January 9: Talking About the Pandemic...Again
In my office last week, I heard a lot of stories about favorite school vacation week activities and fun ways that families celebrated the New Year. In addition, there was a lot of discussion about COVID. Many of the children I spoke with used part of our time together to ask questions about the Omicron variant, so today I’m writing about talking with children regarding what is happening with the pandemic right now.
You may feel as though talking more about the virus is the last thing that you want to do. While I completely understand this reaction, I also known that children and adolescents are always seeking information, particularly when things around them feel chaotic or uncertain. When adults don’t provide children with facts and information about a stressful or confusing situation, children often fill that void with worried thoughts, conjecture, and information gleaned from less reliable sources. Therefore, I encourage you to have a conversation with your child in which you present some information about the current surge and provide your child with an opportunity to ask questions.
Here are some bullet points to cover as well as some sample scripts. As always, the exact content of your conversation will depend on your child’s temperament and developmental stage.
Acknowledge that there has probably been a lot more COVID chatter in your family’s world over the past couple of weeks, and see if you can get a sense of what your child knows or is wondering about:
“Lots of people have been talking about the Omicron variant. What have you heard about that?”
“I know you said you’re tired of hearing about COVID, but I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about what’s happening right now. What have you been hearing?”
“Last year we hardly knew anyone who tested positive for COVID. Now we know some people who have tested positive and more people we know will probably test positive over the next couple of weeks.”
Talk about feelings and express understanding and empathy. If you know your child won’t respond well to a question (“How are you feeling about all this?”), you can talk more generally about how kids might be feeling or hypothesize about the feelings your child might be experiencing:
“I’ve noticed you’re asking a lot of questions about what’s safe. I wonder if you’re feeling more worried about COVID right now.
“Art class is back to being virtual for a few weeks since so many people are testing positive. That might feel really frustrating and disappointing.”
“I know lots of students are upset that you’re back to sitting at desks with no talking during lunch at school. I imagine kids might feel annoyed and sad about that."
“I get that you are feeling upset about this. I know it always helps when we can talk about those feelings or when you write or draw about what you’re feeling.”
Remind your child (and yourself) about the steps you are taking to stay safe. A useful frame of reference is to focus on being realistic and optimistic:
“We’re going to keep wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and doing our best to stay safe.”
“Everyone in our family who can get the vaccine has been vaccinated. I talked to your doctor and she said that if any of us do get sick we will probably not feel well but we won’t have to go to the hospital.”
If your child is reluctant to talk about the COVID surge, keep in mind that your conversation can be quite brief. It may be helpful to set a clear time limit regarding how long you will be talking. A few great ways to do this:
Take a walk together and tell your child, “I want to talk about COVID for a few minutes - just until we get to get to the next cross street.”
Initiate the conversation when you’re in the car a couple of minutes from home. Remind your child, “Look, we’re almost home and I’m only going to talk about this until we pull into the driveway.”
Set a timer and commit to only talking for 3 minutes (potentially complicated as a timer might feel really distracting to some children, but others might find it useful).