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Talking With Your Children About Coronavirus

Interview with Gena Thomas on her new children's book, Alisa & the Coronavirus.

Gena Thomas, used with permission
Source: Gena Thomas, used with permission

Talking with your kids about difficult topics can be daunting. How do you explain something that you don't quite grasp yourself? One of the most helpful things is to simply start the conversation and share honestly.

Gena Thomas is a writer, a faith wrestler, a wife, and a mom. She and her husband, Andrew, have been married over a decade and have two children, an 8-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl. Thomas works as an instructional designer at a nonprofit that equips local churches in the area of holistic development. She has written for several Christian publications and published her first book, A Smoldering Wick: Igniting Missions Work with Sustainable Practices in 2016. Her second book, Separated by the Border: A Birth Mother, a Foster Mother, and a Migrant Child's 3,000-Mile Journey, unpacks the story of reuniting her Honduran foster daughter with her family after separation at the U.S. border and was published in 2019 with InterVarsity Press. Alisa & The Coronavirus is Thomas' first children's book.

JA: Why did you set out to write your book?

GT: The world fell apart just about every day prior to the coronavirus for my 4-year-old daughter, as I imagine it does for every preschooler. These days, the meltdowns are numerous: missing grandparents, wanting a different snack, taking a bath, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. How do we talk to our kids about life’s upending changes when we don’t even really understand it ourselves?

Conversations with my 4-year-old and 8-year-old have pressed me to discuss very unfamiliar territory. I’m not sure how to answer them when they ask the questions I’m still asking myself, so we’re learning a new rhythm of asking the same questions and sitting in the unknown together when we don’t know the answers. This book emerged from those conversations.

JA: What is the primary takeaway you hope readers will learn from reading your book?

GT: Even as a former foster mom, a former teacher (of ages preschool through 10th grade), and a mom for over eight years, I’m still struggling with how to talk to my kids, especially from a Christian viewpoint about what all is happening around the world and inside our home. Finding healthy habits has been a struggle, whether the habits are physical, spiritual, or emotional.

In the book, we talk about daily routines, sadness, anger, racism, global effects, and how we are going to get through this quarantine life the only way we know how—together. Each page has a conversation between Alisa, her brother, and her parents, a reflection question or questions, and a drawing challenge to get children and parents talking and processing their feelings together. I had several readers who read it to their children and said they had positive and new conversations with their children because of the book. My hope is that this book will prompt more honest and helpful conversations within families and that more global solidarity will come from it.

Source: Alisa and The Coronavirus, HDI
Source: Alisa and The Coronavirus, HDI

JA: What are some lessons from your book that can help people live more resiliently during COVID-19?

GT: The biggest lesson is simply for parents and children to talk about their feelings together because we are all on emotional rollercoasters. Understanding that people receive love differently will help build resilience, as will the breathing exercise at the end of the book. Finding little ways to empower children, like drawing a picture or answering a question, helps them build confidence. Additionally, helping children see that this is happening all over the world, while it might be overwhelming at first, will help them build solidarity and compassion for fellow human beings.

I want to be clear that there is one topic I don’t cover in this book, and that is the topic of death. For those who have lost family members because of COVID and are looking for something specific to that topic, there are other resources from more qualified authors, such as The Dos and Don’ts of Talking With a Child About Death or Talking With My Kids About Death.

JA: What are some insights from your book that help readers support a friend or loved one?

GT: Empowering children in these days is a difficult thing to do. My kids feel very powerless against the coronavirus, as I often feel myself. In each drawing challenge, I’m asking children to color pictures of their backpacks, schools, favorite animals, and their ideas of what the coronavirus looks like. This engages them as learners through kinesthetic activities. Parents and caregivers can sit and color the drawing challenge with their children, having a discussion as they do the activity together; or, if a child processes alone better, it’s possible the child can use this activity as something he or she does alone to better understand internally what is happening. The reflection questions bring meaning to what children are learning and simultaneously experiencing. The conversations I’ve had with my children allowed them to see that I’m struggling too, and that equalizes our pain and our empowerment together and knits us more tightly as a family.

JA: What other books have you written and what inspired them?

GT: I’ve written two other books. My most recent: Separated by the Border was inspired by events that happened to my former foster daughter who traveled to the U.S. from Honduras. Having her in my life really opened me up to an understanding about the U.S. immigration system and global migration in a way I had never expected. Her mother’s love for her opened me up to a profound understanding of the tenacious motherly love of God that I had never seen before. Prior to that, I wrote A Smoldering Wick: Igniting Missions Work With Sustainable Practices that was inspired while living as a missionary in northern Mexico and simultaneously working toward my master’s degree in International Development. It is my attempt to speak into short-term missions work from a framework of biblical justice.

JA: What are you currently working on these days?

GT: Surviving. Hah. Working on staying afloat as a mom, and employee, and a wife in the midst of home quarantine.

Follow Gena Thomas on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, or visit her website. Download Alisa and the Coronavirus for free here.

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