we manage our body’s response.
Twins Magazine is not affiliated with Resility Health.
Understanding how to talk to your kids about the coronavirus will go a long way in helping them deal with the fears and anxiety that surround it. Be open, honest, and calm; and don’t try to push away their fears. Keep the dialog open so they can come to you when they need to talk.
For more information about the current COVID-19 outbreak, you can visit the Center for Disease Control page on the coronavirus outbreak.