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How to talk to kids about the coronavirus

Little ears, big concerns.

How do you talk to your children about the coronavirus?

Begin by understanding that they’ve likely heard plenty already.

“Kids are hearing a lot,” says Donna Wilburn, a Las Vegas marriage and family therapist. “They hear their parents talk. They talk to each other. I’ve had kids where their perception of what’s going ranges from, ‘This is a big joke,’ to ‘I’m going to die.’ It depends on what the parents are talking about that determines how the child handles what’s going on. I’ve had some get really anxious and they’re afraid of losing their family and then I have some who, the worst for them is that they’re bored. They can’t go to their soccer practice or swim practice.”

For starters then, be frank, but not alarmist.

“I literally had a 5-year-old come in the other day who said that the reason she’s not going to school is because she can get coronavirus and die — and this is not someone at high risk,” Wilburn says. “I understand wanting her to be safe, but you don’t need to tell them extremely scary things in order to keep them safe.”

In this era of the 24/7 new cycle, it might also be beneficial to change the channel from time-to-time.

“You don’t want to have the news on about how many new cases in Clark County have been discovered today,” says Dr. Ann Childress, a Vegas-based psychiatrist and member of the Nevada Psychiatric Association. “You really want to minimize that. It’s the same thing we did with 9-11: just don’t have the TV on blaring the news all the time, because with kids, that causes some uncertainly, some anxiety especially if they know something really important happened, because they’re not going to school right now.”

How to occupy their time then?

Maybe direct some of their energies to assisting others.

“What we’re encouraging teens to do and some of the older children, is ‘OK, we have this issue going on, what can we do to be helpful?’” says Dr. Krystal Lewis, a clinical psychologist at the National Institute for Mental Health.

“What are some ways that we can either volunteer or help other people feel better? That might look like sending messages to people we know are on the front-lines trying to figure things out. What’s a little encouraging message we can send or writing letters to certain people? Making craft for relatives, grandparents. There are little things that help give kids a sense of, ‘OK, this is something I can do.’ I think that really does aid the sense of control, focusing more on what you can do in this moment as opposed to what’s going on in the world and what we obviously don’t have control over.”

And perhaps most importantly, stick to a daily routine — even if these are anything but routine times.

“Kids should keep their structure,” Childress says. “They should be getting up in the morning, getting dressed, eating and brushing their teeth and doing the things that they would normally be doing on a school day. They should have some academic time, just making sure that they can have a routine. We all do better with structure.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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