How to Talk to Children During Time of Uncertainty

scared child

“Who do you think I will live with if both of my parents die?”

This is what a student asked me at school last week. I’m not sure if I looked as shocked as I felt, but I took a few calming breaths and responded, “That is not something you need to worry about right now.” We talked for a few more minutes about the details of what’s happening in the world, all while making scented play-doh.

Our kids have SO MANY questions. They hear us talking, they hear the news, and know that school is now canceled. They want to talk about it, but what do we say? 

Stay calm.

Our kids are watching us, ALWAYS. They are listening, ALWAYS. Even when you think they are preoccupied with a video game or a show, they HEAR YOU. Try to save the conversation about your own feelings and questions for when you are certain they are sleeping. Avoid having the news on if possible and save phone calls for a private space (the same goes for all adult conversations). 

Open the floor for questions. 

Our children have questions, so make sure they know it is safe to ask them. Try to ease into the topic by saying, “I know there has been a lot going on with school being canceled and with our family staying home as much as possible, do you have any questions for me?”

Let your child know they can always ask a question if something comes up. LET YOUR CHILD LEAD THE CONVERSATION. It is important to not give children more information than their brain is ready for. If they ask a question, answer it as simply as possible. For example:

Question: “Mom, are kids dying?”

Answer: “Most people at risk are much, much older. Kids can get sick, but their symptoms are mostly mild.”

Try reading a child-friendly article together, like this one

Social stories are a great way to explain situations to young children. You can search online and find one like this, or even create your own.  

Talk about things we CAN CONTROL. 

Anxiety often stems from situations that feel outside of our control. Talk to your children about what can be done to help prevent spread of a virus: teach effective hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home for now, and avoid touching your face (especially your mouth). Discuss ways to keep our bodies healthy: exercise (try Youtube videos if you are cooped up at home!), eating healthy, and getting adequate sleep. 

Manage anxiety TOGETHER.

Help your child with Positive Self-Talk: “I am healthy. I am strong. We are together. I am safe. Everything will work out.” Model using self-talk as often as needed. Breathe together. Being intentional about our breathing helps to calm our brains and bodies. I bet your child could even teach you a few fun breaths they have learned in school! 

Practice yoga and practice expressing daily gratitude. Go outside, enjoy nature. When all else fails: distract one another! Play a fun game together or watch a silly show. Know when to seek help, for yourself and for your child. 

Children do best with structure and routine. Create a daily schedule that allows for learning, movement, and creative play. Have your child help make the schedule and they will be more invested! Even with school being off, stick with an early bedtime and routine, it will be helpful and healthy for all. 

TAKE CARE OF YOU.

Our children need us at our best, now more than ever. Make time for you, whether it is an extra 5 minutes in the shower, hopping on Facetime with a friend, or taking the dog on a walk. Stay focused on the positives and the strengths of your family. If you have a spouse, ask for a time-out when needed.

Stay strong, stay calm, and remember: we are in this together, even if we are apart. 

Hear Cassie Larson (school counselor) and Carly Gaddie (school social worker), discuss talking to your kids about the spread of COVID-19 in their podcast through Fargo Public Schools. 

If you are looking for more resources on talking to kids specifically about COVID-19, the National Association of School Psychologists has a great resource

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Cassie earned her M.Ed in Counselor Education from NDSU in 2010 and her BA in Psychology from UND in 2006. Currently, she is a School Counselor and a Licensed Professional Counselor. Cassie has been married since 2008 and has 3 children: 2 boys and 1 little girl. In addition, they have 2 cats, 1 dog, a fish, and a gecko! Cassie currently has a Podcast through the Fargo Public Schools called "Hear for the Kids" and loves to share information about social and emotional learning, mental health, relationships, and parenting. During her non-work time (there is no free time!), Cassie enjoys camping with her family, reading books together, and being outdoors. Writing has always been a passion for Cassie, and she hopes to share helpful and humorous information about parenting, balancing life, embracing gratitude, and maintaining sanity.

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