With the rise of incidences of COVID-19, aka the Coronavirus, parents have the tricky task of navigating with their own fears about the global outbreak and also their children’s fears.
How do we walk the fine line between precautionary measures and paranoia? Our kids today, specifically teenagers, are already stressed about many things; the environment, devastating weather like the recent tornado in Tennessee and economic uncertainty. All of this along with the regular stress that hits in the teenage years.
Tweens and teens are trying to gain some element of control from their parents, yet, these kids still want to know that their parents have it all under control. When something like COVID-19 appears on the horizon, it can be a scary and damaging realization that in reality, no one has anything under control.
Our job as parents in today’s world is to provide our children with a sense of balance and control. This responsibility should not be about minimizing their fears but using a strategy that will address the inevitable dive into the rabbit hole of google searches and Tik Tok videos on pandemics that a lot of teens will participate in, and share to their networks. This of course leads to the unintentional spread of misinformation and fear-mongering, like a virus, in fact, it is viral in nature. Round and round we go.
Parents and caregivers can provide kids with the tools they require to navigate news like the spread of COVID-19 instead of burying their heads in the sand and saying, “it will be fine,” or on the other end of the spectrum, scare them into washing their hands and making them wear masks that really don’t work. Only by providing tools, information and strategies can these kids be empowered not by fear, but knowledge. This acquisition of knowledge can lead them to be more confident about the one thing that is within their control, their own actions. The theory is that this approach will hopefully, lessen their anxiety and maybe as a byproduct, our own.
Another question comes up at the same time, what happens when one parenting strategy that is appropriate for a teenager is perhaps, not the same for a nine-year old? As a parent with multiple children in various stages of development, this can be an additional challenge to try and figure out what can be discussed as a family versus individually.
In all honesty, it makes one tired to even consider the best course of these kind of conversations, yet, it is an important one to have with your children in the wake of something like COVID-19.
From the Child Mind Institute, there is a great quote in an article written by Rachel Emkhe titled, “Talking to Kids About the Coronoavirus. The quote is from Dr. Janine Domingues, a child psychologist at the Institute, “You take on the news and you’re the person who filters the news to your kid.”
The quote encompasses exactly what our role is as parents during these times of high stress, we are the filters.
Keeping the above in mind, here are some amalgamated tips to help parents navigate discussions about COVID-19 with their children. Some are from the Child Mind Institute, others derived from an article by June Young (Channel News Asia) and some are my own.
- Don’t overwhelm children with too much information. Answer specific questions, especially with regard to younger children.
- Take cues from your child. Definitely important in families of three or more kids when considering developmental and age differences. A nine-year old does not need a long discussion about the global impact. A fourteen-year old may have some deeper questions.
- Deal with your own anxiety about the issue. Stock piling masks for the doomsday scenario is not ideal.
- Be factual in your responses and try to leave your own opinions out of it. If you don’t know something, say so and tell them you will find out and get back to them. Then do exactly that.
- Empower your children. Give them specific instructions on how their own actions are important. For example their own personal hygiene and the family’s hygiene habits inside and outside the house.
- Acknowledge their fears. It can be scary when everyone is discussing the current death rate or where it has spread. It’s important not to discount that they feel that way instead of ignoring it or pushing it away.
- Be available for any follow-up questions or discussions.
- Stick to your routines. Life has not changed. We all still have to get up to go to school, do homework and go to bed at a decent time. This can be comforting when anxiety rears its ugly head.
- Watch the movie Inside Out with younger kids. This was brought up by June Young in her article and it is a great movie to remind kids that we all have these feelings and it is normal.
- Try to encourage tween/teens who are online to avoid the constant stream of information about COVID-19. My daughter put an alert on about any COVID-19 news. I had her remove it explaining this increases fear and anxiety. Although this may be harder to do with older kids, one strategy may be to reassure them that you will share any important or relevant information with them from credible sources. Older kids can sometimes feel we are being too overprotective. By sharing factual, non-alarming, scientific information about the virus, perhaps that alone will have them go back to making silly Tik Tok videos instead or researching pandemics that can destroy the world.
Share your strategies for how you are discussing the spread of COVID-19 with your children. This is something that is affecting everyone, children and adults, all over the world. I do believe the more we acknowledge our anxiety and fears about these things can lead to more level-headed discussions and reasonable action plans that empower instead of panic.