The pandemic has exhausted all of us. I know we’re tired of talking about it, but as things change, it may be important to revisit these conversations with our kids.
Our lives have changed since March 2020.
And while our perspectives and beliefs about the pandemic may be vastly different, Covid-19 impacted all of us in various ways.
Now, as we slowly create a new normal, or return to old routines, the conversations with your kids about the pandemic may look different.
- There may be feelings of anxiety about returning to school or daycare.
- You may be shifting from working at home to going in to the office again.
- There may be a sense of grief as your family discontinues activities that brought a sense of closeness while you were all home together.
While it would be easier to just sweep all of this under the rug, it’s important to continue to address our children’s concerns, including talking to them about the disease and the ripple effect it’s made on their day-to-day life.
What to say when you don’t know what to say.
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut, 5-step process for having conversations about difficult topics.
Your family is unique. Your current situation is unique. If you’ve talked with your children about other difficult topics, this may not seem like such a monumental task, but if you’re new to discussing serious issues, you may feel a little more unsure.
Plus, each child is unique. Some children are more mature for their age, while others seem to grow up slowly. The way you talk to a 3-year-old will be different than how you talk to a 10-year-old.
Flexibility is key. Take a deep breath. Take your child, your family, and your own thoughts and beliefs into account as you dive into a conversation.
It’s ok if your first attempt is a little unpolished. Expect a few extra “um’s” and long pauses. Be prepared to encounter some uncomfortable responses, but also be ready for some blank stares and indifference.
Focus more on listening well and less on having all the answers. It’s easy to make assumptions and launch into a lecture before we truly understand where our child is coming from. If your child is able to verbalize their questions and concerns, make sure you hear them well before you reply.
The important thing is you’ve opened up the conversation. You’ve made the first step. You’ve given your child a safe space to talk, if they choose to.
A sample script for talking about COVID-19:
Keep it simple – Again, depending on your child, they may not need to know every single detail about COVID-19. Rather than saying too much, focus on the basic information. “There is a germ going around that is making some people very sick. To keep everyone healthy, we’re going to wear masks when we are in places with a lot of people.”
Reiterate truth – Don’t make promises you can’t keep (such as “you’ll be fine.”) or instill fear by raising unnecessary alarm. Instead, be as honest as you can with the information you have. “We’re washing our hands with soap for 20-seconds to stay as healthy as possible. This is a good habit for our family!” or “Many people are learning all they can about this virus. It’s a hard job and it’s going to take time before we understand it better.”
You’re not the expert – It’s OK not to know everything or have the answers to every question. This is uncharted territory for us! Deffer to the experts, if that seems appropriate, or let a question stay unanswered. “That is a great question, let’s see what the CDC says about it.” or “I don’t know when your soccer games will be rescheduled. I am waiting to hear from your coach and I will let you know as soon as I hear from him.”
Identify an emotion – While some children may display their emotions clearly, others may be a little harder to decipher. Silence, angry outbursts, an increase in anxious behaviors, or resistance to talk may all be signs of unsettling emotions inside. Do your best to put these emotions into words: “You seem upset that you can’t sit closer to your friends at lunch.” or “It’s ok to be confused, this is a really confusing time.” Then, focus on listening to their answers, rather than using logic, reasoning, or solutions to minimize their experience.
Follow-up – Some kids take a while to digest information, some ask a million questions, and others may not seem phased at all. Regardless, leave the conversation open-ended: “Do you have any questions?” or “It looks like you have some questions.” And end with: “If you ever have any other questions or want to talk more about this, I’m always ready to listen.”
Things to Keep In Mind:
- All children need to be reminded they are seen, safe, and loved. If you’re stumped for a response, focus on these three areas. You can’t guarantee they will stay safe and healthy, but you can help your children feel safe by being a calm and confident parent in these uncertain times. Learn more about truly “seeing” your kids here.
- You do not have to hide your own emotions. If you are feeling stressed about work, kids returning to school, safety, and potential quarantines (among a list of other concerns), it’s ok to say, “I’m feeling really stressed today.” If you think that your child may be worried or upset by your feelings, you can set a good example by saying, “Everybody feels this way sometimes. We all have lots of feelings. Feelings come and go. When I feel this stressed, going for a run helps. Do you want to run with me?”
- But remember, your children need to rely on you, you do not rely on them. Find another adult, a friend, or community to help you process the big, overwhelming, and difficult emotions. Learn more about parent coaching.
You are not alone!
We are all trying to navigate this unusual situation. We’re all trying to parent the best we can with the ever-changing information around us.
You don’t have to do or say the perfect thing at the perfect time.
You do not need to have all the answers.
You simply need to start the conversation. Be willing to listen. And do the best you can to be the strong center your children need.