Talking to kids about serious issues

In the wake of COVID-19 I started thinking about how to talk to kids about serious issues like this.  How much should we be telling them? How do we tell them the truth without panic setting in?  How do we give them just enough information so they can form their own opinions and not just take ours? There is a lot to consider when talking to a child about these types of things and honestly, there is probably no right way to do it.

I think it starts with a conversation between the parties involved in raising the child.  A conversation that needs to take place beforehand.  About a month ago, our dog, Mikey, passed away.  He died while we were all home and we went into reaction mode.  While at the vet saying our final goodbyes, our 2 year old son naturally had a lot of questions.  First and foremost, what's Mikey doing? My natural instincts took over. Wanting to protect him from death at such a young age, I told him that Mikey was sleeping.  My wife quickly stepped and and explained that Mikey's heart stopped and that he had died.  I didn't mind, and she was doing the right thing.  It was something that we just never talked about.  After that, we were able to sit down and explain to Jackson what had happened.  Of course, he doesn't fully comprehend, but it made sense to him and gave him some comfort knowing the truth.  It was also a good learning experience.  He understood the importance of a functioning heart...He has since used this scenario multiple times while playing doctor with his lovies.

My biggest mistake was not taking the time to calm myself down and deal with my own thoughts before talking to Jackson about it.  before talking to your kids about Coronavirus or anything else, take the time to stop and figure out your own thoughts and emotions.  If you have a clearer idea of what you know and think, you can relay that information to your children.

Be Truthful, but developmentally appropriate.  Tell your children what is actually happening.  They will hear things from friends, from your conversations and from other adults.  Giving false information or trying to protect them will just confuse them more.  With that being said, don't give them too much information that someone of their age can't handle.  Know where they are in life and how much they can understand.

Let your child take the lead.  They probably have plenty of questions, so let them ask and let them tell you what they may already know.  It is okay if you do not know the answer.  Use it as an opportunity to find out together.

Be reassuring and focus on what you are doing to keep things safe.  Kids may not have a deeper understanding of what everything means.  They also have a much wilder imagination than adults do. Kids can get scared quickly about something, especially when media takes control of the situation with a lot of information. Emphasize safety precautions that you are taking as a family to ensure everyone's health and safety.

Use this as a learning and developmental experience.  Give your kids your opinions, but do not push them.  Give them the facts from scientific and health organizations and help lead them to a path of making their own opinions if they are old enough to do so.  According to the Child Mind Institute, "Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news." 

These things can help no matter what the topic is. They are very relevant for COVID-19.

If you have kids, I encourage you to please do your own research first. This way you can be informed and speak to your kids using facts and not just what you have seen through news and social media.

For more information on talking to children about Coronavirus specifically, please visit the CDC Website

For great pointers about talking to children about difficult news in general, please visit the American Psychological Association


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