As the pandemic continues its presence in our lives, how do we discuss the coronavirus and relay the changes in our lives to our children? Lisa Dion converses about various scenarios that children may ask about, ways they may read our responses and how we can ensure that we, as parents, are keeping our children informed without causing panic.
Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S
Lisa Dion is an international teacher, creator of Synergetic Play Therapy, founder and President of the Synergetic Play Therapy Institute, and host of the Lessons from the Playroom podcast. She is the 2015 recipient of the Association for Play Therapy’s Professional Education and Training Award of Excellence and the author of Aggression in Play Therapy: A Neurobiological Approach for Integrating Intensity. Lisa is also a Master Certified Demartini Method Facilitator providing education and support to individuals and organizations worldwide.
Ludmila Golovine is President/CEO of MasterWord Services, Inc., a global language solutions company. As a language professional, Golovine knows first-hand how interpreting, especially in the healthcare, social services, education, and legal arenas, may present challenges such as stress, anxiety, compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. For the past 10 years, she has applied her skills as a Certified Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner and a Trained Demartini Method Facilitator to tirelessly help promote health and wellness to those in the language services industry.
Hello, everybody, and thank you for connecting. The question that we have today is about children. Many of us have kids. Many of us have little kids. So, how do we help our children deal with what’s going on with the situation? How do we help them understand? How do we talk to our kids?
Hi parents. My name is Lisa Dion and I am a parent. I’m also a psychotherapist and a registered play therapy supervisor, and I wanted to offer a little bit of support being a mom, as I just shared. There’s so much happening right now with the coronavirus that, um, as we know, is producing a lot of fears and anxieties, and schools are closing. Um, we’re seeing it reflected in our children, and I know that our children are talking about it and they have a lot of different questions. And there’s a lot out there right now about just the practical ways that we can be supportive and the things that we need to be doing to keep ourselves and our children safe, like the hand washing and even isolating ourselves and that kind of thing. But I wanted to talk a little bit more about what we do in terms of helping them on an emotional level, because there is just so much fear and anxiety, which is totally normal right now. The brain right now is absolutely detecting a threat with all the information and all the dialogue that’s going on and and there’s the feeling in the air, and so were you know, people are responding accordingly based on how scary it’s registering for them or not.
So I wanted just to support you. I wanted to offer a little bit of help in all of this. And so I want to talk about two things that are really important. And the first one may seem, uh, intuitive, maybe even a little counterintuitive. But it just has to do with honesty. And what I mean by that is that sometimes when our children start to feel fearful, or they start to feel afraid of something our, our instinct as a parent is to try to make it better, try to make it okay. And so maybe we say things like, “Oh, you’re safe” or, you know, “you’ve got nothing to worry about.” Or, um, or maybe we’re trying really hard you know, not to show that we’re actually afraid. And parents, what I want you to know is that even though we’re coming from such a caring place when we do this, it actually lands for the child as actually a deeper source of discomfort. The brain actually looks for what, what I call in congruence in the environment. And when we’re giving our child messages, that sounds something like, you know, you’re, you’re safe. Um, well, we don’t actually know that for sure. We don’t actually know if our child is gonna get the coronavirus. We don’t know if we’re gonna get the coronavirus. And so sometimes our attempt to soothe the child actually results in false promises. And the child deep down actually knows this. So instead of saying things like, “Oh, you know, we’re safe.” “We’re okay.” “Everything’s fine.” “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Which inside the child’s going, “yes there is. Yes, there is. Yes, there is. Aren’t you aware?” Um, it’s really important that, that we stay honest.
