How to explain the pandemic to your kids

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During the coronavirus, one of the most difficult things to do is help your children through this strange time. At a superficial level, things are better for kids, they have less school, get to play more, get to spend more time with their parents, and overall just have more fun. Clearly beneath that things are more complicated. They are missing out on their routine and the social interaction that is key in these formative years. While they may not understand the details of the coronavirus they are likely feeling a little bit of stress. What can you do?

The greatest temptation is to sugar coat things. To suggest that they are just having a great time at home with their parents and that nothing is wrong in the outside world. Those people walking past the window wearing masks, they are just playing a game! That is not the right approach though. 

This is one of the strangest times in anyone’s life and your children deserve to know what is going on (to a certain degree, depending on maturity). By lying to them about the pandemic you are taking away an important moment in their lives. If they are able to understand the details of something like this, it is best to explain it to them. This way when they look back in many years’ time they can share their memory of the experience. 

The second reason you shouldn’t lie is that children are incredibly perceptive. Studies have shown that when parents feel stress and try to hide that stress from the children, it doesn’t work. Instead, it simply causes the child to feel stress but not know why. This can create even more anxiety on the part of the child.

The study did show that children were more perceptive to changes in their mother’s behavior than their father’s. The explanation put forward by the research team was that fathers tend to say things are “just fine” no matter the circumstances. They are generally less emotionally open compared to mothers. Mothers tend to be very expressive when things are good, and when they want to hide stress they subconsciously change that behavior. 

However, whether you are a father or a mother you should take the same approach with the pandemic. Your children are likely overhearing conversations, seeing strange things in the street, and picking up on small stress signals. By explaining to them exactly what is happening you may be able to rationalize their view and help them feel comfortable. 

Tell them that there is something happening that could make people sick and we need to stay by ourselves a little more to lower the risk. If they need more details you can provide them. You can still try to make it fun, and make it a game and avoid any more depressing elements of the pandemic but they should be involved. If you are someone who looks at the daily statistics you could include your children. Don’t talk to them about the number of deaths as that would be depressing instead let them focus on the number of recoveries being reported. As the number of recoveries has to keep going up you could let them chart that figure every day so that they get excited when the pandemic is approaching an end. 

Including your children and letting them understand why the world is in a strange place right now will empower them to deal with their complex emotions in this difficult time. Be there as a shield and support when they need it but don’t hide them from everything that is happening.