"These are unprecedented times."
I have read this statement over and over again, in my email, on my social media feeds, in the news. It seems to be the best way to explain the unexplainable, to lead in to cancellations of school and activities, to preempt questions with no easy answers. We, the adults, have never lived through something that has prompted this level of response locally, federally or globally*. We have no frame of reference, no past experience to reach for, no stories to tell. It is unnerving, to say the least.
Here's the thing, though. Kids don't understand big words like "unprecedented"; heck, most adults don't. Simply, it means that something like this has never happened before, sure, but that statement, the one at the top of the page? It means so much more than that. It means we don't know what this is. It means we don't know how to react. It means we're all swimming in murky, uncharted waters trying to make really complex decisions that may affect a lot of people, but maybe not, we're not sure, oh and by the way we also need to come out of this with some way to feed our families and maintain our sanity.
So how do we explain this to kids? How do we maintain some sense of normalcy when even going to the grocery store causes us to second guess ourselves?
Tell the truth...but not the whole truth.
Kids are incredibly perceptive little things. Teens are even more so. Hiding the truth or making up stories only leads them to wonder what you're hiding and why. At the same time, they may not be developmentally ready to hear the whole truth and nothing but the truth, especially when it is big, scary and pretty vague, even for the adults. Explain things simply and factually, without bringing your own fears, uncertainties or speculations in to it. Emphasize that for most people it is a mild, flu-like illness that everyone can help to prevent. Talk about the things they can do - washing hands, staying away from friends, coughing and sneezing into their elbow. Make it clear that the biggest challenge isn't that any one individual will get the disease but that so many people will get it at once that the hospitals won't be able to cope. The more people we can keep from getting it, the easier a time the hospitals will have helping those who do need help.
Use Videos and Demonstrations to help explain
This morning, I watched a couple of videos on YouTube with my kids that showed how germs are spread. It helped to explain why we needed to stay 6ft away from other people and cough into our elbows. One was a neat experiment that you could do at home (as long as you don't mind cleaning up confetti); fill a balloon with confetti, inflate it and then hold it next to your face as you release it. The confetti represents the germs and man, do they spread far and wide! It really helped my 8 year old understand why she needed to visit her friends from across the street!
Respect their feelings
When this whole situation began unfolding, my oldest daughter experienced a fair bit of anxiety around it. Although we didn't want her to panic, we also respected her wishes so that she felt she had control in a very uncontrollable situation. It meant we missed a dinner with her grandparents but it made her feel better and showed her that her fears and anxiety were just as valid as our fears and concerns.
Situations feel scarier when we don't have a sense of control. Although it may not seem like we have any control over the world-wide impacts of the disease, there is actually a lot we can do to help control the spread of COVID-19. Taking small actions, like practicing social distancing, washing our hands, decorating our windows and helping out our neighbours are concrete ways that we can control the situation. You can get your kids involved by talking to them about ways we can safely help out, from buying local to boosting spirits with messages in sidewalk chalk.
Talking to our kids about big, scary, nebulous things can be tough. It can be even tougher when we feel uncertain and anxious about them. Sticking to the facts, validating their concerns and finding simple ways to take action can all go a long ways to making this time feel a little less overwhelming.
*I realize this statement is not 100% true. WWII, SARS and H1N1 elicited significant responses world-wide. However, most adults of working age have never experienced closed borders, school closures or the quarantine of entire cities and countries. Pieces of it, sure, but not the whole kit and caboodle.
I'm Bryn, teacher, mom, book lover, athlete. I am passionate about living life with my family, teaching and learning something new all the time. I hope you find something that speaks to you here on my blog and would love to hear from you too!