Nfld. & Labrador

How to talk to your kids about the pandemic

Of all the anxieties that adults are feeling right now, one of the biggest is about to explain what's happening to their kids. If this sounds like you, then psychologist Janine Hubbard has you covered. Check out her tips.
The pandemic is forcing parents to have tough conversations with their kids. (Mavo/Shutterstock)

Of all the anxieties that adults are feeling right now, one of the biggest is about how to explain what's happening to their kids. 

The coronavirus pandemic is, needless to say, a tough topic. It's scary, complicated, and has no clear resolution — all things that many parents with young kids often seek to avoid. 

But psychologist Janice Hubbard says this one is just too big to get around. Besides, even the youngest children have probably already figured out that there's something unusual going on.

"While kids may not fully understand why they're not going to school or daycare, they know that something has happened," said Hubbard. "It is forcing parents perhaps to have discussions that they're maybe not ready for, or feeling a little uncomfortable about."

Janine Hubbard, a child psychologist in St. John's, says her workload is exploding. (Submitted by Janine Hubbard)

If this sounds like you, then Hubbard has you covered. Read on for the quick version, or to go deeper, watch the video below.

TIP 1: Ask what they already know

No matter how young your children are, Hubbard says there's an easy place to start the conversation.

"Ask them: what do you know? What have you heard? And gain a sense as to their level of understanding," said Hubbard. "So clarifying, what is their understanding, and then finding out how are they feeling about it. We assume immediately that kids are sad, and some of them are. Some of them may be really happy because, hey, 'Mom and Dad are home and I don't have to go to daycare.'"

"Some are feeling really disappointed because they're not able to do their regular activities, they're not able to see their friends. So, find out what emotions they're experiencing, and then validate them. It's really important to acknowledge: 'I hear that you're feeling like that; let's talk about how we can address it.'"

TIP 2: Keep it age-appropriate

Like the clothes in your kid's closet, your approach to this subject needs to be the right fit for their age. For example, what if your kid hears that there's a bug going around?

"There are some kids who might confuse that with an insect, and there are others who understand, 'that's kind of like when I had a cold last year,'" said Hubbard. "The conversation needs to be age-appropriate for your child."

"Really young children in particular respond well to art activities and play activities to process their feelings.… I have a lot of kids who pull out the doctor's kit, and suddenly they're engaging in medical play. Maybe they're going around and infecting all of their stuffies, but then they're going back and making them feel better. Those are the kind of ways that very young children are likely to process and explore their own feelings around this."

TIP 3: Focus on what you can control

There are genuinely frightening things happening in the world, but there are also things that should give us hope and comfort. Hubbard says that's what you need to focus on with your kids.

"Reassuring them that, 'Mommy and Daddy, we're doing the best that we can to keep you safe. That's why we're keeping you with your regular bed time, that's why we're feeding you healthy foods, that's why we're washing our hands and that's why we're staying inside. We are doing all the things that the government is telling us to do to keep everybody safe.'"

TIP 4: Manage your own anxiety

Children are like emotional detectives. If you're stressed out, they'll know. Hubbard says the key to managing your children's emotional well-being is to also manage your own.

"We know that, especially really young kids, pick up on the mood and the tension and the behaviour of the adults in their household. So if parents are trying their very best, and sometimes it's putting on a bit of a facade, but if they are trying to manage their own stress levels, that then equips them to be able to talk to their kids."

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