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How should you talk to your kids about coronavirus?

Local psychologist gives tips to help curb worries
Posted at 10:00 PM, Mar 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 12:19:20-04

GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. — With all that’s going on, how should parents talk with their kids about the coronavirus and the concerns associated with it?

Experts say the best things parents can do is stay calm and be rational.

“Kids model their emotions and their reactions to things off of trusted adults in their life, so the more that they see parents and other adults getting really worked up talking about things and behaving in anxious ways, that's going to really raise their level of anxiety,” Dr. Nicole Beurkens said.

Beurkens is a licensed psychologist and executive director of Horizons Development Resource Center in Kent County.

“Parents will often say, my kids come to me with questions, do I answer them? Yes, you want to be a trusted source of information for your child,” Beurkens added. "But it's key to keep your answers to what they're asking, especially with younger kids."

Beurkens says how much information you provide them with should vary by age.

“We want to think about what's developmentally appropriate,” she explained. "So, for younger kids we want to use words that they can understand and just talk about the basics. Yep, there is an illness out there that is making people sick. It's like a cold or a flu that people get some people get really sick. But here's the things that we can do. And just keep it really basic."

“With older kids, we can get more into the facts about it,” Beurkens added. "You know, here's what this is, here's what we know, here's what we don't know; explaining terms like 'quarantine' or 'pandemic' that they're hearing out there and they may not know. So having a factual discussion about it and not going overboard with details."

According to Beurkens, if kids do become anxious, the best thing to do is to help them understand which things they can control.

“And the good news is there's lots of things that we can talk with kids about that we can control," Beurkens said. "We can control our hygiene and hand washing practices. One of the silver linings of this whole thing is kids throughout the world are going to know how to wash their hands effectively now. So that's something we can control,” she said.

Talk to your kids about “not going over to a friend’s houses if we know that they're sick or their family is sick. Getting good sleep. That helps our immune system, eating healthy food eating our fruits and vegetables drinking water, continuing to do activities that we enjoy like going outside and playing, doing things at home, keeping in our regular routines, not over exposing ourselves to digital media and a 24 hour news cycle with scary information."

“These are all things that we can talk with kids about that we can control and that gives them something tangible to do that then lowers their stress and anxiety,” she added.

And with so many things changing and events being canceled, Beurkens says it’s good to go over with kids what plans are in place for them if something in their schedule changes. That can also help curb some of their worries.