Figuring out how to talk to children about trying times can be tricky.
The littlest hearts in your family can hold some of the biggest feelings. This might feel especially true now when everyone’s sense of normalcy has been upended. As coronavirus regulations continue to affect the way we live, work, play, and even talk, your children face a daily routine that looks a lot different than it used to. School is out, most playgrounds are closed, and playdates are canceled.
As such, it’s normal for their questions to come in droves.
Wondering how to talk to children about COVID-19 without sharing too many details or causing them even more anxiety? Read on. Today, we’re sharing a few tactics that can help calm their fears and offer much-needed reassurance during this trying time.
Set a time to talk.
Most children have heard about the virus in some way by now. Their peers might have discussed it at school a few weeks ago, they may have seen it on the news, or they may have heard you talk about it.
Either way, avoiding the topic altogether can actually cause them more anxiety. Instead of shying away from the topic, set a time to discuss it with them directly. Look at this conversation as an opportunity to bond with your child, discuss important facts, and help direct the emotional tone.
Keep the information developmentally appropriate by trying your best to answer your child’s questions as honestly and clearly as you can. Invite them to tell you what they’ve heard about the virus and ask how they feel about it.
Don’t dismiss their feelings.
As your child shares their heart with you, look them in the eye and listen intently. Along the way, they might express anxiety, worry, or stress. Make sure they understand that all of those emotions are allowed and perfectly appropriate.
Realize that these feelings will manifest themselves in different ways, depending on the child. Some children become withdrawn and sullen, spending more time in their room than normal. Some might cry or lash out in anger, while others have difficulty sleeping.
During this sensitive and unsettling time, try to be extra compassionate with your child, understanding that behavioral changes are normal and expected. They need to know you’re there for them as they process their thoughts.
Encourage them to write it out.
If your child is old enough, encourage them to start a journal. Tell them they can record their deepest concerns, worries, and fears on those pages, and you’ll only read them if they want you to. Often, the very act of writing your thoughts down on paper can be enough of a release to bring peace and comfort. The act is therapeutic and personal, helping your child feel more in control of the situation.
Create a worry box.
If your child isn’t writing yet, you can start a worry box.
Start by decorating a shoebox any way you’d like. Then, one night before bed, write down the child’s worries onto small pieces of paper. Ask your child to help you label each worry from one to 10, with 10 being the most concerning one.
Then, let them fold the pieces and put them in the box. The next day (or whenever you both decide), take the notes out together and talk about each worry. Have any of them changed position on the scale?
The box serves as a physical holding spot for your young child’s anxieties, and the tangible act of putting them in there and closing the lid can be special and symbolic.
Schedule play time.
Going a little bonkers with all the homeschool worksheets? If you’re feeling the stress, your child likely is, too.
That’s why it’s important to put down the paperwork and schedule in a little at-home recess! Daily exercise can help reduce your child’s physical response to anxiety. It can also make them emotionally stronger.
Don’t have an elementary-school-worthy playground in your backyard?
That’s OK! These easy backyard games come together in minutes and require minimal props (if any). Head outdoors, get their heart rate up, and take their mind off everything with a round of Capture the Flag.
Gloomy day outside? Hit up the kitchen for an epic family dance party and wiggle the worries away.
Set up sensory play.
Is your child in preschool? They might not be able to articulate exactly how they’re feeling, but if they’re throwing tantrums, wailing for no reason, or just acting unlike themselves, they could be carrying more weight on their tiny shoulders than you know.
For this age group, sensory play is ideal. Fill a bin with dry beans, kinetic sand, or colored rice and hide trinkets inside. Give your preschooler a simple key and ask them to find each object on it.
This activity fosters cognitive growth and social interaction and also helps them develop their fine motor skills. As you help them hunt, speak in a comforting tone, and establish an environment of peace and tranquility.
Work on a puzzle.
Looking for a way to get your bigger kids to take a break from the screen? Invite them to help you complete a puzzle. While you put the pieces together, talk openly about their concerns, and answer any questions they might have.
This is especially helpful if you’ve had a difficult time getting them to open up. Rather than sitting down face-to-face, they might feel more comfortable sharing their feelings in this way. If that’s the case, meet them where they are and let them know they can share anything with you.
Read to them.
There are many books designed to help parents talk to their kids about their feelings. Children’s authors and illustrators know this can be a tricky topic, and they’ve created memorable, endearing, and often hilarious characters to help you out. A few of our favorites include:
- Ruby Finds a Worry
- How Big Are Your Worries, Little Bear?
- Wilma Jean, The Worry Machine
- Me and My Fear
You can learn more about all of these books and discover others here. If you can’t make it to your library during this time, you can always download the audiobook version!
Looking for other reading resources? For as long as schools are out, Audible is opening its collection of children’s stories for free!
Understanding how to talk to children about stressful times can bring them peace.
There’s no denying the power of imagination, and due to recent events, your child’s might be overloaded.
Unfortunately, there’s no template that tells you how to talk to children during a crisis like this. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all script because there’s no one-size-fits-all child. You do have one incredible tool at your disposal, though: your heart.
As you discuss the facts and relay the information, remember to lead with love. When you do so, the conversation can flow, the tears can fall, and the comfort can sink in. During this time, we’re here for your family. Contact our office if you need to connect.