During this unprecedented time of pandemic, many parents have been asking me for advice on how to talk to their children about the crisis. The way you approach your children is, of course, dependent on age, emotional maturity, and so on, the following pointers are useful for children of many ages.
Don't talk down to your children. But spare the gory details about COVID-19. Explain what is happening but emphasize hope and reassurance. The virus can make children sick, but it appears very rare for children to be seriously affected.
Emphasize that there are very important measures that can help a lot to prevent people in your household from getting sick. Here, it might be important to teach children how to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water. Suggest they sing Happy Birthday twice while washing their hands. Teach children to sneeze and cough into their upper arms and shoulders rather than into their hands or into the air.
More than ever, this is an important time to help your children to develop a daily routine. Meals should be at set time with everyone in attendance. Encourage time to be set aside for schoolwork and reading. Discourage excessive screen time. Do encourage FaceTime chats with Grandma or friends (with appropriate supervision, of course).
Try to avoid exposing children (or yourself) to ongoing newscasts or social media postings on the coronavirus crisis.
Encourage outdoor activity as much as possible, keeping in mind social distancing recommendations and rules. Look on YouTube and similar systems for fun exercise or yoga routines you can do indoors with your children if necessary
If your children come to you with worry and concerns, the most important skill is to listen to what your child is saying. Try to reflect his feelings back to him by summarizing what you heard him say, so he knows that you understand, hear him and are truly there with him. Avoid offering empty reassurance and solutions you may not be clear on yourself. As already mentioned, provide information you do know, such as how washing hands and social distancing can help a lot to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Suggest art projects where the child draws or paints her feelings, or writes a song, poem or a story about a hero who overcomes the virus. Practice deep breathing exercises to help manage anxiety. An example would be “square breathing” – breathe in slowly while counting to 4 in your head, hold the breath for the count of 4, then breathe out counting to 4. Repeat this exercise four times. There are some very good mindfulness exercises for children available online.
Most of all, try to enjoy precious moments where you have members of your family with you at your home. It may be a chaotic and frightening time, but this is also an opportunity to spend good quality time with those you love the most.