Although children are adaptable, they can easily worry when faced with something unfamiliar, especially if they sense our own anxiety about an unexpected situation

Most of us are comforted by the predictable and the known. We get a little wobbly when life presents us with challenges we don’t feel prepared to handle.

Children are no exception. Although they’re adaptable, they can easily worry when faced with something unfamiliar, especially if they sense our own anxiety about an unexpected situation.

It can be difficult to maintain an atmosphere of calm when we’re finding our way through circumstances outside our control. But our children watch us very carefully, taking their cues from us as they sort out how they should feel about worrisome events.

When we’re able to show our kids how to maintain steadiness in the face of unexpected circumstances, we help them develop a sense of resilience that will serve them throughout their lives.

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Here are some suggestions for addressing the current coronavirus with your children:

  • Make it safe for your kids to come to you with their fears. Create an atmosphere where all feelings are welcome. Avoid interrupting, dismissing or diminishing their concerns. Turn off the TV, turn off the phone, and listen.
  • Thank them for coming to you with their concerns. I can’t overstate this enough. The more we show our children that we are capable of hearing their worries and problems, the more likely they will turn to us – rather than their peers or the Internet – when they are struggling.
  • Don’t overload your children with information. Answer their questions in an age-appropriate way and pause to see if they want to ask a follow-up.

Here’s an example of a conversation you might have with a younger child:

Child: “What is coronavirus?”

Parent: “It’s a type of flu that spreads easily. People are being extra careful about washing their hands and staying away from people who might be sick.”

Child: “Will I get it?”

Parent: “This flu doesn’t seem to be making children sick. But we should still be extra careful so we don’t spread it to other people.”

Child: “Will you get it?”

Parent: “No one knows for sure who will get this virus but I’m strong and healthy and if I did, I would probably just be sick for a few days – sort of the way I was last year when I had the flu.” (Of course you’ll have to modify this as needed to reflect your situation.”)

Child: “What about Grandma? I heard old people get sick from it and die. Is Grandma going to die?”

Parent: “Older people can catch it more easily so Grandma’s being extra careful and staying home for a little while so she isn’t exposed to people who might be sick.”

Obviously, this conversation will have to be customised to suit your family’s circumstances, but as you can see, the responses are brief, reassuring and honest.

Teach good hygiene, maintain routines and keep the TV off

  • Teach good hygiene. Teach children to wash their hands to the tune of the Happy Birthday song sung twice through. Encourage them to practice coughing into a tissue and depositing it directly into the trash or coughing into their elbow. And help them begin to break the habit of touching their faces, something most of us do unconsciously 23 times an hour!
  • Maintain routines. It’s comforting to kids when life stays the same in the midst of uncertainty. So yes, they still have to go to bed at the same time, brush their teeth and do their homework. Darn it!
  • Keep the TV off. I realise it’s tempting to keep the news on in the background for updates, but remember that television needs viewers, and sensational headlines ensure that people keep watching. Look for ways to stay current without exposing your kids to the onslaught of alarming information being shared.
  • Find someone you can talk to if you’re worried. This may be the most important tip. It’s normal to have some big feelings come up when we hear words like ‘pandemic’ and ‘epidemic’. Turn to a reliable friend to talk with if you’re feeling shaky. Allow yourself to give voice to your fears in a safe and loving environment – without your children around.

Humans are remarkably resilient. When we give voice to our concerns and get support when we need it, we tend to come through tough situations even stronger than we were. Make it safe for your children to offload their worries, and be that calm, confident Captain of the ship for your children to help them develop the skills to face whatever challenges life may present.