Talking To Your Kids About The Coronavirus

March 13, 2020
Mom talking to her daughter at a kitchen table



With the announcement that K-12 schools across Ohio closing down for the next three weeks, and all sorts of cancelations happening across Northeast Ohio, parents might find themselves overwhelmed with anxiety and concern - not only in how to handle childcare or worry about meals, but also in how to talk to our kids about the coronavirus and exactly what it is and means for them and others. It can be hard to wrap around adult minds around the pandemic, trying to explain it to children can be even trickier.

Experts have weighed in with great suggestions on teaching our children why social distancing is happening and how to teach them to flatten the curve without causing anxiety or overwhelming them with fear. The number one piece of advice? Stay calm and focus on proactive steps people are taking.

That's what we did in my family. My eight year old has known about the coronavirus as long as I have. I've sprinkled information in bits and pieces over the last few weeks and let him watch some news programs too. He and his friends had already been chatting about it at school and he shared with me some of the myths and some of the truths he heard. We are washing our hands and using the Purell. A lot.

He had a field trip canceled for this week and was super bummed but told me he understood why it had to happen. And I promised him that we'd find a way to take that trip to Hale Farm later in the Spring or this summer. Yesterday, when we got word that schools would be closing, he was thrilled - until he realized he'd still be doing work at home. No second grader wants that news. ;) But this morning on the way to school we talked a little bit more about what "flattening the curve" means. I asked him to describe it in his own words. He said "If two people have it and they go to a store or popular place, then everyone there could get it to but if they stay home then all those other people won't and so doctors and nurses are able to help more". Kids are sometimes a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

I know my anxiety has hit highs and lows as I worry about him and my parents (all with compromised immune systems) but I also know it's important to not let my grown up concerns steal my kid his joy. So we also talk about all the amazing, wonderful things communities are doing too. We talked about how his classmates won't have to worry about getting a hot breakfast or lunch and how important it is right now to do what Fred Rogers always told us:

Look for the helpers.

Helpers like Kevin Love and the Cavs. Helpers like the Red Cross. Helpers like all the different area businesses and people stepping up and supporting communities not just here in Ohio but coast to coast and across the globe.

This weekend, maybe have them make their own illustration of "flattening the curve" or maybe let them pick out their favorite "WashYourLyric" poster.  You might also consider letting them watch a program that can help you educate them. Show them who those "helpers" are and let them help where they can too. You don't have to overwhelm them with news, but you can let them be a part of the plan that we are all taking to keep each other safe. Then, maybe binge their favorite shows on your streaming platform and use this time as an extended adventure at home.

We are going to get to the other side of this - it's going to take time. Meanwhile, let's use this as a great teaching opportunity for our children. We can't escape talking to our kids about the pandemic, but we can keep them calm and be honest and trust that they can handle the information. Kids are incredibly resilient and wise and we don't have to be scared to have these hard conversations. They will get it.