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How to Talk to Your Family About Coronavirus

COVID-19, or Coronavirus, is pushing our world into uncharted territory—in a big way. Businesses are closing their doors, large gatherings have been canceled or postponed, and people are staying home (some by choice; some not). 

Many people are dealing with things they don’t experience often: concern for their health and safety, worry about their finances, distance from their communities, building a stockpile of food and supplies at home. It can be difficult to sort through these thoughts and feelings, which is exactly why it’s more important than ever for us to communicate and connect with others—especially our families.

Whether you’re part of a large family with younger children, or a parent with no children living at home, it’s important to know how to talk to your family about coronavirus. Here are some ideas for families in different situations.

Families with young children

For young children, an event like this can be jarring, if not terrifying. Unable to research for themselves, but certainly able to pick up on the fact that things are different, young children could start to experience some anxiety. 

As a parent of young children, it can be difficult to navigate these feelings. You don’t want to alarm them unnecessarily, but you also don’t want to act like nothing is wrong, especially if your children start asking questions.

For young children (ages 4-10), we’d recommend the following when talking to them about the coronavirus:

  • Find out what they know (or think they know). Young children may not always listen to us, but they seem to hear everything. When talking to your children, first ask them if they’ve heard anything about the virus, and do your best to straighten out any misinformation they have. 
  • Stay calm. Younger children need to know that you’re not panicking, that you’re prepared to handle the situation, and most importantly, that you’ll take good care of them, no matter what. Speak in a calm, reassuring tone during your discussions.
  • Provide reassuring information. As of right now, healthy young children are at a very low risk for contracting the disease, and especially for experiencing severe complications. Share this information with your children, especially if they seem particularly anxious or are asking questions about having the virus.
  • Tell them what they can do. Even young children want to have a sense of control over their lives. Knowing that they’re doing their part to avoid the virus and slow its spread can help them feel more confident and in control. Remind them to wash their hands often, and tell them the virus is the reason you’re staying home so much.

Families with older children

As difficult as it can be to talk to younger children, trying to have discussions with older children (ages 10-18) presents its own set of challenges. 

Not only are older children more likely to have heard more about the virus, they’re also more likely to recognize the gravity of the situation, and to feel the effects of social distancing on their daily lives. For these reasons and more, it’s important to talk to your older children about coronavirus as well. Try the following:

  • Let them express their feelings. Older children and teenagers might feel alone in their feelings. They might feel embarrassed of the things they’re feeling or thinking. They might worry that you wouldn’t understand if they tried to talk to you. Give children a safe space to express themselves. Don’t judge them or their feelings; don’t tell them they “shouldn’t” be feeling something or give them ideas on how to “fix” themselves. Just listen with compassion.
  • Give them good sources. For older children, much of the “news” is what they see shared on social media, or what is passed between friends. Let them know that not all the information they get from these sources is going to be 100% reliable. Share good, fact-based sources with non-sensational headlines, including the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control websites or social media accounts. Also, let them know that if they hear anything that concerns or troubles them, they can bring it to you. 
  • Share ideas for staying busy. Offer your older children plenty of ideas for keeping themselves busy during their time at home. Encourage them to get outside for fresh air (if possible), to stay in touch with friends and family, and to remain physically active. Brainstorming ideas together about how to stay occupied can lead to some great conversation.
  • Encourage social distancing. Even more than other groups, teenagers might be tempted to go out with their friends, even when they are supposed to be practicing social distancing. Remind them that even though it’s difficult, staying home is the best way to slow the spread of the virus and to keep yourself from getting it. 

Couples with no children

Even families with no children may need a little help as they’re trying to keep the lines of communication open during this difficult time. Couples who don’t have children should do their best to do the following when talking to each other about this situation.

  • Share what you’re feeling. It’s important for you to use your partner as a safe space to share your own feelings. Be honest about what you’re feeling, and don’t be afraid to ask your partner for what you need (whether it’s a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, a distraction, reassurance, etc.).
  • Listen. You should also make sure you’re actively listening to everything your partner is sharing, and that you’re meeting their needs as you want them to meet yours. 
  • Communicate frequently. If you read something that triggers your anxiety, share it. If you see a meme that makes you laugh, share it. Check in with each other about your days, and share information that isn’t related to the virus. 
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Extended family

While the people in your house are the ones you’ll speak to the most often, many people also have strong relationships with their extended family. While doing your best to find connection during social distancing, apply the following practices to communicating with your extended family.

  • Only spread true information from reliable sources. Don’t share anecdotes you read on social media, or sensational headlines you saw while scrolling through your News app. Instead, do your best to only share information that is reasonable and reliable. 
  • Change the subject. Chances are, you’ve heard enough about this virus to last you a lifetime—and your loved ones probably have as well. Make sure you’re talking about other things along with the virus. Tell funny stories from your day, or talk about a favorite memory you share. Lightening the mood can go a long way toward making you all feel better about the whole situation.
  • Do a wellness check. Check in with any family members in high-risk groups. Make sure they are practicing social distancing or quarantine, and that they’re feeling okay. Also, check to make sure they have plenty of supplies to get them through their time at home. 
  • Share self-help resources. This is a time when many people are struggling to maintain their mental health and overall happiness. Since you’re visiting our site, you probably care a lot about self-help and your own mental health. Share your favorite resources, including Design.org’s free email-based coaching service and our Egg framework (overview), to help your family stay positive and happy at a time they need it the most. Direct them to our assessment; we’ll take it from there.

Tips for everyone during quarantine

While communicating with your family is going to look a little different depending on your situation, there are some best practices that everyone should follow during this hard period.

  • Express love. Take this opportunity to express to your family how much you love them, and how important they are you to. If you’re not able to see them in person, tell them you miss them. Expressing love to each other is going to deepen your connection to each other, even if it’s from a distance. 
  • Be positive. Set an example of positivity in general when you talk to your family. It can be easy to get mired down in negative thoughts and fears, and while it’s important to share what you’re feeling, it’s also important to let some light in. Don’t just share the doom and gloom: find something you’re feeling positive about, and share that, too.
  • Encourage safe practices. It’s okay to be the one that cancels an event or declines an invitation. Whatever the ages of your family members, encourage them to follow the advice of their local government—which is probably to stay home as much as possible.
  • Check in often. A text to a sibling, a knock on your teenager’s door, a phone call to a distant relative: these small things are easy ways to check in on your family often. Find what works for you and do it. Hopefully, they’ll return the favor and check in on you, too. 

This pandemic is changing practically everything about life on Earth. But even though we’re being asked to socially distance ourselves, that doesn’t lessen our need for connection, purpose, and belonging. That doesn’t change. And the best way to do it is through honest and open communication, especially with our families. Use these tips for how to talk to your family about coronavirus, and stay connected during this difficult time.

And don’t forget: you can get help managing your own panic, protecting your mental health, staying productive, strengthening your relationships, and more with Design.org’s free coaching service. Take our assessment to get started today!

For more articles about dealing with the coronavirus crisis, check out:

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