TEXAS – It can be hard for an adult to wrap his or her head around the COVID-19 pandemic, making it that much harder to know what to say to a child about it.
Dr. Victor Fornari, a child psychiatrist with Northwell Health, says when kids ask questions like, "Why are we not in school? Why is this so dangerous?" it’s important for parents to give kids honest and simple answers.
"I think the best place to begin is for parents to ask kids what they know and what they understand. The conversation probably should begin with clarifying the facts and dispelling the myths,” Fornari said. “Once that's done, then ask the kids if they have questions.”
Fornari recommends encouraging kids to keep doing the things they typically do to relieve stress and relax, whether it’s listening to music, texting a friend, calling a friend, drawing or writing.
"I think that parents may press kids to write stories about the pandemic of 2020,” said Fornari. “I've told adolescents to keep a diary because they might write a college paper about it or they may decide to get a master’s in public health, or they'll read the story to their kids and grandkids and talk about the spring of 2020."
For parents of teenagers who aren't taking social distancing measures seriously, Fornari said: “Reassure them that that really is irresponsible, that we understand that it's hard to accept, but that everybody has to rise to the occasion. Everybody is responsible for helping, and everybody is responsible for doing what they can to minimize the spread."
A lot of parents typically have restrictions on the amount of time kids are allowed to watch TV, be on the computer, the iPad, etc., and may feel their kids are spending too much time in front of those screens right now.
Fornari says that’s okay – if watching TV or being on the iPad is helping your kids self-regulate during this unstructured time, it's okay to bend the rules and be more flexible than we typically would be. He also encourages parents not to be too hard on themselves for doing so.
Most importantly, Fornari says let kids know that yes, this is a serious situation, but if we all do our part now we will get through it together.
"The vast majority of the population will be resilient. These are challenging times— people are going to come through it successfully. We're going to have lessons learned and we're going to see the best of humanity demonstrated," said Fornari.