Talking to children about Coronavirus is sort of like talking to them about any other adult topic. It might feel as uncomfortable or awkward as talking with them about adult money matters or other grown-up topics. So, let’s remember the WarmLine guidelines for talking to children about any topic that is ‘too big’ for their complete understanding.
First: Try answering their questions. We often misinterpret what children want to know about grown-up topics, and end up overwhelming them with too much information – which might lead them to become overwhelmed or scared. If they ask you a question, instead of answering it right away; try to get some clarity first on what exactly they are asking. Ask them a question back. Ask them what they think the answer might be. Their interpretations are often not the same as ours. Check them out first!
My daughter, Melanie, 9 at the time, and I, were sitting in the waiting room together. She had been smacked in the forehead with a wayward croquet mallet and needed a few stitches in her eyebrow. I was trying to make light of the situation and invited her to wonder with me if she would have a black eye tomorrow. I was suggesting some fun stories of how she might be explaining the black eye to her friends, making up scenarios of what fantastical situations might have caused it instead of the croquet mallet. I recall that she had started to cry, and I thought that meant she was worried about the upcoming procedure of the stitches…. The next morning, Melanie woke up and screamed to me in loud jubilation, “I can see! I’m not blind!”
It took me a minute to realize that I had planted the seed that she might lose her vision when I referred to a ‘black eye’. Oh! I felt so bad to know that she had lived in fear that she would lose her vision based on an expression that I used that she didn’t understand. I had given her too much information without checking in on her understanding.
Second: If you think your child might be worried about coronavirus or other grown-up topic, you might consider talking about how your child thinks his friends think about this. Move the tough part of the conversation outside of himself: ask how he thinks his best friend feels about all this or how he thinks his teacher might talk about it. With a younger child, you can ask about how his teddy bear feels, or you can ask his teddy bear directly. You might say, “I wonder what Teddy thinks of this coronavirus; Teddy? What are you thinking about. Hmmmm. I can’t hear him very well, can you tell me what he is saying?”
Third: The important thing to remember is to keep all the information age appropriate. Let’s be mindful to tell them the truth – but to provide it in age appropriate language, and in small chunks of information. Just because you have a ton of information doesn’t mean that you need to provide it to your child all at once.
I love the analogy of the story of the Train Ticket. Every year, Grandpa takes Junior on an annual train ride. When Junior is 4 years old, Grandpa shows him the train ticket and explains to Junior that they need it to get on the train. When Junior is 6, Grandpa lets him hold the ticket briefly as they sit and wait for the train, but Grandpa keeps the ticket safe until they need it. When Junior is 9, Grandpa takes him to the ticket window to purchase the ticket, but holds it safe until they are ready to get on the train, this year allowing Junior to present his own ticket to the conductor. When Junior is 11, Grandpa gives him the money to purchase the tickets, and asks Junior to keep them in his pocket. Eventually, Junior can go to the train station to purchase his own ticket and ride on his own. Each year, Grandpa has shared a little more information, given a little more power allowing Junior to have autonomy over the whole process.
An excellent resource about providing age-appropriate coronavirus information to toddlers comes from Zero to Three here: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/3265-answering-your-young-child-s-questions-about-coronavirus
With Coronavirus, and any other grown-up topics that your children are facing, we want them to know that we are fully present to their questions. We want our children to trust that we will be honest with them, but we also want them to sense that we will not dump too much information or responsibility on their shoulders.
Post Submitted by WarmLine Member Patty Reis