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How to Talk to Your Children About the Coronavirus
by Debby McLean, Lower School Director

Yesterday as I popped into a 5th Grade classroom one student said, "I know why you are here, to talk about coronavirus." I wasn't, but it was a great opportunity to open the conversation. It can feel counterintuitive to openly talk to children about something as seemingly beyond our control as a possible pandemic. We want to protect them, however, the truth is our children are hearing about it from many different sources. It is better for them to hear from trusted adults who speak openly and age-appropriately than to learn mistruths from their peers. Information presented in the media can also sound quite ominous. It is our job to weed through the anxiety-causing barrage and share information while modeling reassurance and calm. If we are afraid to talk about it, we are conveying that fear to our children. So, here are a few tips for talking with your children about the coronavirus:

  1. Start with your child. Ask them what they already know. Ask how it makes them feel. Allow your child to ask questions. The goal is to replace any scary fantasies they may have created with fact and reassurance.

  2. Be calm and reassuring. As hard as it may be, find a way to compartmentalize your own anxiety. Children watch us very closely. If you are anxious, they will be anxious. 

  3. Share developmentally appropriate facts. Understanding viruses is complicated for adults. For kids, it is important to relate the information to something they already know. When I spoke with the 5th graders, I asked how many of them had either had the flu or had a flu shot to prevent it. All hands went up. I let them know that this is an illness similar to the flu. No need to dissect the differences in death rates or other statistics. 

  4. Focus on what your child can do. It is very helpful for all of us to take a proactive stance rather than worry about becoming a victim. In 5th Grade, I shared that in order to keep ourselves healthy we should always practice good hygiene. I reviewed the importance of handwashing and pointed out our new Purell stations. For all children, it’s helpful to teach effective hand washing including lengthening the duration to 20 seconds (or as many have pointed out, singing Happy Birthday two times.) Many kids typically spend about three seconds washing their hands. Also, review when to wash hands including before you eat and after using the bathroom or blowing your nose. Oh, and they need to use soap (which is more effective in killing germs than the temperature of the water.)

  5. Keep an ongoing conversation. The news is changing by the minute on this illness. It’s useful to check in with your child from time to time to dispel any rumors they may have heard recently. You also want your child to know they can come to you with questions or fears. 

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