How to talk to your kids about coronavirus (COVID-19)

how to talk to your KIDS about coronavirus

Here are some quick tips on how to talk to your kids about coronavirus (COVID-19). There are more in-depth thoughts following these tips.

This article will cover the following tips on coronavirus:

  1. Quick tips on how to talk to your kids about coronavirus and reduce anxiety in kids.
  2. How to structure your home to reduce anxiety and behavior issues during a coronavirus quarantine or isolation.
  3. How the coronavirus event can impact your family for the positive.

Quick tips on how to talk to kids about coronavirus:

As a general rule, children’s reactions to an event mirror or slightly amplify the parent or adult in their life. Children have a unique sense in picking up on anxiety, worry, and unusual behavior. Because of this, it’s really important to understand your own feelings and reactions, while also owning those feelings to your children. When a child picks up on an adult feeling worried and the parent then says, “I’m fine” that makes a child feel a lack of trust. This is because the child knows they feel that the parent is worried and they want that suspicion affirmed.

  • Understand your own feelings about coronavirus: Are you worried? Confused? Maybe uncertain? These are all normal feelings. Start with understanding what you are feelings. This podcast about Coronavirus and Online Counseling might be helpful. 
  • Answer the questions they ask about coronavirus: The more that children have a basic understanding of what is happening, the easier it is for them. “Where did coronavirus come from?” I was asked on the way to school. We then had a discussion about how animals and viruses “level up” and evolve. “Like when I’m playing the game Prodigy!” My daughter gleefully made the connection. Now she has a basic understanding of how viruses grow and change.
  • Prepare them: We frequently say in our house, “We aren’t sure how this will look, but we are going to keep you safe.” Things are uncertain, so pretending they are not goes against all your children are hearing and feeling. Tell them what you do know. For example, yesterday we said, “The headmaster emailed and said that at some point school will probably be cancelled because of coronavirus.” Today we got word that we will now be off all next week, so that isn’t a surprise.
  • Structure your day: If you’re stuck home, outline the day ahead of time. What will it look like? What does everyone want to do? What are the non-negotiable tasks?
  • Do calming activities together: Maybe it’s time to meditate or do yoga as a family. These activities can calm everyone’s baseline.
  • Look at this as an adventure: We’re probably going to talk about this period of time for years to come. This will be a survival story in your family. It’s like a movie. In fact, just this morning I said, “This is quite an adventure, right? It’s kind of like a movie and we’re going to get through this together.”
  • Gives lots of hugs and cuddles: This helps you and them feel connected, safe, and grounded.

How to reduce anxiety in kids during coronavirus (COVID-19)

In the movie, Life is Beautiful, a father tells his child that being in a concentration camp is actually a game to be won. In order to survive and keep his child alive, he thinks creatively. How can you turn this event into something that is seen as an adventure?

The human psyche wants to have a threat to defeat. This comes from generations of war, territory, and hearing hero’s journeys.

Some statements that might be helpful in talking to your kids about coronavirus are:

  • “We are going to do this as a family, it’s going to be hard, but many things that we’re most proud of are difficult.” 
  • “We can do hard things.”
  • “We don’t know what will happen with coronavirus, but at least we are together.”

At the most basic level, children need to:

  1. Know what’s going on within their age-appropriate understanding. Numerous infographics help children and adults have an understanding of the real threat level.
  2. Understand that people older and stronger than them are in control and will keep them safe.
  3. Prepared for what could happen. If there are people over the age of 60 in their lives, talking about how older people are more prone to death from coronavirus, that could happen, and that it makes us love those people even more knowing they may die someday.

Events like this reveal the conversations that we as adults have not had with our children. Death, science, worry, and emotional vulnerability are all things that we want to discuss with our children at some point.

How to structure your home to reduce anxiety and behavior issues during a coronavirus quarantine or isolation.

We just got news from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, our Michigan Governor, that K-12 schools are closed all next week. Which then leads into a two week  spring break, so our kids will be home for three weeks! Do you remember Winter Break?

