By Kathy L. Dawson
I’ve heard many people wondering about how much to tell children about what is currently happening in our world. My own advice, coming off my years of experience working in the childhood grief arena, is to listen to the questions that the children ask and give them answers in simple and honest terms. Don’t feel the need to overload them with details. Respond clearly to what your children ask.
Children will likely want to know why they can’t go to school or play with their friends in the same ways they have in the recent past. Explain to them about how a virus is transmitted. Tell them about tangible things they can do to lessen the chance of infection, such as washing hands, not touching their faces, and keeping a safe distance from others. Tell them how we are trying to stay healthy and not get sick. These are good things to discuss with our children.
What we don’t want to instill is a fear of our neighbors. Talk about safe ways they can acknowledge others, such as waving, smiling, bowing, and greeting those around them. These actions will reinforce that we still practice our core beliefs of loving God and neighbor.
Equally important to what you say is what you do as a family. Here are my top suggestions of how to handle this time of change and uncertainty:
- As much as possible, try to keep children’s routines similar to what they’ve experienced previously. Set their intentional (home-based) learning within a certain time frame. Do the same for meals and bedtimes. This will give children a sense of stability even when the world around them is in constant flux.
- Try to limit the amount of time that news stories are being broadcast in the home. A constant flow of news will likely raise everyone’s anxiety levels and lead to fears beyond what children may cope with easily. These fears may come out in difficulty sleeping or eating or in general crankiness.
- Limit screen time in general to whatever your usual practice has been (unless required to do online learning for school). Balance children’s time on-screen with family fun and games, as well as times of worship, or enjoying God’s creation outdoors.
- Think about reaching out to others whether by connecting with a new pen pal or calling up an old family friend or relative. If you have smartphone capabilities, apps like Facetime and Marco Polo can give children safe face-to-face encounters with others.
- Create sacred space in your home for family worship to bridge the loss of their usual congregational worship experiences. Perhaps your family could connect with a homebound senior on a regular basis to share stories and pictures, doing a mutual check-in during this unique time.
Finally, it is critical to draw on our faith as parents and leaders during this time. Even though we don’t know what the future will bring with this pandemic, we do know that we worship a loving and powerful God, who will not let anything separate us from the love of Jesus. It is this certainty in uncertain times that will uphold all of us, as we continue to live in hope.