How To Talk to your Kids About a Pandemic

A local clinical psychologist gives us some tips on keeping kids well and happy.

Keeping sane, content, and reasonably focused during a family quarantine is a unique new adventure for families around the world. You have to keep kids of all ages busy with enriching homeschool activities each live-long day; feed them something other than macaroni and cheese now and then; and remember to shower semi-regularly—all while working full-time from your kitchen table.

Photograph provided by Susan J. Steinberg

But you also need to think beyond the quarantine and remember your family’s long-term well-being. We talked to Clinical Psychologist Susan J. Steinberg, Ph.D, who conducts a range of psychotherapy services from her private practice, about some ways to guide your children through this experience. Her first three steps are acknowledgement, positivity, and problem-solving.

“Acknowledge what they’re experiencing,” Steinberg says. “This is difficult for everyone; talk to them about that.” Then follow up with useful information. “Our kids will hear things from their friends about symptoms, contagion, ventilators, and possible death,” Steinberg says. “Ask your kids what they have heard and what they know about the virus, and then if necessary, take steps to be sure they know the truth about it. Guide them with age-appropriate information about taking good care of ourselves, staying at least six feet from others outside of our homes, and looking up answers to questions we are unsure about.”

And above all, go easy on the Google dives, and encourage your kids (especially older ones) to do the same. “Limit the amount of news reports and social media that your kids listen to and read. Find accurate sources of information like the CDC website and specifically, the page about talking to kids about coronavirus.

Next, keep up the positivity whenever possible. “Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children,” Steinberg says.

But are your kids still complaining of boredom? Of course they are! In this free-for-all of home lockdown, routines will be your best friend. They will begin to combat the endless stretch of hours in each day, and kids will be able to see their way through to find things they want to do. With structured (or semi-structured) days, they can solve their own problem of filling free time.

You can start by following some pretty classic routines: Eat together at the table during regular mealtimes (cooking together stretches that time out as well); make sure each family member gets a bath or shower each day; take a socially-distant walk together (every day!); try to do something creative or relaxing each day. Put on real clothes. Stuff like that.

“Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared,” Steinberg says. “Be a good role model, taking care of yourself, with healthy eating and sleeping habits. Avoid destructive habits and find the fun in being together at home.”

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