As the coronavirus has made its way into Michigan, it’s been a stressful experience for everyone — particularly children. K-12 schools have shut down statewide from March 16 till April 6 (and longer, considering many spring breaks happen right after that), and routines have been shaken up. For young learners in particular, that’s a change they might not fully understand, notes Detroit PBS Kids.
The local public TV station is offering a special enewsletter packed with activities and tips for parents who suddenly find themselves in a teaching role as their kids are home from school.
Metro Parent is teaming up with Detroit PBS Kids to share some of that information with our readers, too. Learning how to keep kids feel safe during the coronavirus crisis is a key place to start.
Making your chat ‘EASY’
Especially when talking with young children, aim to have a conversation using the “EASY” acronym. These four letters stand for the following:
- Eye level — speak to children at their eye level
- Age-appropriate language
- Soft voice
- Yield to allow children to share thoughts or ask questions
This is advice supported by Dr. Karen Paciorek, a student of Mr. Rogers and professor of early childhood education at Eastern Michigan University, notes a report on PBS’ national website.
Reassuring kids they’re safe
This is “the most important message your kids can hear from you,” according to Detroit Public Television early education manager Tara Hardy.
When it comes to coronavirus, which can seem big and scary, it’s important to present the facts — and, again, present them in an age-appropriate way. Deborah Farmer Kris, a teacher and mom who writes for the national PBS Kids, shares how she’s had this conversation with her own 6- and 8-year-old kids.
“I kept it simple,” she says, telling them, “You know what it’s like to have a cold or the flu — how sometimes you get a cough or have a fever? This is kind of like that. Most people who catch this sickness stay home, rest and get all better. And we have wonderful doctors and nurses who can help people when they need it.”
With older kids, tailor that message and use more direct language. And with kids of any age, seek to listen and understand first.
Hearing out kids’ thoughts and questions
For all kids, it can help to first get a sense of what they know, notes KidsHealth From Nemours. With older kids, it notes, ask, “Are people in school talking about coronavirus? What are they saying?” And with the younger set, try, “Have you heard grownups talking about a new sickness that’s going around?”
The idea is to hear what kids know and address their concerns directly — along with any misinformation they might have.
And it doesn’t stop with just one or two times. “Kids may not always express the emotions they’re feeling in ways obvious to adults, so it’s important to check in every day,” Hardy explains.
“Ask them if they have concerns and make sure they have accurate information and validate your kids by telling them that what they’re feeling is OK.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 page is an excellent place to go for that accurate information.
Put the onslaught of news in perspective when kids ask questions, too. “Explain that death from the virus is still rare, despite what they might hear,” KidsHealth adds. “Watch the news with your kids so you can filter what they hear.”
Ultimately, remember that final step that says to “yield to allow children to share thoughts or ask questions,” vs. immediately rushing to fill in all of the gaps.
Focusing on being ‘germ busters’
Feeling empowered and having a sense of feeling control is important for kids during a time when so much is beyond our immediate control. One great way to regain some of that stability is to focus on what you are doing to stay safe and healthy.
“Emphasize simple things your family can do to be ‘germ busters’ — for all types of germs, not just those specific to coronavirus,” Hardy says.
In her post, Farmer Kris offers these four tips to help kids with germ-busting:
- Wash your hands. “Make it a family routine before every meal and snack.” Show kids the ropes on using soap, rubbing their hands and rinsing — all while slowly singing the ABCs.
- “Catch that cough”: For younger kids, turn it into a game. Instead of using their hands, coach them to sneeze and cough into their elbows, and praise the effort when they nail it. When they don’t, they can wash their hands and try again.
- “Rest is best”: Let kids know that when they’re not feeling well, staying home and resting their bodies helps them get well again.
- Practice healthy habits: Sleep, exercise and eating healthy foods strengthen those bodies to be as healthy as possible.
Keeping calm and using that ‘soft voice’
This can sometimes be tough as parents have their own reactions to what’s going on. But, as Hardy says, kids really “don’t miss a beat.”
“They’re aware of everything and they’re always watching us,” she says, “and if you’re worried or upset, they worry about you.”
However, owning your feelings and sharing openly with kids can be a big opportunity, too. “Showing a child that worry can be normal and modeling healthy ways to handle it sets them up for handling their own stress,” she says. “Try taking a deep breath or going for a walk.”
“Remember,” Hardy adds, “leading by example is one of the best ways to teach children.”