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  • Sarah E. Carlson, PhD, LPC-S, RPT, RYT-200

How to Talk to Your Children about COVID-19

Updated: May 21, 2020

"Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it."

— Dorothy M. Neddermeyer

Information about the COVID-19, also known as Coronavirus

This is a lot of information. Please take the time to read. As we understand more about what is ahead of us, I will share more tips and ideas.

As the week has progressed, we are seeing more closures, cancellations of events, and sadly more confirmed cases of the COVID-19. This can cause a lot of anxiety for all of us. What does it look like if we have to stay home? How will we pay the bills if we can't work? What happens if I get sick? How to I talk to my kids about the COVID-19?

"Kids worry more when they're kept in the dark" - Rachel Ehmke

There are a lot of resources out there to help you talk with your children and other family members and COVID-19. I am attempting to streamline some information to help you feel successful and confident in these conversations. This information is modified from the Child Mind Institute. Before even thinking about how to talk to your children, and what to say, you need to check in with yourself and your reactions to the COVID-19. Are you anxious? Are you buying all the things at Target? A lot of people are stocking up on toilet paper, and others don't know why. I believe there is a psychological need for control. We are being told that if we stay clean (washing hands, using hand sanitizer), we can avoid getting sick. Whether it is conscious or not, buying toilet paper is related to cleanliness in a time of worry. Back to your feelings. Your children see you, hear you, and notice your responses. If you are worried, panicked, and running around scared, your children will internalize that they must, too. I am not saying you can't be scared...and you can even share that you feel worried about the unknown...but, your job is to help your children feel safe. If you need to feel worried, try to do it privately. AND, try to stay off social media as much as possible. We are all working each other up with fear, when fear is not good for our body and our immune system. Less fear = healthier bodies. Breathe. In relation to your feelings about COVID-19, don't be afraid or avoid talking about it with your children. Trust me, they have already heard about it at school. Teachers are sending home packets of work, in case is school is closed for a while. Not talking about it, can actually make kids worry more. If you are interested in a great podcast, check out Brains On! in the app store. Their podcast from Tuesday is titled "Understanding Coronavirus and how germs spread". I have listed to it and feel it is a great way to open a conversation with your children. NOTE: Please listen to it yourself first, and note any questions that come up for you, or reactions you may have. Your children may have the same ones. This will give you time to look up some answers before you listen with your child. Talk with your children in a developmentally appropriate way. 4 year olds don't need to know the death toll (I would argue most children don't need that information). Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. Allow your child to lead. What have they heard? What questions do they have? Reflect your child's feelings, and talk about the steps you are taking to help you all stay safe. Because children are developmentally egocentric, they may believe they will catch COVID-19. You can communicate that children, while possibly being carriers, don't get sick like older adults do. How this may look is the following: "Suzy, I hear you feel worried. It is hard when we don't know know what will happen. The scientists are telling us that kids don't really get sick from the COVID-19, which makes me feel better. I hope that helps you, too, but I understand if it doesn't. Let's talk about what we are doing as a family to keep you safe."

Focus on what you are doing to stay safe. We have learned that the COVID-19 is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. Washing our hands help us stay safe. So, remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom. You can even write down other songs you would like to sing, to make sure it doesn't become mundane. Also talk to your children about washing their entire hand: top of the hand, palm, thumbs, in between their fingers, and under their nails. Try to stick to a routine as much as possible. Consistency will help children feel safe. Get dressed like you would for a school day. Do a little homework Play outside Avoid turning the lights off and watching TV in the dark Continue talking about it. The more you share feelings with each other, the more empowered your children will feel. Encourage children when they are managing the changes. Encourage children with the effort they are putting into things. Help them know you notice them.

SO, WHAT DO WE DO IF WE ARE STUCK AT HOME? First, try to get away from the idea of being stuck. Try to think of the things you haven't had time for. Can you garden, clean the garage, play more board games?  Here is a list of some ideas, that may help you:  Make your own greeting cards, get well cards, birthday cards Check out Go Noodle for movement games and ideas Watch everything on Disney – introduce your kids to movies you loved as a child - “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” is on there! Bake something every day Have each kid pick a topic they'd like to learn about and spend 30 mins each day on that topic. They can research on the computer and then share with you Spend one day reading every single picture book you have in the house  Go through all the old mail laying around (ok, that one's not for kids although they do enjoy helping tear stuff up) Races of various kinds in the backyard (hopping on one foot, crabwalk, walking backwards, etc.) Try stop motion animation with playdough Facetime grandparents A LOT  Write a short story & illustrate it. Learn how to do simple book binding.  Have the kids help with yardwork in between playing games outside. Kids like getting dirty and "working" in the gardens. Dig through cabinets and figure out recipes for new things Declutter toys!  Have an Olympics with a bunch of events competitions - funny ones, helpful ones like cleaning and really fun ones like minute to win it style. Learn new card games Any and all art is fun at home: beading, painting, drawing, play dough or kinetic sand, sewing, etc.  Make tents and reading caves : ) flashlights, tidy snacks, books, and pillows! Have a shadow show in the reading tent Get binoculars and learn about the birds near your house, look them up on google and search for their birdcalls on YouTube Investigate bugs in the garden Make slime (I know, but they love it): 1 small bottle of Elmer's glue (it is the best), shaving cream (enough to be fluffy), food coloring, about 2 tablespoons of baking soda, enough contact solution so that it doesn't stick to your bowl or hands. Laugh Tell jokes Hug Social distancing is not disconnection

As we know more, we can share more. Please let us know how we can support you and your family.

-- Dr. Sarah Carlson, LPC-S, RPT-S, E-RYT 200, YACEP

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