If you haven’t gotten this question yet as a parent, I’d bet it’s coming. Parents are more anxious, and so are kids. Remember that you can’t control your own anxious thoughts and feelings let alone those of your child. They’re going to happen. What you can do, however, is respond to your child in ways that help them learn to be psychologically flexible.
In layperson’s terms, this means you’re able to stay connected to the present moment regardless what happens around you or inside your head, so you’re able to act based on your values. It’s not sacrificing your long-term goals to short-term fears.
It’s responding instead of reacting. It’s being willing to feel comfortable in the uncomfortable.
If you’re thinking wow this is hard to do as an adult, you’re right! Even more reason to help our children learn this skill as early as possible.
What Do I Say When My Child Asks When Coronavirus Will Go Away?
Obviously, the answer to this question greatly depends on the child’s age. Some general things to keep in mind:
- Don’t make promises. Examples: “It’ll be over really soon, don’t you worry!” or “I think by Christmas, everything will be back to normal.”
Instead: Teach FLEXIBILITY. I often joked with my child patients that the best grade I could give is F for Flexibility. Tell your child the truth: “I have no idea and even the best scientists don’t know. And that’s hard, and it sucks not to know. Together, we’ll work on getting more comfortable with not knowing.” Cue eye rolls.
- Don’t burden kids with details. Kids really aren’t looking for details about vaccine development and supply chain economics.
Instead: Separate your own shit from theirs. Let’s face it, kids are ego centric. For those of you with younger kids, we can blame it on their frontal lobes not being fully developed. They want to know that they’re going to have holidays celebrated, see their friends, stay up late eating s’mores, whatever.
Parents often fall into the trap of talking too much. Like they said in Hamilton, “Smile more, talk less.” I’d tweak it to “Listen more, talk less.”
- Don’t minimize how kids feel. Telling your child that “lots of kids have it much worse” may be true, but this isn’t the right time for this life lesson. You want to hear what they’re saying and validate that, “Yes, this does suck for you, AND we’re in it together.”
Instead: Pay attention to what you’re modeling. Kids are sponges. They pick up on ALL of our bullshit, especially if our actions aren’t consistent with our words. So … if you’re telling your kid to take it one day at a time and be flexible as you’re spending hours consuming news (trying to figure out the future) and venting your worries to friends while in earshot of your kids, ask yourself what else you could be doing in this moment. Remind yourself you don’t need to solve whatever you’re trying to solve; it likely can’t be solved anyway.
While I no longer see children as patients, I do work with adults and can help parents through therapy or coaching. Let’s get in touch if you feel like you’re in over your head. We can break it down together. In the meantime, you might want to check out my 5 Steps to Respond to Your Child’s Worries for some additional guidance.