I don’t want to talk about the epidemic we’re all talking about right now. There is a lot of information out there, but infectious disease is not my expertise so I will leave that to the experts like the CDC or Johns Hopkins. I also love this comic published by NPR.
For more information creating an emergency plan for your child with a disability, read more here.
But, I want to talk about what to say to your child who comes home from school and asks if everyone is going to get sick and die. Or who lays in bed at night and in that magical moment before sleep sets in, when thoughts of the day wash over you, asks a seemingly simple question that requires our parent brains to go to red alert and consider all of the alternative answers in the span of 10 seconds:
“Be reasonable. Be honest. But not too honest. It’s nothing. It’s a big thing. Don’t say anything that could induce panic. But don’t keep them in the dark.”
And, finally, “can we just deal with this tomorrow?”
Our kids are often more prone to anxiety than their peers. They may have had more hospital visits, or hospital stays. They may have compromised immune systems, or challenges with executive function tasks like remembering to wash hands every. dang. time.
So, having read the articles and listened to the podcasts, here are my top takeaways for parents of kids with disabilities:
Don’t be afraid to talk about scary things. Your child’s feelings are real and if we dismiss them, they will only feel more confused. Listen to your child and don’t put it off until tomorrow. The unknown is always scarier in our minds.
Be developmentally appropriate in your response. Follow your child’s lead and ask them what they know or what they’ve heard. Their questions may be different than ours so we don’t want to offer more information than their brains can process. Our kids will also take cues from our responses, so if we let our own anxieties take over, our kids will pick up on that.
Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. We know our children best, so if your child is prone to anxiety*, for instance, you’ll want to be sure to spend time easing fear by letting them know they are safe and focusing on what you are already doing, like washing hands. This can also be an opportunity to reinforce routines that are already in place but can feel calming or safe to your child.
So keep talking to your children, be aware of the radio or TV programming on in the background when little ears are listening, and keep doing your best to keep your family safe and calm. We’ll get through this together… from a safe distance, of course.
Keep an eye on your child’s anxiety level. More and more providers are offering support via telehealth or even text so you won’t need to leave your house. Don’t hesitate to contact your provider (or find one using our Resource Directory) if you need help, that’s what they’re there for.
For more on How to Talk to Kids about Coronavirus, check out these excellent sources: Child Mind Institute, AHA Parenting, Josh Feder podcast, parent resource from National Association of School Psychologists. Or for easy to read Key Facts, check this out.