COVID has closed 2 Windsor schools: How to talk to your kids about school COVID-19 cases

Talking to kids about COVID-19 can be difficult, but with school outbreaks affecting Windsor, it might be necessary to have a conversation with your children.

Take time to listen, be calm and focus on what they can control, experts say

Children outside a school in Montreal. Having conversations with children about COVID-19 can be difficult, but may be necessary as more schools start to experience outbreaks. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Talking to your children about the COVID-19 pandemic can be difficult, but with schools in the Windsor-Essex region and beyond experiencing outbreaks, that conversation may be necessary.

So how should you talk to your kids about COVID-19?

For Lance Rappaport, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor at the University of Windsor, the first step may just be acknowledging that having this conversation is not the easiest thing to do.

"It's a difficult conversation to have ... It's a difficult thing to articulate and communicate with a child," he said. 

Drawing on your own knowledge of your child — their developmental stage, their fears, and what they already know — can also be valuable in preparing to have the conversation. 

"Every child is going to be somewhat different, and I think parents are in a unique position to know their child and explain it in a way that the child will understand," Rappaport said.

Rappaport added that one of the keys to having a good conversation is to remember to talk about preventative and safety measures against the disease, rather than just talking about the risk.

Good listening is key

Stacey Slobodnick, clinical lead for outpatient services at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare's Regional Children's Centre, says that it's important to be aware of your own emotional state heading into the conversation. What might be most important is to be a calm and sometimes inquisitive listener.

"Regardless of whatever comments the child is making, I want the parent to reflect back, 'Oh it sounds like you're really scared.' 'Sounds like you're not scared at all.' 'Tell me some more about that,'" she said.

Stacey Slobodnick of the Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare's Regional Children's Centre says remaining calm and not projecting your fears is key when it comes to having a conversation with your child about COVID-19. (Richard Raycraft / CBC)

It's an effort to get information from the child before offering information about the pandemic or an outbreak. But before you do that, Slobodnick says it's important to be aware of your child's developmental stage, including how much information your child can handle.

Emphasizing that uncertainty and a lack of control are difficult is also important, but that comes with an opportunity to talk to your child about what they can control.

"Uncertainty can be really hard, so I want [parents] to validate and acknowledge that that's difficult," she said. "When we have situations where we don't have a lot of control, I want the parents to then focus on what are the things we can control."

These include how to spend their time, what things can be done to keep safe and how they plan on doing their schoolwork.

What you shouldn't do

In terms of mistakes to avoid, Slobodnick says you should not share questionable information from unreliable sources with your child. 

You also don't want to project your own fears and concerns, she said, adding parents should remember to stay calm. 

"So just being really aware, if this is something that makes you really nervous, know that your child needs to see that you're confident and that the two of your are going to get through this situation together," she said.

Though the pandemic has been going on for nine months, Slobodnick warns that now is also not the time to get desensitized. 

"Even though we're kind of used to it by now, it's still something kind of impeding us from living our best life right now," she said.


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