Now, honest can look so many different ways. So let me really help you out here. Just acknowledging, “Yes. Yes. This is scary.” “Yes, there’s so much information out there,” and, um and “there’s a lot of unknowns.” “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now.” “It makes so much sense why you’re feeling nervous, and why you’re feeling afraid.” Um, ‘Mommies or daddy is feeling nervous, too.” Um, “I’m finding myself thinking about it.” “I’m finding myself wondering, you know, what to do, or how to respond.” And what you’re really doing here is you’re just normalizing. The child ultimately, here’s an interesting thing parents, ultimately, the child is borrowing our nervous system. They’re borrowing our capacity to regulate. And in order to do that, we need to be honest about our own internal experience and then also show the child, how do we work with that? You know, there’s a difference between panicking, “Oh, my gosh, this is, ah.” And then the child doesn’t know how to orient to us, and they don’t have a nervous system to grab hold of. And that can induce even more panic and fear in the child. But being able to respond honestly, sort of react, respond honestly, um, owning and naming your own fear and anxiety around this and then maybe saying, you know what? “And that’s why I’m taking some deeper breaths.” Or, “that’s why, um, you know, I am, uh, you know, spending time thinking about things that we can do together,” you know, being honest about just the impact of that, this is having, I just can’t stress enough how important that is. And to find a way to talk about it honestly in a way that your child can hear and that’s appropriate for their age. It’s just really, really key while honoring and validating their own experience rather than just trying to make it all better.
The next thing is that also the brain, whenever we encounter the unknown, the brain kind of goes, “ahh” and, and what it does is, it in the sense projects scenarios into the unknown. And then we make assumptions about what can happen, which is a lot of what’s going on right now, that’s creating some of their fear with the coronavirus, which is what our, our minds naturally do. We think out worst-case scenarios, and that’s such a protective part of our design. And one of the most helpful things you can do for your child right now is to make the unknown known to the best of your ability. Now, obviously, we don’t ultimately know many things about what’s happening with the current virus, but there are things that we do know and a lot of it can do with just creating a plan and talking to the child about the plan. So it’s like, “Okay, honey.” So when the child, your child is talking about “mommy,” and you know, “I’m afraid,” or “Daddy, I’m afraid,” or “I’m feeling really nervous,” or what about you know, “my friend, whose Grandpa might get sick,” or whatever it is, go ahead and proactively come up with a plan. So talk it through. Okay, so, um, “let’s talk this through, buddy.” “All right? So if you get sick, here is what we’re gonna do.” And list it out for the child. Is there anything that you think you’ll need, depending on the age of the child? You know, if, um, if Grandma gets sick, here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s how we’re gonna support Grandma. If your friends Grandpa gets sick, here’s what we’re gonna do. Um, we’ll send a card, you know, to your friend, we’ll send some food over to help the family out. When we can respond instead of react, it actually creates a bit of regulation in our system when we feel like we can be helpful in a helpless kind of situation. And one of the most important things we can do is just make plans, talk to your children about, “All right, so if we’re home for an extended period of time and school is cancelled, here’s what we’re going to do.” Make a list. Have conversation. Take advantage of the time together as a, as a family, if you’re, if you’re able to, um, I realize that for some families, this is gonna impact things financially. This is going to create a lot of chaos in terms of who can be home with the child and every step of the way, just talk to your child and talk to your child from a place of responding instead of reacting. Be honest about it. Be real about it, but recognize that when we panic about it, the child doesn’t have the ability to borrow our nervous system, doesn’t have the ability to feel a sense of safety because we’re spinning, which then their nervous system picks that up and then they go, “Gosh, look, Mom really doesn’t know how to feel safe in this.” So, “Gosh, this must be really big. I must not be, must not be safe.”
So parents, be honest. Be honest to your children, you know, don’t give them false promises. Be honest about your own experience and then do what you can to make the unknown known, set plans. Have a conversation and, um, take a deep breath, take a deep breath and, uh, and, and, you know, come home within yourself a little bit, so that our children can, can feel us at a little bit of a deeper level and have something that they can also grab hold of. So, deep breaths to all of us parents as we’re navigating through this as all of the things are unfolding. And, uh, let’s hold our, our children in the in the process as we all get through this together, best wishes to all of you.