The only experience my step-son has had with death is when we lost our dog a while back. He remembers the dog, knows he won’t ever get to see him again, and misses him terribly. That’s how he understands death- it takes someone away forever.
Before this whole Coronavirus issue got big enough to close schools and cities, we hadn’t talked about it much in my household. We certainly hadn’t mentioned anything to our six-year-old about it. Then, he heard about it anyways from another kid on the playground.
Leaving school one day, he heard me talking on the phone and recognized something from the conversation. “Are you talking about that stinking Coronavirus?”
I was pretty surprised, knowing that he hadn’t heard the term from us. When I asked him what he knew about it, he replied: “If you don’t wash your hands you’ll get it and you’ll die.”
Imagine being six, the only context for death you have is how much you miss your dog, and someone on the playground tells you that. Pretty scary huh?
Luckily, our smart little guy accepted my explanation of the situation and wasn’t too worried about it after that. But, it can be a lot harder to backtrack from something they’ve already heard than it is to explain a situation to them in the first place. Had we talked to him about the situation beforehand, he could have avoided the stress of thinking that he and his loved ones were in immediate peril.
There are many benefits of talking to your kids about what’s going on in their world (within the family, community, or nationwide). It can help them avoid stress, as mentioned earlier. It also strengthens your child’s ability to communicate and problem-solve, because allowing them to express their thoughts and ideas about the subject engages their minds. Depending on the subject, it can also open the door for learning experiences regarding your family’s belief system.
On the flip side, talking about a scary or unpleasant subject can be a minefield. How much we tell our children, and how we explain things, can have a huge impact on their day to day lives. These should be decided based on relevance, age, family values, and each child’s individual personalities. It’s important to avoid instilling unnecessary fear into our children.
Some situations do call for diligence, such as washing your hands to avoid becoming sick. But keep in mind that being aware doesn’t have to mean being scared. By talking too much about a subject, sharing too many details, or using vocabulary that is not age-appropriate, it’s easy to cross the line from understanding into fear.
Although it can be a real balancing act, the importance of talking to your kids cannot be understated. Kids hear things, whether it is inadvertently from the news channel their parents were watching, through a child or teacher at school, or bits and pieces from adult conversations.
With any scary or confusing situation, it is imperative to make sure your child has an understanding of what is going on around them that is appropriate for their age. A simple conversation can alleviate confusion and save your kids some heartache.