The kids have questions…and lots of them!
Why are we off school? Why can’t we play with our friends, or see grandma and grandpa? Why is church cancelled, and why are we stuck with nothing fun to do?
What is the Coronavirus and/or COVID-19? Why are so many people dying?
Why are my parents so obsessed with the news, the internet and the telephone?
What does God have to do with what’s going on? Does God have something to do with what’s going on?
This is new, uncharted territory for most of us, and we wonder how we are to answer our children’s many questions the best way we can. There is no perfect answer to “What do we say to the kids?” but there are some good guidelines to help us discern what is best for our family.
Here are some general principles to keep in mind when discussing COVID-19 or any other difficult topic with your children:
Set a tone of openness for conversation. As parents we want our children to come and talk with us about anything and everything, even the topics that challenge us and perhaps make us uncomfortable. Let your children know you are there to talk and will give them your full attention. Let your kids know that you may not have all of the answers, but that you are willing to figure things out together. Setting this tone with your children at an early age will reap many harder and deeper questions when they are older, and we want our kids to keep talking with us when they are older don’t we?
Let your child set the tone for your conversation. Listen carefully to the questions being asked and the underlying concerns reflected in each question. Each child is different, even if they are the same age; one child might be more sensitive than another. You know your children best of all. Let your own child’s sensitivity lead your conversation and shape your response.
Ask questions of clarification. A question about the number of people sick and dying from this pandemic may actually be a desire for reassurance that you are well and will be there to take good care of them in the future. A question about being off school may be about COVID-19, or it might be a question about what will we do next week.
Answer truthfully. Never tell a child something you must undo at a later date. While there are degrees to the information that ought to be given depending on each child’s age and sensitivity, the answer should never be false. While answering truthfully, also remember to offer reassurance. Truthfully telling your child that this is a virus that is causing a large number of people to get sick and sadly a number of people to die should also be accompanied by the reassurance that most people are very healthy and that it is your deepest desire that you all remain healthy. This is why you and the family are taking care to keep the house clean, are washing your hands frequently and why you are staying away from social gatherings like school, church and playgroups. You want everyone to stay well – the family and those in your community.
Increase details and intensity relative to the age of your child. With a variety of ages in one household older children with additional details might need to understand that this is information that might overwhelm a younger child and be asked to keep that information to conversations with you. You may also need to have family conversations with the age of the youngest in mind and speak with older children in later conversations without the little ones present.
Avoid euphemisms and confusing explanations. Use proper and accurate words appropriate for the age of the child. If at the end of the conversation a child feels they understand less than before the conversation began your child will be left with far more to worry about.
Accept your child’s feelings and reactions. Your child may cry and grieve what is going on in the world, they might express fear and worry. Each of these honest emotions and responses ought to be acknowledged and validated. They are very real. It is not fair to tell a child to simply set these aside or that they are wrong. Continue the conversation and find a way of honouring these feelings. Offer a prayer for those that are suffering. Make a plan to help others. Hold your children close and cuddle on the couch. Work on continuing the conversation to help allay them with care and love.
Integrate your beliefs and understanding of God and God’s care for the world in your explanations and conversations. Reassure your child that this is not something God is doing to the world as a punishment for misbehaviour, but that God loves us all and wants to be in a relationship with each of us. Remind your children that God grieves the sickness and death that this virus is causing and desires good for us all.
Remember that children also react to what they hear and see you doing. If you are spending a great deal of time following the news on the TV and internet, if you are talking about COVID-19 most of the time, no matter how well balanced your conversations are with your children, they will pick up on your overall anxiety. Limit your time following the news and spend quality time with your children. Make time to play together, cook together, have adventures together.
Take heart and know that God is love. Remember you don’t have to have all of the answers. and that your deepest desire is to display God’s love everyday with your children as they experience God’s love for them. You’ve got this!