Talking to Kids about Coronavirus

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by Poppy Bilbra-Jacobs, MS, LPC, CEAP

We are living in a worrisome, ever-changing world right now.  So how do we talk to kids about the coronavirus?  For starters, don’t be afraid to talk about it.  Kids have already heard about or have seen things around them that signal to them that something is very wrong.  Facts from the adults they know are more reassuring than what they hear from the news or friends.  A necessary first step is dealing with our own, the adults’ anxiety.  Kids will react to your cues and follow your reactions.  Don’t start the conversation when you are feeling very anxious or scared.  Calm down, then talk.  Remember that what you say can help or hurt a kid’s anxiety. 

Once you’re in a good state of mind, look to the kids to start the conversation.  What have they already heard?  How do they feel about what they’ve heard?  Remember that kids have vivid imaginations.  Their thoughts are often more frightening than reality.  They may have scary fantasies or pictures in their head about the pandemic.  Don’t encourage fantasies.  Instead answer their questions with developmentally appropriate and clear information.  Don’t volunteer too much information, as this is overwhelming for all of us.  Find the words to reassure kids using facts.  Kids are naturally egocentric, so it is likely they fear that everything they see on the news or overhear from adults will happen to them. 

After you provide kids with clear, fact-based, reassuring information, move on to focus on safety.  What are you doing to stay safe?  We all feel better when we feel powerful or in control.  What can they do to keep themselves safe?  Talk about what they are doing and what we adults are doing for safety, from washing hands to social distancing outside of the home. 

Keep the dialogue open.  Make time for talking and listening every day.  Let them know that you will keep them updated when you learn information.  Tell them they can come to you with any thoughts or questions.  If you don’t know the answer to their question, be honest.  Say that you don’t have the answers to everything right now, but you will let them know when you know more.

Remember that these conversations are necessary to manage anxiety and keep a sense of normalcy and safety for kids.  Remember that kids’ vivid imaginations can create thoughts that are more frightening than reality.  It is our job as their adults to provide honest, straight-forward, simple reassurance in this time of pandemic.

Poppy Bilbra-Jacobs is a Licensed Professional Counselor at Centra Piedmont Psychiatric Center.

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