When times get crazy all around us, we still get to set the tone at home. As virus conversations increase, our children may benefit from extra reassurance. Consider some of these suggestions as questions and discussions arise in your home and family:
– Talk about what choices you are making for your household. We live in a big world with a lot of people, so it’s important that our children understand why we are isolating (or not isolating) ourselves at this time. Some do not have the option to self-isolate, and others do. Some are first responders and healthcare workers. Whatever you are doing in your home, your child is bound to have a friend or acquaintance whose family is doing something different. Reinforce the idea that we want to do what we can in our own home to be good neighbors and citizens.
– Try to avoid extreme or alarming language. Words like “state of emergency” or “national crisis” or “death toll” or even “pandemic” could cause undue fear in younger family members. While this is certainly something to take seriously, and we do not want to hide the truth from our children, we also need to remember that children are literal learners and listeners. Take extra measures to ensure that they hear what you mean in addition to what you say. This doesn’t mean you can’t use appropriate language to discuss the situation we all face. We are facing a pandemic, and it is okay to use that word while calmly explaining to children what is going on and why we’re taking precautions to protect against it. But children listen in hallways and at doorways when we least expect it, so use your words with care.
– Resist making promises you cannot guarantee. “Everything will be fine” is not something you can guarantee. Things we can promise to and with our children include: trusting in God when we get scared; making decisions out of love and not fear; continuing to love each other; doing what is in our power as a family to stay safe and healthy and to keep others that way too; praying continually—for the sick, for those financially affected by isolation measures, for the at-risk members of society, for the wisdom of our leaders to get us through this, for our pastors and church leaders.
– When responding to questions, be sure you know what is actually being asked. It is generally less helpful to over-inform. For example, if they hear scary words that are new to them, like “state of emergency” or “pandemic” and want to know what they mean, take the time to explain calmly, but if they ask in general terms, “Why do we have to stay home right now?” or “Why can’t we go to church?” it may be best not to casually drop terms like “pandemic” or “emergency” when explaining your new routines. “Because there are some harmful germs spreading from person to person right now” might serve you better than “Because we’re in a pandemic and the president has declared a state of emergency for the whole country.”
– Remind children (and yourself) that God is peace—truly. Fear, worry, and anxiety only generate fear, worry, and anxiety. Limit media consumption and encourage prayer and reading of Scripture. Children tend to follow the example that is modeled for them, so if you do not panic, chances are, neither will they. If they see you praying and turning to God when you are afraid, they will see that as an option for themselves too.
– Reach back to history. For example: “Remember that time your [brother, sister, mommy, daddy] got sick and recovered? The chances are really strong for that to be our story again.”
– While in self-isolation, create a good distraction plan. Indoor or backyard camping, baking, crafting, building projects, games, read-a-thon, movie marathons, etc. Raise the cool factor for everyone! Try to see this time as an opportunity. We are not being pressed on all sides to hurry up and get things done. Instead, we are being encouraged to slow down. What a great time for a family to bond together!
This is not the first time, and it probably will not be the last time, that social anxiety is heightened. Regardless of your personal level of anxiety right now, you may discover that your children overhear in public and overthink in private. So, as influencers in your home, you get to help set the tone and serve as reminders and conduits of peace.