Kids First: Talking with Kids About Coronavirus

Kids First: Talking with Kids About Coronavirus

By Jenna Kern-Rugile is Director of Communications at North Shore Child Guidance – Blank Slate Media, March 28, 2020

Everyone, regardless of their age, has been thrown for a loop by this strange, new reality we are all living in. The coronavirus — in particular, COVID19 — has impacted our lives in ways we never could have anticipated.

This is an especially scary time for kids, whose routines have been turned upside down. But how do we make sure our children aren’t overwhelmed by fear of this disease?

First, some good news: So far, it appears that the virus produces mild symptoms in children. It has been serious (and yes, even deadly), but the vast majority of people who have died have had significant underlying health issues.

Of course, we can’t be certain what will unfold as the virus continues to spread globally. And, even if they are reassured that the virus is unlikely to cause them direct harm, children are very worried about their parents and grandparents.

With so much still unknown, it’s hard not to let the worry train go off the rails.

Whether you are just mildly concerned, extremely worried or somewhere in between, it’s crucial that you remain calm so that you don’t burden your children with unnecessary angst.

“As a parent, you need to be very careful not to put your fears and anxieties onto your child,” said Dr. Sue Cohen, director of Early Childhood and Psychological Services at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center. “Even if you’re feeling very anxious, you don’t want to catastrophize.”

What you choose to tell your child depends in part on their age. “Give them information in amounts they can handle according to their developmental level,” said Cohen. “There’s no need to bombard them with the whole CDC report. They need bits of information that are easily understandable.”

It’s important to clarify any misconceptions they may have, she added. “Ask your kids what they have heard about the virus, so you’ll understand where their fears are coming from. As is the case with any situation, let them know you are available to speak to them about any concerns they might have.”

You want your kids and teens to feel like they have some power when so much is out of their control. One way to do that is to share with them the best hygienic practices to prevent them from catching the virus, as well as a cold or any type of respiratory illness. Said Cohen, “Be their role model when it comes to hand washing and other preventive measures.”

Some other helpful tips:

• Create a daily schedule that lays out time for such activities as schoolwork, walks and exercise, screen time, chores, meals and creative time.

• Try to get your kid outside each day, as weather permits. Though they shouldn’t be playing with friends, they can play with each other, with you or on their own — but don’t be surprised if they need you more than usual.

• Use technology to keep them connected to their friends, grandparents and other important people in their lives. Social distancing does not need to mean social isolation.

• It’s a great time to encourage reading. You can even do a family “read-in,” where you choose a book appropriate for everyone and take turns reading, or listen together to an audiobook.

• Your local libraries may be closed, but they’re still a wonderful resource. Visit their websites to learn about activities you can do to keep your kids happy while they learn and play.

• Encourage your children to take up a new hobby or explore something they have expressed interest in. Many different companies are providing free classes in art, yoga, music and a slew of other activities.

• Keep their exposure to the news limited, which is good advice for adults, too.

• If your child’s fears are intense, contact North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which can provide therapeutic services remotely.

How to Get Help

North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center is available to help you and your children handle the heightened anxieties that are prevalent during this difficult time.

Their therapists are seamlessly conducting sessions for both new and existing clients via telephone and video conferences.

Call the Guidance Center at (516) 626-1971, or email info@northshorechildguidance.org. For more information, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.