Covid-19 & Other Sensitive Topics: How to start the “tough” conversations

“Do we have to leave Peru now?”

The Wild One asked after I told her school was closed as a preventative measure for Covid-19 aka Coronavirus. She remembered our friends were not able to return to Beijing after their holiday and I could tell she was worried.

It’s in our parental job description to answer questions. Often they are really easy. Sometimes they are really difficult, and most of the time they are just plain awkward. Like the time Charlie asked her Nanay, “When will your baby come out of your belly?” My mother was not pregnant. (Oops!) Parents often ask how do you answer all their questions in a way that isn’t going to confuse, upset, scare or shock them.

Start with facts and end with the truth.

Though we limit and monitor what they see and hear about sensitive topics, children are still exposed to them in some capacity. They hear adults or older siblings having conversations, see the news on TV, hear a podcast, and even hear children talking on the playground. They are natural and keen observers and children are often listening more intently than we realise. And to process all the information they are receiving— and to gain a better understanding of the world around them—they ask questions. They are mini scientists, after all, and their purpose at this age is to continually explore and seek answers to their questions.

It’s not enough to simply monitor the things our children listen to, watch, or read. We must have the “tough” conversations about issues that are occurring in their immediate surroundings, as well as current global issues around the world…

…be it be Covid-19, racism, gender equality, women’s autonomy, politics, terrorism, bullying, guns, human rights, LGBTQI, or environmental issues. (The list goes on!)

I urge you to tell the truth. It doesn’t have to be long, or complicated. But it must be honest, and more important, age appropriate. Approach sensitive topics with honesty and without bias. This means being objective. We need to provide accurate information that is factual and without judgements.

A statement like “Chinese people have Covid-19” is highly subjective, because not every Chinese person has Covid-19 (also, a fear mongering, sweeping generalisation!).

But, “Covid-19 is made up of germs and they are spread from people to people by coughing or sneezing. That’s why it’s important to always cover our mouth and nose when we cough or sneeze”, accurately describes the situation by providing factual information without judgement.

Covid-19 is scary! Judgement only adds unnecessary stress and panic. Admittedly, I found myself tracking its progress from country to country (not-so-secretly hoping that it would never reach Peru). Not to mention mass media hysteria, racist sentiments, hand sanitizer theft and people starting brawls over toilet paper (I’m looking at you, Australia!)

The world has indeed gone mad with fear!

But there’s no need to bring fear into our homes. We just need to tell the truth using open and honest conversations, because children will ALWAYS be curious about what’s happening around them. It is essential to show young children that we acknowledge that they possess the capacity to understand even the most difficult sensitive topic.

So, to answer her question. “No, I don’t think we need to leave Peru. But you can’t go to school right now because we are trying to prevent Covid-19 from spreading to more places.

Here she is explaining what she knows about Covid-19. We had a calm discussion and I provided facts that she could process. She didn’t panic, she didn’t get scared and she wasn’t upset. In the end, having more information has helped ease her anxiety.

As Dr. Montessori said,

“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He [or she] has the power to teach himself [or herself].

Creating positive communication fosters trust and demonstrates that you recognise your child’s capacity to be their own teacher. They gain appropriate skills that will enable them to engage in conversations about other sensitive topics. Giving them the confidence to continue to explore and seek answers, which encourages their intrinsic curiosities that feed the inherent scientists within them. Thus, helping them to think critically, which will help them make educated decisions.

Once you get through the first sensitive topic, the rest of them will be just as easy to navigate—thus, fostering a stronger bond with your child, which will last a lifetime. (You’ll be extra thankful when your child is a teenager!)

USEFUL LINKS :

For more information on Covid-19 download the World Health Organisation’s situation report.

Here is a great read-aloud to share with your children about Covid-19.

NPR’s A Guide: How To Prepare Your Home For Coronavirus