As a parent during these uncertain and difficult times, the correct way to talk to your kids about COVID-19 might feel like walking a tight rope. How much should you share? How do you talk about school closures? How do you explain the importance of social distancing and CDC guidelines without terrifying them? Essentially, how do you keep kids both calm AND accountable?
There is no single script that works in these situations, but there are some general principles for communication to make sure kids feel safe and understand their part to play in the current crisis.
Use this as an opportunity
Particularly with young children, it’s tempting to hide the real reason behind canceled classes, sports, and playdates. However, board-certified family physician and TrueSport Expert Deborah Gilboa, MD, who specializes in youth development and resilience, is quick to remind parents that this grave time can also be an amazing opportunity to help our kids navigate the real world, rather than trying to protect them from reality.
“This is an opportunity to help our kids start to build the skills they will need the next time that upheaval and uncertainty comes to them,” Gilboa says. “Outside of global crisis, upheaval and uncertainty can come to kids when you need to move, or you get unexpectedly fired, or there’s a divorce.”
She adds that it’s important to be developmentally appropriate: Transparency is important, but you don’t have to be completely honest. Telling a five-year-old about the current death toll or going over the epidemiology of viral replication doesn’t help, and it’s probably more appropriate to explain that there’s a virus making a lot of people sick so we have to start taking action, which may mean manageable things like staying at home and washing hands more.