From Our Community, to Our Community "In Their Words"
Spotlight on Mental Well-Being:
Talking to Your Kids About COVID-19
from Dr. Diane C. Gooding
This topic focuses on what to tell your kids when they ask you about COVID-19, why people are wearing masks, why no one is going to the Mall, and why school, church, and work are all based at home right now.
1. It’s important to use words and concepts that your kids can understand.

This means that you should tailor your explanations for each child’s age, language, developmental, and maturity level. Your five-year old will need a different type of explanation than your middle-schooler. But don’t forget that your high-school aged child is looking to see how you will be answering the questions! Teens often learn from watching how we interact with others including how we approach difficult conversations.
2. Be prepared to repeat the information. 

First, this entire situation is overwhelming for adults, and it’s even more so for our children. Asking the same question over and over may be a way for your child to ask for reassurance. In this time of uncertainty, your child may find it helpful to hear you say the same thing over and over.
3. Some kids will directly ask whether it’s going to be okay but others will not.

It’s probably good to remind your children that as a people, we’ve always been resilient and we’ve always survived. We’ll get through this, too. It’s important to create the opportunity for them to express their thoughts and feelings about what’s going on. Try to let them know that whatever they feel is okay; this is known as validation.
4. It’s important that our children understand the difference between their thoughts, feelings, and reactions versus their behaviors. 

Let them know that their thoughts, feelings, and reactions are important and help them to label them. What is the child feeling? Is s/he angry? Scared? Confused? Sad? Worried? Anxious?
5. The child may feel all of those things or none of them. The child may not know what they feel.

Sometimes coloring (at any age), or doing another mindfulness practice can help the child get in touch with their feelings. A very important life lesson is that we do not have to act on our feelings. Learning how to handle feelings in a healthy and safe way is very important for emotional and physical well being. This may be a good time to talk to your child about how to deal with difficult feelings in a healthy, constructive way.
If you think that your child may need help in this area, and/or if your child needs to talk to someone, please seek help from a counselor, therapist, or pediatrician.
Dr. Diane C. Gooding, Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at UW-Madison, is a member of the Madison Metropolitan (WI) Chapter of the Links, Incorporated, and Vice President of NAMI-Dane County.