Speaking to Your Kids About Our New World
Talking to kids about coronavirus again and again... and again.
Posted Jul 09, 2020
Parenting in the midst of a pandemic requires a myriad of unexpected skills. An increasingly important skill set to exercise in this new paradigm is talking to your kids about the ever-changing impact of the coronavirus and providing a safe space for them to process any complex feelings that emerge. In most households, this edict will require parents to proactively and repeatedly address the shifting dynamics that are occurring in the world, in the country, and in your community due to COVID-19.
In the current phase of the pandemic, our communities are slowly re-opening. This raises a set of new but essential questions. How can we, as parents, best support our kids as they participate in familiar-but-different activities like camp, playdates, and school?
The simple answer: Make it safe to talk about it. Proactively explain what’s happening in a clear and straightforward manner. Validate all expressed and potential feelings. Check in often.
To expound on these critical and timely concepts, below are six tips to ensure you are communicating relevant information, creating a safe space for ongoing dialogue and providing continual support for your children during this crisis.
1. Start early
Assume they will have multi-layered feelings about returning to school, camp, playdates, and other social interactions. They may be excited and relieved. But they also may be hesitant, even anxious.
Try to begin dialogue around planned activities well before the actual date. The kids will have time to prepare and process the information and potentially share any feelings they have about this new chapter.
2. Acknowledge the complexity
Kids have been on a roller coaster with COVID-19… just like adults. First, we couldn’t leave the house at all, then we could a little, now we can a bit more — yet, things are not back to “normal.”
Actively acknowledge that the process has been confusing. Indicate that in this phase of the process, your family, along with information garnered from experts, have determined it is safe to resume certain activities. Kids will not be able to fully embrace these restarted social interactions in the absence of a clear endorsement from their parents.
3. Suggest and/or empathize with the feelings
It is likely that many kids will feel a mix of emotions about returning to social encounters. It is also likely that many kids will not be consciously aware of these feelings. Our job as parents is to provide a narrative that they can lean into should such feelings emerge.
Some kids will be excited. Some will be a bit anxious. Many will feel both. It’s been a while since these kids have exercised their social muscles outside of the family context. Just like adults, they may experience a version of social anxiety and feel some resistance or fear of stepping out of their new comfort zone (i.e. being at home.)
Gently ask what they are feeling about the impending activity. If they acknowledge any complex feelings, empathize, empathize, empathize. “I know, honey, it’s been so long since we’ve played with our friends. It almost feels like doing something new. It’s understandable why you might feel a bit nervous or scared.”
If your kids deny any tricky feelings, don’t push it. Simply provide some general statements that illustrate examples of feelings that could emerge. Normalize these hypothetical feelings. Kids can borrow from those notions later if they need to. “I’m sure some kids might feel nervous about having a playdate. It’s been so long… it might seem almost like doing something new and feel both exciting and scary at the same time.”
4. Check in
Check in during (if possible) and after the activity. Directly ask your children how it was for them. What was their favorite and least favorite part? Did it feel fun? Strange? Both?
If they provide the ubiquitous one-word answer, offer some notions that might match what they experienced. “I can imagine it was really fun and also a little strange. It’s been so long.” Leave the door open for additional discourse. “If you have any other thoughts about it, I would love to hear them.”
This dialogue is not a one-time conversation. There are going to be a plethora of thoughts and feelings that emerge as we gradually return to a semblance of normalcy. The welcome return to some familiar routines and patterns will be tempered by the ongoing safety concerns around COVID that will remain at the forefront of our collective minds for some. Kids may experience intermittent anxiety, fear, or sadness about the remaining changes or the activities ahead.
On a weekly basis, check in. “I was thinking more about the playdate you had last week. Are you interested in having more time with friends? Did you remember any feelings that came up?” Or, “I was thinking about how strange things still are. We can do some things, but not others. Sometimes I miss being able to do all of the things we did before the coronavirus. Do you ever feel that way?”
6. Love on your kids as much as you can
Hug and hold your kids as much as possible. Let them know how great you think they are. Ensure they know they are safe and loved. Above all, demonstrating love, affection, and consistency is by far the best thing we can do for our kids during this extraordinary time.