If there is one thing I have learned while raising children, it is that they are instinctively in-tune with me as their mother, and they pick up on all of my anxiety and fears even when I think they aren’t noticing. Children are smart, capable, and competent, and can almost smell any tension or nervousness on the part of their primary caregivers. With Coronavirus taking over the news, children are hearing more than we realize, and ultimately have more questions than they can express.
As we enter into uncharted territories, it’s important to keep the feelings of our youngest children in mind and address any questions or concerns about Coronavirus in the most simple and concrete ways. Below are some tips when talking with your preschoolers about the virus.
- Follow their Lead- Because we don’t want to instill unnecessary fear in our children, answer their questions using short, simple language. Begin by finding out what they already know and correcting any misinformation. Explain that this is another type of virus like the flu, a tummy bug, or a cold. Most people who stay home and rest will get better soon. The reason why this is different is because it is a new illness, and doctors are working to learn everything about it to keep it from spreading.
- Listen, Validate, and Reassure- Allow your children an opportunity to ask questions while you listen without judgment. Validate their feelings. If they express fear about someone dying, it’s best not to dismiss them by saying, “You have nothing to worry about.” Recognize that you hear this is clearly on their mind and they are thinking a lot about it. Children often do best when they feel empowered and in control. Talk to them about what they can do to help prevent the spread of the illness.
- Focus on Prevention- Talk with your children about maintaining good hygiene which includes washing their hands frequently. Try making handwashing fun by singing silly songs or turning it into a competition of who can make more bubbles. Reminders to “catch your cough” in your arm and “keep your fingers out of your nose” are also helpful.
- Provide Consistency- Although children fight rules and limits, that is exactly what they crave in order to feel safe. Try to maintain a sense of normalcy in your routine while at home if possible. Create structure around their day and predictability and awareness for what is coming next. This will help minimize their anxiety.
- Stay Positive- As Mr. Rogers always said, “Focus on the helpers.” Point out to your children all of the doctors and professionals working hard to keep everyone safe. Manage your own stress and anxiety (think self-care), so our children don’t have to carry the weight of our world being a scary place to live on their shoulders.
While this is new for all of us, it is critical that we help our children remain calm during this time. Remember to take care of yourself mentally and physically, and model for your children the best ways to manage stress and uncertainty. Let’s also remember to be good to one another!
Written by Rachel Schwartz, LCSW, Director of Social Services, JCC Chicago