Avoid Panic – How to Talk to Kids about Coronavirus | Rad Dad Rules

Avoid Panic – How to Talk to Kids about Coronavirus

Help Your Kids With a 5-Step, Science-Backed Approach

“I’m afraid I may die” my ten-year old son quietly tells me last night, when I asked him about the Coronavirus. He went on to say, “I’m also afraid others might be hurt.”

Your kids may be more scared about the Coronavirus than you know. Along with calming them down and assuring them, you can use this approach to build resilience and problem-solving skills.

This five step approach is science-backed and evidence-based, leveraging work by experts at Harvard and elsewhere.

  1. Stop yourself (parent) and actively listen. Our first instinct as parents is often to go to assurance mode. While this is important, don’t do this yet. Actively listen to your kids. Even if their concerns seem silly to your adult self, really listen. Imagine you were their age for a moment if you can.
  2. Confirm to your kiddo that you heard them (and potentially repeat #1). As you listen, validate your child’s emotion (empathy, not sympathy) – “honey, I can understand how that is scary to you” or “it makes sense that you would feel this way.” You aren’t agreeing with them, you are just meeting them were they are at. Studies have proven this can stop the fight/flight response in times of trauma. You may repeat the first two steps a few times.
  3. Confirm that you will protect them and keep them safe. First ask your kids if they feel like they heard you. If not, keep repeating the first two steps. After this, confirm that you will keep them safe and make sure they are okay. After the empathy step, they can take this in and feel safer.
  4. Ask your kiddos for ideas to prepare reasonably. During this step, your kids will have lots of ideas. Your job is to say “ok” or “that’s an idea” – you aren’t grading them yet. If they are stuck, you can offer ideas as a question “what about if we got another can of soup?” Having your kids suggest ideas supports them resolving future issues on their own.
  5. Act on their ideas (and yours). Write a list with your kids and do the items you agree to. This may even turn what was fear and panic to fun and pride. In this step, you are demonstrating how they can rise above issues and act – a great life skill.

While subtle, this approach builds more life skills for your child. They are learning how to calm themselves, express concerns, hear others, brainstorm, and take action to resolve. Great job parents!

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News stories and rumors are rampant right now about this virus. It’s one of those times when everyone has an opinion. You may end-up going through these five steps a few times because of this, or just the first two empathy ones.

To gain facts as a parent, we recommend your trusted medical professional or the CDC. If you catch yourself feeling panicked, do your best to identify your concerns. Giving them a name, color and texture can help. When you define it, it doesn’t have the same power. Call a friend or seek out mental health support as you need, so you can be there for your kids.

Remember, as parents, we often jump to protector mode before empathy mode. It’s a natural reaction but isn’t always the most useful in teaching skills to your kids. Do your best and remember to hear them first and then confirm that you understand them.  In doing so, you will help build a lifelong coping skill pattern for them.

As my son and I finished our conversation, he was very excited about going shopping and getting a few extra cans of his favorite chicken noodle soup, making sure he knew where our board games were located, and was no longer afraid.

As a bonus - enjoy the recording of my son and I talking below!

About the Author Chris

Chris has worked in tech for 30 years, and healthcare tech for 8 of those. He's on the advisory board of Harvard-Based Think:Kids, and runs Rad Dad Rules. He is the proud Dad of two awesome kids, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.

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  • Cara says:

    Chris – thanks so much for doing this post. My 8 year old doesn’t fully understand why she has to stay at home, but she does realize that the corona virus is a very serious thing. I really like what you said about validating your child’s emotions. This is so important. I feel for these kids so much, their world just got turned upside down. Who would have thought we would be having to explain something like this to them? I’ve been trying to limit the news or not watch at all around my daughter. She has a tendency to hear one thing and internalize about it.

  • Jake says:

    Always good to take your kids’ concerns seriously. I have been wondering what I would think if I were young during these times.

  • Steven says:

    I’ve noticed that everyone has their own opinions too. I try to stay updated with the latest corona virus updates and tell my kids just enough to let them know what is going on. They don’t seem too concerned so far.

  • Kelsey says:

    Great advice! So many parents are probably scrambling to try to think of the right things to tell their kids.

  • Kendra says:

    My daughter enjoyed going shopping with me the other day and picking out some of her favorite snacks 🙂

  • Ed says:

    My youngest son came up to me the other day and asked “Are we going to die?” And of course he asked me right before bed so I thought great, he’s going to never sleep tonight. We had a long talk and he felt better.

  • Shawn says:

    My son is real clever and will ask me something about covid19 and if he isn’t happy with the answer, he gets on the computer and searches it so I’ve had to try to limit his computer use lol. He knows this is a major thing. He’s really missing basketball right now. Hate our kids have to miss out on stuff now.

  • Morgan says:

    Happy to see you brought this up… wish more people in the news industry would bring this to attention about talking to your kids during this unimaginable pandemic.

  • L. Chandler says:

    Enjoyed hearing you and your son talking about the corona virus! It brought me some comfort.

  • Mel says:

    A much needed read in these unprecedented times. We never had a manual for this corona virus stuff, I’ve felt like I’ve had to kinda wing it along the way.

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