The key steps to discuss difficult topics with children are: Ask, Listen, Reflect and Clarify.
First, ask children about their understanding of the situation. For older children, use open-ended questions, such as “What do you hear about coronavirus?” For younger children, use yes-no questions, such as “Do you hear about the new sickness that’s going around?” Then, follow up with more questions to explore their understanding. For younger kids, it is helpful to discuss those topics in play or during other hand-on activities. Listen to their concerns, questions, and thoughts about coronavirus.
In the process of the communication, reflect children’s feelings of confusion, fear, or concerns. Simply, validate their feelings by reflecting that it is normal to feel this way and reassure their safety. Sometimes, when appropriate, discuss your own feelings to normalize the situation.
When you hear some misleading facts or irrational fears, clarify calmly with the facts. Do not over-share the emotional content from the news or social media. Instead, focus on the objective facts, and things you can do together.
It is very important to discuss coronavirus in a developmentally-appropriate way.
For Adolescents, their minds are able to understand abstract concept and start to question right from wrong. The requirement of social distancing is most difficult for adolescents as they seek peer approval and long for socialization. Sometimes, the rules due to the pandemic add on more strain on the relationship when their needs are not met. They can become more irritable, or even oppositional. Do not take it personal. Discuss openly about the coronavirus and its impact on house rules and everyone. Allow adolescents to hold their view about COVID-19 independently as long as they can maintain safety behaviors within certain boundaries.
For School-age children, the understanding of coronavirus may be more limited, especially those in lower elementary school. Visual learning of virus and germs can help them understand the importance of hand-washing and masks. Generalize the importance of the personal hygiene to more than just to coronavirus. Parents’ reaction can impact children’s perception of a threat. Allow children to ask questions. Answer their questions honestly and calmly. No more, no less.
For Kindergarteners, Preschoolers, and Toddlers, they are present at the moments. Help them understand what others are talking about could relieve the fear of uncertainty. Attune to their feelings and curiosity. Ask them about COVID-19 and their understanding of it. Respond to their questions and correct misinformation if any. Very likely, they forget about it quickly when they are playing at home again.
Take the steps and respond to children according to their needs. Keep the conversation going when they have questions. Do not avoid discussion or constantly talking about it all the time. The middle path is the way through any difficult situation or conversation.