How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus
Rule number one when it comes to emergencies? Stay calm. But with the new coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading rapidly around the globe — and everyone from news anchors to the couple next to you at the local pizzeria talking about worst-case scenarios — stress and worry can seem downright contagious.
Basically, your girl could likely use a sense of calm in her life right about now, and you can help.
In fact, having a conversation with her about coronavirus could be the most important thing you do with your girl all week. Depending on her age, simply asking what she’s heard about coronavirus and how she’s feeling about it not only helps ensure she’s getting correct information but also lets her know this topic isn’t off-limits and you’re there to support her and help her understand her emotions — whatever they may be.
Here are some basic dos and don’ts when it comes to handling this subject with care.
DO let her know that feelings of fear, sadness, anger, and even confusion are totally normal in times like these. Sometimes just knowing that it’s okay to talk about her feelings can give her a sense of calm.
DON’T lead into the conversation by asking if she’s scared or upset. If she’s not already feeling that way, there’s no need to suggest that she should!
DO answer her questions about things she’s observing—like face masks—in an age-appropriate and accurate way.
DON’T be afraid to admit you don’t have all the answers! Unless you’re a medical professional and highly versed in situations like these, chances are, you may not have all the facts. What you do have on your side? Experts who can help you and your daughter make sense of things. Turn to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other trusted resources, if ever you’re not sure about what you’re hearing in the news or what your girl is hearing on the playground.
DO give your girl the tools to stay as healthy as possible. According to the CDC, washing our hands properly, avoiding touching our faces, staying home when we’re sick, and covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue that gets thrown away immediately are all smart, simple things we can do to prevent the spread of not just coronavirus but also many other illnesses. Taking practical steps to protect herself can give your girl a sense of control in times when she might otherwise feel afraid.
DON’T turn a blind eye to stereotypes or generalizations that have been made about who “started” coronavirus or who might be most likely to have it. Sadly, in times of fear, people often look for someone to blame. Remind your girl that a person’s skin color, the language they speak, and the country their family comes from has nothing to do with the amount of respect and kindness they deserve in this world and that there is no type of person more likely to have or get the virus than others.
DO let her know that, as always, any and all personal contact she has with others should be governed by her own comfort level. For now, she’s unlikely to get sick from shaking hands with a neighbor or hugging a friend — especially if she’s regularly washing her hands — but she should know she can always choose to skip those gestures if they make her uncomfortable or worried for any reason. But if the illness becomes more widespread, you may want to talk to her about minimizing physical contact (like shaking hands or avoiding sharing snacks from the same container), according to CDC guidelines.
DON’T feed the culture of panic. Remember: your girl is taking her cues from you. If you’re staying on track, she’s more likely to as well.
DO let her know that this is a conversation you can continue as the days and weeks go by. If she thinks of questions she forgot to ask, you’re here to help. And in the case that the situation with coronavirus changes and there’s different or more information that she should know, you’ll bring it to her.
DON’T forget the power of the basics. Doubling down on routines, including mealtimes, bedtime rituals, and quality family time, can go a long way in keeping her world as calm and steady as possible.
SERVICE UNIT 93 ADDS: You know what takes 20 seconds to recite while you’re washing your hands? The Girl Scout Law!
I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout.