Suggestions for Talking with Children and Adolescents About COVID-19

Posted on: Tue, 03/31/2020 - 09:00

This is the third in a series of blogs about coping with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing that many adults feel uncomfortable talking with children and adolescents about scary events, today’s guest blogger, FCPS Supervisor of Psychological Services and School Therapists Ann McGreevy, shares suggestions. She emphasizes that knowing the truth about a situation helps us process and understand it and then try to plan for what might be coming next.

Many adults feel uncomfortable talking with children and adolescents about scary events. We’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing and somehow make a difficult situation worse. What children want, what we all want, is to know the truth about a situation so we can process and understand it and then try to plan for what might be coming next. This gives us a sense of control and helps empower us. It’s human nature to want to know what is happening in our world. We all feel better/calmer/safer when we have information, even when it’s not what we want – like learning our plane is delayed because it needs to be refueled. If we don’t get this information, we start to think the worst – our plane is delayed because it has major engine trouble, and we’re going to fly on it soon putting our self in serious danger. Children and adolescents do the same thing. In the absence of factual information shared in a calm and caring manner, children will assume the situation is far worse than it is. Tell the truth.

Children and adolescents look to the adults in their lives for direction on how to react to stressful events. As adults, we need to monitor and calm our own fear and anxiety so as not to pass it on to our children. We need to reassure our children that those in authority in our community – health officials, law enforcement, and school leaders – are working hard to keep everyone safe. Even more important, we need to let them know that we are here to protect them by ensuring good hygiene, enforcing social distancing, sharing developmentally appropriate information, and taking care of them if they do get sick. Spending time talking and listening to our children in a calm and loving manner goes a long way to soothe their fears and anxieties. Be available.

When we talk with children and adolescents about COVID-19, we need to keep our information developmentally appropriate, meaning very short and simple information for young children and more complex explanations for older children. You know your children best. Follow their lead and answer questions as directly as possible. This doesn’t mean that if they don’t ask questions you should avoid talking about it. Schools are closed and they are at home, they clearly know life has changed dramatically. Help them understand why without overwhelming them. Follow their lead.

Here are some resources you may find helpful:

https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Talking-With-Children-Tips-for-Caregivers-Parents-and-Teachers-During-Infectious-Disease-Outbreaks/SMA14-4886

https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/talking-to-children-about-covid-19-(coronavirus)-a-parent-resource