The news has been filled with devastating traumatic events lately. Maybe it’s always been like that, but right now it’s harder because it’s affecting everyone. There is so much fear and so many unknowns as the Coronavirus sweeps across the globe. What is happening right now is unlike anything most of us have ever seen. It’s terrorizing and heartbreaking and merciless. It is hard enough for those with stable histories and mental health to face the constant onslaught of brutal news. It can be completely devastating and crushing for those with trauma history or sensitivities. As parents we need to be especially careful with our children.
Tips for Parents – Talking to Kids about Coronavirus
The Covid-19 Pandemic is unlike anything we have seen before. Throughout my gig as a parent, when I was working on how to talk to my kids about things in the news, they were isolated things. Events that only merely brushed through our lives.
But as we face school closures and self isolation, this has been brought right into our lives in a very forceful and sudden way.
It feels like the world is sandpaper, constantly rubbing against my spirit, leaving raw, weeping wounds in it’s wake. Every time I open my computer or check the news it’s filled with so much negativity, stress, anxiety and hysteria. The news triggers anxiety responses in me almost daily. It’s eating at me. And if it’s eating at me, I know I need to be especially vigilant at protecting and helping my children through these hard times. Here are my tips for talking to kids about COVID-19 (aka Coronavirus). Especially kids who are gifted or have a history of trauma.
Tip #1 – As much as we want to, we simply can’t protect them from the news and world events.
For a long time we tried to lock down what our children saw and experienced as much as possible. We wanted to protect our kids, especially in light of their trauma history. We failed miserably most of the time. Especially when the kids are in school. It is important that we, as parents, inform ourselves from credible sources, and talk to our kids honestly. We need to be there for our kids and make ourselves into a safe place for our kids to ask all their questions.
Some of the best sources for up to date information on the COVID-19 pandemic is your government and the World Health Organization.
Tip #2 – Even if they have the vocabulary and intelligence, they may not have the emotional capacity to truly understand or discuss certain issues.
With some kids, we need to tread carefully when discussing these topics. They are hearing so many things that they may not be able to fully comprehend. My advice is to answer all the questions, as fully and honestly as we can. Some of these conversations can last for hours. They are hard. These topics are hard. They are hard for us to make sense of, so imagine how confused children must be. Talking to your child about these topics is one of the hardest things a parent can do. I leave these conversations drained and exhausted from their intensity and the unrelenting nature of childhood curiosity.
Which is why #4 is so important.
Tip #3 – Don’t rush the conversations or brush off their questions. Spend as much time as they need helping the child explore and understand hard topics.
As we go through this ever evolving and changing situation with Coronavirus, make sure to check in with your kids every day. These discussions can be hard, they are long, and I need to always be cautious to ensure I am giving him the facts, answering his questions honestly, and if we need more information, finding quality sources to get them the right information.
Our government is doing daily news briefings on COVID-19 and I am encouraging my older kids to sit with me and watch those briefings together. Then we can discuss what the latest developments are in this crisis situation.
Tip #4 – It will be draining and hard on you. Take care of yourself too.
It is so important that we be calm role models for our kids throughout all of this. I get it. You are probably feeling so overwhelmed and anxious. This is unlike anything any of us have faced before.
Take a moment. Lock yourself in the bathroom if you need to or have a shower. I find I do my best thinking and processing in the shower. Then take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Only then should you face your kids.
Show them calmly how you are preparing. Make them a part of your process as you watch press conferences, or read up on the situation from reliable news sources. Have them help you take a proactive approach in dealing with this.
Also take time to just snuggle, watch a movie, and be together. More than anything during times like this, our kids need us.
And we need them.
Be there for them. Be their lifeboat in these choppy waters. Be their safe place.
Tip #5 – Be honest and don’t make up answers.
If you don’t know the answer, say so. Knowing that we don’t have all the answers is actually a good thing for kids to learn. We are all on a journey of discovery. Working through information and knowledge is part of growth. Take the time to help your child, it’s one of the best investments you can make.
Show them how to find reliable news sources and not get sucked in by fear mongering or fake news.
Tip #6 – Focus on helping them feel safe and create a safe environment for them to process hard things.
During these uncertain and scary times, the most important goal we should have as parents is keeping our kids safe. This is especially important for kids with trauma history who are likely facing a lot of triggers right now. Focus on keeping them physically, but also mentally, safe.
Kids need to know that even though bad things are happening, even though bad things have happened to him in the past, right now, right here, he is safe.
Tip #7 – Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
Language is a struggle for our youngest son, trauma took much of his language comprehension, but we always try to answer all his questions as simply as we can. We choose words that can help him understand without unnecessarily complicating the issue. We keep the ideas and thoughts short and to the point. If he needs more, he will ask more questions because he knows he is in a safe place, where he can ask questions until he understands and feels at peace on the topic.
It’s so important that we never lie or make up answers. We keep it brief and to the point. I am the Queen of the ramble when I am nervous, or unsure. But I have learned to rein that in to ensure I am not confusing or frustrating my kids.
KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid is what goes through my mind and I try to adhere to it and not let my rambles take over.
Tip #8 – Look for the root of behavioural issues to see if you can uncover the triggering event, especially for an anxious child or one with a trauma history.
If your child has a history of trauma or an anxiety disorder, it’s very important that you step back from any situation and try to find the root of any behavioural issues. Often when my boys are acting out, struggling or misbehaving it is because something has triggered them. Whether it is a trauma trigger or an anxiety trigger, something has set them off. And lately, that something is all too often a story they have seen in the news or heard about from another source. Keep in mind that the stories that hit the hardest are not always the biggest, most catastrophic ones. For a child, hearing a story about an abused dog or a car accident could be a major trigger. Keep an open mind and look for clues in their behaviours especially if they are unable to verbalize their fears.
Tip #9 – Connect with Others
Right now so many people are isolating. But being physically isolated does not mean you should be mentally isolated. Make sure you and your kids are staying connected to family and friends through social media, phone calls and even through online gaming. Fostering that connection with others is so important right now. We need our community, now more than ever.
Tip #10 – Create Structure and New Routines
With schools and programs getting closed down everywhere due to Coronavirus, it is important that we create new routines and structures for kids. Find ways for them to meet their sensory needs safely. Make a new schedule and plan of attack for each day that includes things like school work, play, exercise, relaxation/self care, helping around the house, connecting with friends and more. Find a new rhythm for your days to help keeps find comfort in a new routine.
During times like this it is easy to get caught up in the hype. But when we allow that anxiety to take over, it actually compromises our immune system. Something we don’t want right now. Do things to help everyone in your family meet their needs, stay calm, sleep well and very importantly, eat well.
Boosting your physical and mental health right now is so important. Make it a priority for everyone.
If the news stories are hitting you hard, and your spirit is feeling raw from the constant stream of uncertainty, loss, and hysteria in the news feeds, be especially aware of how the news could be affecting your children. Keep in mind these tips for talking to kids about the news.