Coronavirus (COVID-19) news is everywhere, leading to school closings and event cancellations — which means your kids know about it.
But they probably don't understand it.
Kristie Sigler and Mary Sterenberg, lecturers in Ohio State's School of Communication, offer tips on talking to your kids during these uncertain times. This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared in their blog, SALT effect.
Do we really need to talk to our kids about the coronavirus?
A resounding YES. Our kids will find out what’s happening in the world. We do our very best to protect them, as we should, but we also need to be realistic.
Our kids hear about the coronavirus from social media, other apps, friends at school, breaking news across the TV, a news update on the radio or even a newspaper at a coffee shop. And they may not say a word to us about it.
What does this mean for parents? We have to parent accordingly. It doesn’t matter if we’d rather not talk about it. It doesn’t matter if we don’t know what to say.
How exactly should we talk about the coronavirus?
Take care of yourself.
Your kids will pay attention to how you respond, so you need to be proactive. Take breaks from constant news coverage, spend time with your family, do something positive for someone else.
Start the conversation. Find out what they know.
Ask kids what they know so you can determine how much to share and what needs to be corrected. This also gives you an opportunity to find out where they are getting information and from whom.
Be available. Listen.
When it comes to discussing hard topics, a teacher who has been in the classroom for over 20 years gives advice that takes the pressure off: “You don't have to have answers. Some situations just don't have answers. Kids need a safe space to ask questions, to process, to figure out how to be empathetic or not afraid or whatever other emotions they feel. More than anything, I just believe that there is no replacement for human interaction. We are social creatures who need each other in good times and bad.”
Nobody expects us to be perfect and have all the answers, so let that go and just be there for your kids.
Be honest. Share accurate information.
Emphasize the importance of sharing the truth and not perpetuating rumors or stories that aren’t coming from trusted organizations. Share information in a way your kids understand — you know them best.
Talk about news coverage.
When our kids have trouble understanding how and why stories are being covered, this information can provide a starting place for discussion. We won’t dig into it in this post, but this also gives you a good opportunity to talk about media literacy. PBS has a page of resources for teachers, but it would be helpful for parents as well, especially because it focuses on specific current events.
As adults, we have experience and perspective that our kids don’t have. Do your best to correct scary stuff and misinformation, which is rampant for kids in particular.
Help them feel safe.
Let them know you'll do whatever you can to keep them safe, which includes supporting and trusting people who are making decisions because they care about the health of our communities.
Nobody likes feeling helpless, and teaching kids to take action is a positive and healthy way to cope. Doing something for others can help kids feel connected and give them ways to contribute to the world — two important building blocks of resilient kids.
In the coming days and weeks, keep an eye on your kids. Make sure they know you’re always available to listen. Pay attention to the media they’re consuming. If they have questions that you need more help answering, or if you’re uncertain about how they’re processing things, get more help. Our kids are living in a world unlike anything we experienced, so of course we’re going to need help! Don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Where can I get trustworthy information as a parent?
It all comes down to healthy communication. We have to talk to our kids about what they see and hear on the news. But how? You can search online and find a lot of advice, but that can sometimes lead to information overload. Here are some reliable sources:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is our nation's health protection agency and is a trusted authority on coronavirus.
- Coronavirus.gov is the CDC's official website for monitoring coronavirus.
- The World Health Organization's home page has links to rolling updates on coronavirus, public advice, media resources and more.
- World Health Organization Coronavirus Situation Dashboard is an interactive map with global numbers and numbers by country of COVID-19 cases updated on a daily basis.
- Your Local Health Department Websites will help with information about what's happening in your area. The link here will take you to a national directory. You can search for your local health department by state or zip code.