How to Talk With Your Children About COVID-19
Angela Juurlink, School Counselor

On a recent trip to Orlando, as a counselor and as a parent, I realized I had failed to give sufficient information to my 7-year-old about why we were using hand sanitizer, wiping down the plane tray tables and singing the alphabet song twice while washing our hands when I turned around to see him place his mouth on the airplane seat in front of him.

It was a learning moment for me. It became obvious that we needed to increase information sharing so that our children could understand why we were being more cautious and therefore would assist with our attempts at keeping ourselves and those around us healthy. As a parent who is known for telling my kids to do things that scare them, within reason, it was a little unusual for them to hear me speak more about the balance of fun and social responsibility. It’s not always a small order and it’s doubtful I did it perfectly. My goal is rarely perfection and the beauty of parenting is that there are always more opportunities to try it again. 

When we are sharing information with our children, younger or older, I would emphasize how we are delivering the information much more than what we are saying, although both are important. With access to social media and dramatic news headlines at their fingertips 24/7, it is now less about what we are informing our kids about and more about listening to what they are seeing and helping them process it.

Be a listener. Find out what your children are hearing and explore, as neutrally as you are able to, what that means to them. As a parent, you may feel the urge to quell their fears. Isn’t that what our jobs are? To fix our children’s pain, be it physical or emotional? First, try to validate the normal anxiety that comes from the unknown, with a calm and steady approach.  Example: “It’s normal to feel uncomfortable with the situation- it doesn’t always feel great to worry about the changes happening around us”. 

By allowing space for worry to be present, we are also demonstrating that we are not feeling the need to remove it. Anxiety feeds on our need to be rid of it; forcing it away seldom works and, ironically, the failure to do so can actually increase angst. Allow some space for worry to be there; we can sit with it and be a little uncomfortable. It’s okay to not feel okay all the time.

With validation and normalizing, I also encourage perspective-taking. Available information so far suggests that most Covid-19 cases are mild and people under the age of 25 are more minimally impacted (CDC.org).

It can be helpful to remind your child that they are able to take some small steps to regain a little bit of control. By following basic recommendations of hand-washing, getting the regular flu shot, and social distancing reduces the potential of contracting and/or sharing the illness. 

Another recommendation is to notice how much attention we are feeding our fears. How often are we looking for updates and information? Plan some time that is cell phone free and more about enjoying a walk, run or hike. Spend some time together as a family that is not focused on the virus and what may happen next. Bumps, small and large, happen in life, and we get through them. As unpleasant as they may feel at times, they often offer us our greatest lessons.

If you feel your child is struggling more than is expected, please reach out to the counselor Angela Juurlink at ajuurlink@tiltonschool.org for additional support.Although we will not be on campus until further notice, Ms. Juurlink will be available to schedule sessions through a confidential virtual program.

Helpful Resources: 

7 Science-Based Strategies to Cope with Coronavirus Anxiety >>

Managing Children’s Fear Anxiety in the Era of Covid-19 >> 

How to Deal with Coronavirus if You Have OCD or Anxiety >>

20 Questions to Center Yourself if You Are Feeling Overwhelmed >>

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