With Americans bombarded by an endless flood of information about the coronavirus, it’s hard for parents to know what they should be telling their children. Experts advise staying calm and sticking to the basics.
Children are especially confused
America is sailing through uncharted waters as we respond to a global emergency. Things are confusing enough for adults but it’s really scary to kids. Youngsters can quickly focus on trending issues. Especially “hearing things at school or reading things on their phone.” If one of your children “already leans toward getting anxious, this is just one more thing to get anxious about.”
Every parent knows that no two children are alike so their virus concerns will be unique as well. Different children will focus on different aspects of the crisis so the important thing is to listen to what they have to say. A 7-year-old will have a very different point of view than a teenager. You can point older kids to “credible resources.”
They may not voice their fears directly but you can be assured that children are nervous. Some kids bombard their parents with questions while others keep their thoughts to themselves and may need some encouragement to talk about the crisis. Some kids may need some extra attention and reassurance.
Kate McCauley, the founder of the Center for Parents and Teens at George Mason University, advises asking, “it sounds like you’re worried, can you tell me what you’re worried about?” When you learn what’s on their mind, you can say, “let’s see what we can find out.” If you don’t know, look it up. “The worst thing you can do is lie to a child. They will stop coming to you for answers, and go to their friends.”
Stick with the basics
Many parents worry about scaring their children by giving them too much information. According to Christina Chang with Vital Strategies, it’s best to stick to the basics. “Tell them only what they need to know. And keep the news exposure and grown-up speculation to a minimum.” Reassure kids of all ages that “New viruses pop up in the news every year and fear arises. We are all afraid of the unknown.”
“The things that keep you safe and healthy every day are the same habits that are going to keep you healthy through this outbreak.” Wash hands, cover coughs and sneezes. To make hand washing fun as well as effective, have them hum or sing, “whatever is in their head at the time.”
Coping with school closures
Over 30 million American children depend on school breakfast and lunch programs. School districts facing closures are exploring novel ideas to help families with solutions like “off-campus distribution of grab-and-go meals to take home,” and “delivery of bag lunches via school-bus routes.”
Federal authorities with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated guidelines to help schools decide when it’s time to close and how to go about doing it. They also list important things to consider, including the needs of “economically vulnerable children.”
Parents, often working more than one job, depend on schools to care for their children while they work. Many are unable to afford either day care or taking time off work. That’s an especially tricky situation in areas where kids rely on schools to be the only place of safety. This is a time when neighborhoods need to come together as a community to find practical workarounds for the individual situations.
School administrators are overwhelmed by this complex and fast moving situation. Parents need to be patient, and not distract them from their duties. Notices and announcements will keep the lines of communication open.