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How to talk to kids about the coronavirus

By Patrisha Tatum

Licensed Master Social Worker

Patrisha Tatum is a Therapist at Agape Behavioral Health who serves girls in Bethel's residential programs. She previously worked full-time at Bethel and at Siskin Hospital. She earned her BSW at Freed-Hardeman University and her MSSW from the University of Tennessee, with an emphasis on Trauma. Trisha interned at Tennessee Community Service Agency, Bradford Health Services, and Jackson Co. General Hospital.

Three tips for calming fears and making the most of this time together

A recent post on Twitter from a dad really touched my heart. He said his child woke him up in the middle of the night because she was afraid he was sick and might die from COVID-19.  Wow.  Kids and teens are hearing a lot of information right now and may need help processing it. Here are three tips for having important discussions and creating fun with structure during this unexpected time at home.


1. Keep calm and be factual

There is nothing better for an anxious person than a calm person.

A good example of this is me during a storm. I hate spring because that is tornado season in the south. When a storm comes I am usually checking the weather every few minutes and I ALWAYS have a local meteorologist on the live stream.

Something that helps me a lot during these times is looking over and seeing my husband just relaxing and going about his business. It always amazes me how calm he can be during the loudest thunderstorms. It barely fazes him at all. This helps me keep my anxiety about the situation under control.

So when you talk to your kids about the virus stay calm. Give them the facts that you think they can handle according to their age and maturity. For younger children you might just explain that there are a lot of people getting sick and in order to keep the family healthy you are going to have to take some time off school and work to stay home and do some activities.

For teens, you might have to go into more detail. Be sure to answer their questions as honestly as you can.


2. Give accurate and relevant information about COVID-19

Keep your kids informed on what you’re doing in order to keep the family safe.

Teach them about washing hands and not touching your face. There are some really cool experiments you can do at home to teach younger kids the importance of washing your hands.

Also, make sure to inform your children about what life might look like for the next few weeks.

Will some adults in the home be working from home or still leaving? Will the family take trips to the park or isolate at home completely? There is a lot of unknown in the world right now so the less unknown in the home the better.

Be sure to monitor what your kids are reading on the internet about the virus. There is a lot of misinformation out there and some of it is scary. Some people posted that if you gargle with bleach it will keep you from getting the virus. Bleach is poison! That is not a good plan.

Show your older kids and teens the CDC website. Teach them how to refer to credible sources for information.


3. Create structure and fun at home

Create a structured routine for your kids at home to help them to feel safe and get their minds off everything that is going on.

Make sure you get them up at the same time every morning and put them to bed at the same time every night. If you have younger children who normally take naps at daycare or preschool make sure they get their normal nap in.

This can help reduce frustration and irritability in the home.

Some moms are making snack boxes to stop their kids from eating all day. You put out a box or crate for each child and put their snacks for the day in them. Once they run out they do not get anymore snacks for that day.

This gives them some control over their own decision making throughout the day but also makes sure you’re not eaten out of house and home on day one.

When creating this structure, make sure to throw in fun activities.

Enjoy some time with your family that you might not have enjoyed before. Encourage the kids to play outside and get fresh air or build a blanket fort in the living room. In the midst of a challenging time, you can actually create positive memories.

This is also a good time to pray together and remind your children that God loves them. These five Bible verses are good ones to share.


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