Talking to your kids about Covid-19

I have it easy here. Both of my kids when told of anything that’s potentially life threatening pay attention and wonder all the ways it could possibly kill someone, so this topic was one both were quite interested in. Being nearly 7 and a four year old I had some explaining to do, and there’ve been some re-explanations required, but here’s what I did.

Source

Identify the virus in terms they understand

For my 6yo, this involved what we’re guessing was a stomach bug from last year. Remember that thing? Well that’s basically what people are worried about.

This was a simplification, but getting the bar graphs and age distribution of the fatalities isn’t helpful. What is useful information is that no pediatric deaths have been observed and from 0-60 it’s pretty much like the flu.

I hate that comparison, but in terms of mortality rate from the data we’ve got, that’s about it.

Identify those at risk

Make sure they know they’re not at risk. That their parents aren’t at much risk. But it’s their grandparents and friends with immune system disorders that are the most at risk.

Sure, there are some perfectly healthy people who can get sick and die, but that’s the case with any disease.

Identify actions they can take

Wash your hands you filthy animal! Stop licking doorknobs. All things you’ve probably said before but now they have a personal reason behind it – don’t kill great aunt Irene!

Hold doors open for others if you’re already holding them. Stop putting your hands on every surface. Don’t sneeze in people’s faces like you normally do. Don’t lick the dog.

Acknowledge problems without dwelling

There’s no toilet paper left on the planet, things might get stinky. Crazy neighbors bought all the Purell not thinking their clever plan through as nobody can wash their hands now. People become incredibly racist during epidemics, and this is a pandemic. Yeah, it all happens.

Out of work, out of school, all of these can be stressful so worry all the time… or not. Doesn’t matter if you do or don’t you can’t out-think a virus lockdown. This is one of the few times to set it on auto pilot and react as needed as attempting to plan.

No, it’s not normal, but that’s not bad

Kids can fear change. I was one of them. Disrupted routines can have bizarre consequences such as acting out for no reason, emotional turmoil of not getting a plate of cold applesauce, and missing teachers and playmates.

Hopefully by this point everyone’s got a friend or two stored on speed dial.

We’re going to be ok, things might get weird

A couple of nights ago I watched a dancing bear who turned out to be Sarah Palin get kicked off of The Masked Singer followed by a presidential address by Donald Trump where he closed off travel to Europe. Schools then cancelled for the remainder of pre-spring-break, local colleges shut down and went to online only, and parking garages started their transformation into drive-through Covid-19 stations.

It’s weird. In Nashville we’re also recovering from a tornado so it’s been kind of a stressful couple of weeks here.

We learned that seemingly sane people freaked out and bought all the toilet paper, hand cleaner, and have absolutely no concept that depriving others of the ability to wash their hands is significantly worse than them not being able to scrub in for that operation they’ve evidently been preparing for.

All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again

While once again loathe to mention the flu in the same breath as the virus, there have been flues in the past that equaled or exceeded the death rate. For most of my life we assumed those were IN THE PAST… but nope… different thing.

We’ll all be exposed to it within a few weeks. Most won’t get sick. The current objective is to slow down the waves of sick people going to the hospital so nobody has to die because they can’t get ventilated.

Source: this tweet by Anne Marie Darling

Are we there yet?

Hong Kong, I’ve read, has been dealing with this for a couple of months and is coming slowly off of lockdown.

There is an end in sight, a return to normalcy, however it’s probably a moving target. While I am not particularly of the belief that sunlight is the enemy and warmer temperatures will do much for a virus that’s got a 6-hour aerosol factor and a 24-hour cardboard life, warmer weather tends to make people’s immune systems work, and humidity tends to choke out some viruses.

Not that Covid-19 is one of them based on what I’m reading, but if you’re not being attacked by a different bug then your immune system only has to worry about one.

Don’t be wrong

Did you hear about the dog that tested positive for the virus? Did you freak out and quarantine the pets? Don’t. Don’t take whatever quackery you hear reported as the end all be all. Give it a few days.

Did the dog have CV-19? Yes. Was it a carrier? Only in the way that a piece of paper sneezed on is a carrier.

Related: WHO actually did let the dogs out

Give yourself permission to be wrong

Don’t be, but you’re going to make mistakes. If you do, tell your kids you goofed, make it right, tell them that even adults make mistakes sometimes but that nobody’s hurt, dead, or wondering where all their toilet paper went.

Ask what they’re thinking

It’s very easy to tell a kid what to feel, but remember they’ve got the memory of a goldfish. Check in occasionally and make sure to repeat that there’s not a whole lot to worry about. Things are just different for a bit. Change happens, but change back will happen.

Don’t dismiss their fears.

Stop talking about it

Yeah, it’s here, it’s the thing, talk about it when you’re sans-child unless you’re sure they’re completely fine. Don’t talk about it like you’re planning a zombie escape and it’s life or death because for most of us it’s not.

You’re not going to escape the virus by buying all the Purell. You’re not going to escape the virus by disrupting the supply chain by buying all the toilet paper. You can’t intense your way though to the other side.

You are a leaf floating on the water. The leaf will not stop the stream. Your kids will be fine. Just make sure they know they’ll be fine.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.