7 Tips for Parents and Caregivers: Reassuring Children During the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Pamela Cantor, M.D. and Kate Felsen

Remember a moment with your kids when something bad happened. Think about the first thing your child wanted to know. As they looked at your face, what did they want? They wanted to know if you were okay because they know that if you’re okay, they’ll be okay.

Here are 7 tips for adults to reassure children in this unsettling time:

  1. Keep calm and be real: It’s not going to be easy to be cool today. Young people read adults well. They read their faces and emotions. Before you talk to a child or teenager, prepare yourself. Prepare so that you can be as calm, collected and confident as you can be. Know what you want to say. But most of all, be truthful and be authentic.
  2. Initiate a conversation about coronavirus: Don’t wait for your kids to bring the subject of coronavirus up to you. Ask what your kids are feeling about the outbreak right now so you can respond to their concerns and their fears truthfully and assure them that you will create ongoing opportunities to talk and connect.
  3. Be honest about being worried: Do tell them that you are worried, but at the same time convey why you believe it will be okay. You need to be convinced and convincing. Prepare them for the fact that this virus is going to be with us for a while, that lots of people are going to get sick, even die, or lose their jobs. Tell them it’s going to take time to produce a vaccine and medicines to fight it but that we will eventually come out of this.
  4. Limit exposure to media: One of the things that we learned after the September 11 attacks is that parents had to regulate the amount of time that children were looking at television news. Images of the hijacked airplanes hitting the towers were repeated over and over again, and had a re-traumatizing effect. From the perspective of dosage and stress response, we have to regulate children’s exposure to some of the frightening things that are being communicated in the media without enough context, and that includes via social media channels.
  5. Give them the facts: Make sure to give young people factual information so that they know what is true from someone they trust, which may be very different from what they’re hearing from their peers, from the media or elsewhere.
  6. Communicate often, at least once a day: Don’t be surprised if you hear the same questions, questions you’ve answered over and over again. Answer them patiently and completely.
  7. Take care of yourself so you can care for others: Remember, you are the most important adult in their life. Taking care of yourself, including exercising, eating and sleeping well, and using reflective practices, such as meditation, will help you care for others.

More from Turnaround on this topic:

The 180 Podcast: Coronavirus: Keeping Our Children And Ourselves Safe, With Pamela Cantor, M.D.

Turnaround connects the dots between science, adversity and school performance to catalyze student development and academic achievement. www.turnaroundusa.org