There’s a reason that a Christmas song says, “Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.”

Here are a few ways to structure your family time to reduce behavior issues and hopefully make it more fun.

There are three main points to this section:

  1. Creating structure for fewer issues
  2. Behavioral expectations and behavioral systems
  3. Co-creating, freedom, and giving kids choices

Creating structure for fewer issues

As noted earlier, children want to know what to expect. This is true for their behavior and for their schedule. It’s true of all of us, right? I would hate if someone came to me and said, “Joe, get in the car we’re going somewhere,” when I was planning to read or do something else.

Yet, in our regular lives we do this all the time. Prepping your children for the day can really help with emotional reactions.

Here’s a sample structure for a day at home:

  • Breakfast and meeting to talk about everyone’s goals and activities for the day
  • Morning yoga video
  • Work on homework
  • Break to play outside (if appropriate given context of coronavirus)
  • Lunch
  • Reading time
  • Art project
  • TED Talk video
  • Free time
  • Dinner

Here are some questions that might help guide this time:

  1. What is something you are interested in that we could learn about today?
  2. How do you think you could use your time today to help your brain and body?
  3. What are things you hope I do today to help you and the family?
  4. What is worrying you that we could research and learn about?
  5. What tasks are you sick of doing that we could think about removing from today’s schedule?
  6. What’s a new skill you’d like to try and learn today?

One of our kid’s favorite YouTube channels is the Cosmic Kid’s Yoga channel, here’s one video, they love:

Sure, the school might send homework home with spelling words, math, and reading. All of that is important, but, this is also a time to creatively engage with your child’s learning and interests. Link together topics they are interested in, watch a TED talk and see where it goes, there’s a whole TED Ed channel devoted to kids.

Lastly, realize that you’ll all probably need a break at some point. Schedule those in or maybe have a saying like, “I need some alone time for a little bit.”

Behavioral expectations and behavioral systems

Sometimes children’s behavior need some intervention, especially in times like this. A simple behavior system can help. A behavior system gives a reinforcer for appropriate and positive behavior.

First, you need to define the behavior/s. For example, we have a chart for waking up/ coming home from school/ bedtime with the steps for each time period. This gives the expectations to our children.

Next, what is the positive consequence for meeting expectations? We use poker chips we call “Daddy Doubloons” and “Mom Money.” They can earn up to three in a day.

Lastly, have a menu for these tokens. What are they worth? Examples are small things like 15 minutes of screen time, a friend overnight (not during coronavirus), or a larger outing.

This sets expectations, rewards behavior, and makes the system the “bad guy” when a negative consequence (not getting a token) is given.

Co-creating, freedom, and giving kids choices

Children want choices. Whenever possible, give your children choice on how they structure their day, which healthy food options they choose, and how they design interactions. Children are smart and the more autonomy they feel, the more resilient they will be. If all of a child’s behavior is defined by an adult, they will second guess their own abilities. Instead, we want them to try things, fail, learn, get hurt, and then believe they can make good choices.

Especially during a time like this coronavirus outbreak, the tendency is to be a more authoritative parent than usual. However, co-creating your life together, will build your child’s sense of self and reliance on their own decisions as well as yours.

How the coronavirus event can impact your family for the positive

Lastly, crazy life events can give an individual, family, and nation a stronger sense of unity. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath, he discusses how people reacted during WWII’s London Bombing. The British expected that those who survived would be traumatized and move to the country. But instead, their reaction was a feeling invincibility, superiority, and survival. Those that made it through saw themselves as survivors.

Cracks in your family will be revealed. Maybe it will be a fight with your partner, anxiety in your child, or noticing your own areas where you can’t calm down. By exposing these areas of improvement, the coronavirus is really a mirror to help us to become stronger. Yes, there are real and actual dangers. I’m not a health expert, so I’m not even going to speak to those. But, our emotional grit and resilience has, within this event, a chance to be improved.

How much better will we and our kids be when we can say that we felt loved, connected, and strong during a crisis like this?

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