The kids burst out of school Friday with their usual weekend giddiness and crooked backpacks.
It was the parents who looked rather sunken-eyed and anxious outside in the dismissal waiting areas.
News that the K-12 schools would be closed for three weeks starting Monday begat clusters of low-toned conversations about “what the heck are we going to do about this?”
Our talk pasted over into upbeat, smiley greetings for the kids as soon as we saw them.
We do that as parents, but our kids know better.
So, how should we address COVID-19 with them?
Let the age of the child guide you in a conversation, said Sarah Hubbell, professional counselor and owner of Journey to Wellness in Traverse City.
Her children are young, she said.
“I have young kids myself, and I say ‘Hey there’s a sickness out there like flu, and we have to wash our hands a lot,’” Hubbell said. “I use simple but concrete terms, and not too much information.”
She doesn’t go into how scary it is, or worries about losing loved ones, she said.
Teenagers would be a different conversation, with more information, she said.
Kids are very observant, so it’s important to be straight with them, said Daniel Herd, counselor and owner of Enthrive North Counseling.
“They’re not stupid, they’re going to notice how things are different, so talk to them in a straightforward way,” Herd said. “It’s important to not transfer your anxiety to them. Keep it in terms they understand, a bad flu.”
The kids seem to be doing alright — they’re used to to staying home when sick and washing their hands, he said.
He’s more concerned about us, the sunken-eyed parents. Adults in general may be experiencing some medical-based anxiety.
Herd recommends decreasing the amount of information, and choosing a few sources instead of “just accepting everything.”
“It’s difficult to do, because you may think you’re doing it for a good reason,” he said. “But it can have a paradoxical effect. Ask yourself, ‘is this research making me more safe?’”
Turning off notifications on the phone, and doing de-stressing activities like movies and puzzles will help. As will getting a second opinion of your behavior from a friend or spouse.
Fear of COVID-19 may exacerbate existing “thematic fears,” like abandonment.
“Someone already with a fear, it may seem more scary,” Herd said.
Through this, we will be called on to be there for each other. And our kids.
We will need to help each other out with the mental stress as well as the stress of the physical disruptions. The professionals recommend staying away from “false reassurance” and instead, being a good listener without jumping on the anxiety train.
“You can validate the emotion behind the concern without confront the irrational behavior,” Herd said.