Creating Conversation: Talking to Kids About Crisis
It is no secret that we are currently in a time of crisis in our nation with the outbreak of COVID-19. We are being asked to self-quarantine and practice “social distancing” in an effort to slow down this pandemic. Schools are closed, activities are cancelled, and we’re all being forced to re-evaluate priorities, and re-define our roles in the home. We are settling into our new normal and don’t know exactly how long it is going to last. As adults, we are feeling overwhelmed and anxious, so it’s no surprise that we are observing behaviors in our children that would suggest that they are feeling the exact same way. A child’s biggest desire is to know that they are safe, and that their basic needs will be provided for both physically and emotionally.
Whether we like to admit it or not, children respond best to routine, clear expectations, and of course, PLAY. Our current conditions are changing what that looks like for each of us, and I don’t know about your kids, but my three-year-old just doesn’t understand that the reason why we can’t actually sit inside and play at Chick-Fil-A is because there is a national pandemic called the Coronavirus that is very contagious and infecting people daily. If I were to say all of that, his response would continue to be…"but WHY???”
So in times of crisis what do we say to our children? How much information do we give them? It is often hard for us to know what to say because it is very possible that we are trying to sort out our own feelings regarding what is going on. Honestly, if you are anything like me, I’m asking God the same questions my child is asking me: “What is actually going on in our world, why is this happening, and how long will this last?” Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing how to help your children express emotions, how to restore balance and routine to the home, and how to care for yourself as your role as wife and mother is ever-changing. Today I want to start with how to create helpful conversations when faced with any type of crisis, and at the end of each week’s blog, I will be sharing an activity for you to do with your child that might help in this time.
Let's create helpful conversations.
1. Find out what they know and share the truth.
This involves asking questions and listening to their answers. The first question to ask your child is, “what do you already know about what is happening?” Then you can respond by filling in holes or correcting misinformation. Your response to your kids will be different based on age and developmental level, but that shouldn’t change the fact that what you do share with them is the truth and that you don’t dismiss what they do know by providing generic responses such as, “Don’t worry about it,” or “We’ll be fine.” I love what Dr. Becky Bailey, founder of the behavior program Conscious Discipline, states about sharing age-appropriate information.
“Age-appropriate information increases safety; ‘You’re fine’ does not. Information will help reassure and soothe children’s fears, but it’s important to know when enough is enough. Explain to children why life is different using the simplest terms possible. Answer their questions honestly. Limit social media and the news, and focus on statements like, “You’re safe. You can handle this. We can get through this together.”
2. Let your child talk or, if they don’t have the words, let them know they don’t have to.
This one is pretty simple. Every human processes differently, even the “tiny” ones. Some will have a lot of questions and words, some will need time to process, and then there will be those that don’t have anything to say and choose to live in the moment, going with the flow of their new normal. Let your child be who they are, but let them know you are listening when they are ready. Be aware of non-verbal cues that might suggest that your child is really not okay and address it appropriately.
3. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”
One of the most common questions a child will ask in times of crisis is, “Why is this happening?” Sometimes the most powerful answer we can provide to a child is, “I don’t know,” but then offer what you do know. We know that as parents we will work to provide a listening ear, a compassionate heart, and a safe home. Create a family safety plan. Identify ways to help others and as Mr. Rogers so eloquently states, identify “helpers” that are in our community that work diligently to reinforce safety in our world.
Activities for Creating Conversation with your child(ren):
Ages 2-6: Keep it simple. At this stage of development, they are very literal and the younger they are, the more they are unaware of what is going on. They just know their routine is different. Talk about the importance of washing hands and show them how with fun songs and lots of practice.
Ages 7-18: As kids learn to read and to write, they have a better understanding of honest facts about an event, and can communicate that information. They pick up on their parent’s tone and energy the older they get as well. As children move into adolescence, they have the added pressures of social media and their friends’ facts and opinions about the current crisis. I am a big fan of visuals so a helpful activity here is to create a chart with three columns that read: What I know, What is Fact, and What I Can Do. Have your children write their thoughts in each column and talk through their responses.
Parenting at any point in time is not an easy task, but parenting through crisis can often feel daunting. Just remember, we are all in this together! It is my hope that you will check in each week as we navigate TOGETHER how to calm our children in times of crisis.
Creating Conversation is Entry ONE in Sanctuary's blog series, Calm in Crisis, with licensed counselor, ministry wife, and guest blogger Karmen Wilson. Share with us in the comments about how conversations are going with your children and/or grandchildren during this season of pandemic crisis.
Karmen Wilson has been a Licensed Professional Counselor for 12 years and worked as an elementary school counselor for ten of those years. She and her husband Cameron have been married for 11 years and have served in a ministry staff role, off and on, throughout their marriage, totaling about six years--Cameron in production and Karmen in teaching and small groups. The Wilson family recently moved to Los Angeles, CA where Cameron is the Production Director for Vintage Church. Together they are both passionate about following God's call on their lives and creating authentic relationships and community through church. In their free time, they keep busy playing cars and going to parks with their vibrant two-year-old son, Jaxson. They also love going to the beach and driving around, finding cool restaurants and attractions in L.A.! Karmen has a passion for helping individuals in the areas of self-discovery, healing past hurts, infertility, marriage, and parenting. She can be reached via email for consulting and coaching.