Talking About Coronavirus

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How are you talking about coronavirus with your kids?

I was prepared (mostly) for the sex talk. (Lots of sex talks.)

And we’ve had lots of conversations about drinking, drugs, vaping, relationships, respect and a zillion other things.

I hadn’t given any thought to how I’d discuss an infectious, emerging global pandemic, though.

Yes, health experts have been warning for years that a pandemic was not only possible but probable. As a health writer, I knew aware of the risk. But as a parent — well, I was too busy raising my boys and having all of the above conversations.

Then the COVID-19 crisis upended all our lives, seemingly overnight. A few months ago, our kids were sharing coronavirus memes and we were laughing along (even as we urged our children to resist racist stereotypes and show some respect for a serious situation.) Now, we’re sheltered in place, watching the death toll climb. Some of us are working; others are not, adding a whole ‘nother layer of anxiety.

Share Facts. Address Emotions.

Now, it’s impossible to avoid cornovirus conversations. Your kids know they’re home because of coronavirus. Their activities and sports have been canceled because of coronavirus, and they won’t likely see friends or extended family members in person for a long time. Because of coronavirus.

Don’t assume your kids know all the facts, though, or are doing fine, even if they seem OK. As I wrote in this Healthgrades article, 9 Tips for Talking to Kids About Coronavirus:

You might think you’re doing your child a favor by keeping him away from all coronavirus conversations, but the truth is …most have already heard about the novel coronavirus, and if you don’t share accurate information with your children, they may believe false statements—or imagine scenarios that are even scarier than reality.

Now is the time to share facts. It can be hard to separate fact from fiction, especially when news is coming so fast. Our collective understanding of this virus is evolving and growing; every day, scientists and healthcare providers learn a bit more. Stick to reliable sources of information, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and state public health websites. You can also trust information from academic medical centers — think places like Mayo Clinic and Harvard Health.

Be skeptical of information you hear elsewhere. The info may be true, but your best bet is to look for verification from a dependable source. When my 19 year old told me he’d seen a video that suggested using a blow dryer to kill the virus, I looked for scientific verification — and didn’t find any. I did, however, find out that blowing hot air into your nasal passages can do more damage than good; the hot, dry air can cause the mucus membranes lining your nasal passage to dry out and crack, which may actually increase your susceptibility to infection.

Remember that emotions — yours, and your kids’ — are running high right now. Listen carefully for what your child is not saying. For instance,

A middle schooler who complains how “stupid” it is that soccer practice is canceled might be wondering how missing a season will affect their future or might simply miss the camaraderie of playing with friends.

Reflecting your child’s comments back to him may help you uncover the feelings underneath. Make time to address your emotions; I find journaling and walks with my dog immensely helpful. Devote some time to learning a few new tools for managing emotions too. (In this ON BOYS podcast episode, social-emotional learning specialist Ellen Dodge shares some super practical and concrete tips.)

Watch Your Words

Try to use neutral words when discussing the virus and pandemic. Adding in descriptors like “horrible” and “terrifying” only serve to arouse your child’s fears. Generally speaking, our children (yes, even our teens) follow our emotional lead. If we talk about the pandemic in a factual, straightforward manner, expressing confidence in our families’ ability to cope in a challenging situation, our children will likely feel safe and confident.

Consider the timing and location of your conversations with other adults. Personally, I’m worried about the economic impact of this pandemic. I’m concerned about my parents’ health. I’m stressed out and overwhelmed, and it’s helpful for me to share those feelings and thoughts with other adults. I’m beginning to realize, though, that most of those conversations should not occur within earshot of my children. (Which is a challenge because we’re all home right now!) My divorce taught me that children are super alert when they’re experiencing a stressful situation; they hear things even when they’re in the other room, even when they’re playing video games.

Watch the timing, tone and location of your words.

Give Yourself Grace

We’re all under stress. You’re going to snap at your kids. It’s okay. Talking about — and living through — coronavirus isn’t easy.

Give yourself grace.

Interested in more support? Subscribe to Building Boys Bulletin. This week, paid subscribers got some tips and encouragement regarding at-home learning in the age of coronavirus.

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