5 Ways to Talk to Children About COVID-19

As the COVID-19 virus begins spreading in the United States, children might see or hear news about the pandemic and the loss of life. Colleen Colaner is an associate professor in the Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri.

Here, Colaner gives five tips for how to talk with children about COVID-19, including acknowledging children’s feelings and how to talk with children about death.

5 Tips for How to Talk with Your Children About COVID-19

1. Give your child clear, accurate and age-appropriate information.

Children are aware that there is a big, scary thing happening. Giving them some details can help them understand their world a little more. When talking to your children about the virus, use clear and accurate terminology. Children can be very literal with words, so euphemisms that we think will soften the blow can actually cause confusion. For example, we may say, “There is a bug going around that is making people sick.” Some children may think of all bugs as dangerous or associate this pandemic with insects. A more accurate way to explain this would be, “There is a virus that is making people sick.”

2. Acknowledge your child’s feelings about their changing worlds.

Children are experiencing a lot of loss right now. Their school communities are no longer available, which can cause a lot of sadness, anger, and frustration. Their routines have been disrupted, which can cause anxiety and uncertainty. As parents work from home, children may see their parent’s job-related stress and experience loneliness. High schoolers are missing important rites of passage such as prom, graduation, plays and sporting events.

It’s important for children to be able to feel all these feelings. As Mr. Rodgers said, “Feelings are mentionable and manageable.” Many children will have a difficult time expressing these feelings appropriately. Letting our kids know, “It’s okay to be sad, mad or worried” gives them space to have their feelings. At the same time, we can put limits on their behaviors when they express their feelings in inappropriate ways. For example, “It’s okay to be mad about missing your friends, but it is not okay to yell at your family.”

3. Model good stress management for your child.

As the stress related to COVID-19 increases, children are going to need help managing their own stress. We can model good stress management by showing them how we tend to our own mental health. We don’t have to pretend that everything is okay. It’s helpful for children to see behind the curtain right now. We can show them that we can do hard things in this uncertain time. Let them know that this is hard for parents too, but that you are working to stay healthy and happy. Tell them what is helping you, such as meditation, breathing techniques, walks, movies, etc., and talk to them about what makes them feel better when things feel hard for them.

Colleen Colaner
Colleen Colanerhttps://missouri.edu/
Colleen Colaner is an associate professor in the Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Science at the University of Missouri.

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