How should I talk to kids about the corona virus, any health event or death?
What should I tell my kids?
Every parent knows that it is important in this pandemic to talk to their kids. You know you need to say something, but what? Since parents are feeling frightened and helpless as well as isolated from the outside world, they want to try to avoid putting their kids in the same situation. Adults need to be educated as to the facts of the virus to reduce their fears; they then need to talk to their children. Here are five things to understand when talking to your kids about Covid 19.
5 things to think about when talking to your children about Covid 19, health issues or even death.
1. Even Young Children Know When Something is Wrong.
Parents, in good faith, believe young children do not understand illness or death. Therefore, they believe there is no need to discuss these events with them. With older children they try to protect them from the harsh realities of life. However, according to psychologists and educators, even young children are aware when bad things are happening, including illness and death. The reality is that, pretending that children do not understand what is going on, means that parents can avoid what they perceive as a difficult and painful discussion with their children. Failing to understand the extent that children understand painful events, means that parents fail to watch how children are reacting in stressful situations. According to Charles A Corr and David E Bolk in their 2010 book Children’s Encounters with Death, Bereavement and Coping, parents need to think in terms of what kids want to know, what they need to know and what they can understand. To fail to address these issues keeps the child uncomfortably in the dark. This discomfort can paradoxically negatively traumatize children.
2. Developing Coping Skills
Specialists say that, when parents ignore the fact that children can feel when something is wrong, they eliminate a constructive way to teach children about events that can happen in their lifetime. Failing to talk to children when bad things happen, avoids the child learning lessons for coping in emergencies, health disasters and death. According to Corr and Bolk, only by explaining to children what is going on can parents act in a constructive way to “teach children about such events and to help them learn to cope with such events”. Life lessons only occur when parents talk openly with children. As adults, we see some adults dealing better with illness and death than others, children who have been taught coping skills during childhood are obviously more apt to cope with loss as adults.
3. Don’t Keep Kids in the Dark.
Telling children what is going on, also reduces their feelings of isolation. Children function better when they are included in what is happening to parents, family members and their community. They can then act to help their parents, whether that is by shopping, walking the dog or helping with family activities. There is also a sense of betrayal felt by children when they are not included. I remember when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer years ago. Unfortunately. none of her seven children were told of her health challenge until it was over. Therefore, none of us could help her during this difficult period. That could have included babysitting for younger siblings, elder siblings cooking or helping with other chores. Thus, by failing to talk to their kids, not only does the child lose but their parents and family lose their children’s loving support.
4. To Sugarcoat or Not?
Just like adults, kids need the facts about any bad event or situation. Konnie Haq, a newscaster, in England created a video to discuss Covid – 19 with kids. She explained the situation in straight talk. She used normal vocabulary and talked about Corona Virus- 19 and explained the virus, how it developed, that it is contagious, the things that kids could do to help others during the outbreak and finally gave ways to help kids sleep if they are a bit nervous at bed time. She told kids that we all need to be superheroes and fight the virus. She used some handwritten drawings and notes to soften the discussion. It was an effective video, factual but not alarming.
5. Tools to Use to Talk to your Kids.
In addition to videos focused directly on children like the Haq video, books can be a resource to help parents deal with the process. Educators confirm that children find books helpful in learning about new situations. Children’s stories designed to help parents explain what is going on with the Covid – 19 can be helpful. I have written a story, called, “What’s This All About? The story, told from the viewpoint of an 8-year-old, reveals that when told exactly what is going on, the little girl relaxes, understanding that people get sick sometimes and that when they do, they must stay at home. As a result of knowing what is going on, she could help her parents deal with their fears as well.
Parents love their children. They try to do their best but sometimes, their best efforts are misplaced. Using resources available to parents can make you more effective and allows your children to learn even from difficult situations like this pandemic. How did you talk to your children? Do you have resources to share with other parents and carers?
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