WASHINGTON — Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is offering strategies on how to talk to your kids about COVID-19, whether they're 4, 10 or 14.
First up: Age 4.
"You start by asking them what they know," says Duckworth.
Examples of questions:
- Why do you think you can't you go to school?
- Why do you think you can’t you see your friends?
- Why do you think you can’t you see your grandparents?
"Whatever they say, you build off of that," says Duckworth. "Because they’ve been able to intuit some things."
For a 10-year-old, Duckworth says you also want to ask them what they know, but then build on that conversation with more context.
Guide for talking to a 10-year-old:
- Be honest.
- Correct things that are inaccurate.
- Don’t get into the weeds of it unless they’re interested in a specific aspect.
- Kids are going to be afraid. Their entire routine has been disrupted just as yours are.
- Share your own anxieties and concerns that will convey to them that it’s OK to be afraid.
At age 14, Duckworth says kids understand the concept of future impact, so tailor your conversation around what you’ve done to protect them.
Guide to talking to a 14-year-old:
- Talk about the plans you have:
- Safety supplies you have purchased
- What hospital you would go to for care?
- If somebody got sick where would you stay in the house to seclude them?
"The idea is that the 14-to-15-year-old can think ahead and their anxiety will be reassured with more of a material plan," says Duckworth.
If you have a mental health vulnerability, Duckworth says you need to prioritize getting treatment to take care of it. Seeing you get that help will be reassuring to your kids.