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Talking with Children about COVID-19 & Re-entering Social Situations

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With the lifting of some COVID-19 guidelines, some churches have chosen to gather in person for worship for the first time in several weeks.

With this decision comes a variety of other decisions, such as when to bring children and youth programs back to the church building, what to do with Vacation Bible School and how to maintain physical distancing while creating a welcoming environment.

There are many questions and lots of conversation about the right way or the best way to do these things. Of course, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all issue. The “how” and “when” to reopen churches facilities of various sizes and locations is a decision that pastors and lay teams have been discussing for a while now.

Your State Board of Missions has compiled a list of questions, suggestions and resources to consider, including these two:

As a former children’s minister and preschool teacher, I believe there is another very important topic to be discussed, and that is talking with our children about re-entering social situations.

Lately I’ve seen the phrase the “new normal” on social media. None of us knows exactly what that looks like, but if we don’t prepare our children for the changes then it could lead to unnecessary fear and anxiety.

Do you remember parades from your childhood? I remember as a child going to lots of parades and being terrified of the clowns. There were clowns everywhere! They were riding scooters and walking on stilts. The worst were the ones walking, passing out candy. I was so afraid of the clowns that I didn’t even want the candy and couldn’t enjoy the rest of the parade for fear another clown might come by.

Why didn’t I like the clowns? Because I didn’t know who was behind the mask and makeup. As an adult, my dad became a clown for church fall festivals and other events, and even this caused me anxiety – and I knew who he was.

As I remember these days of my childhood and beyond, I think about children today and unspoken worries and concerns they might have, particularly related to COVID-19.

Many children have been living inside a bubble for the past several weeks, which was good: safety first. But because they haven’t seen a lot of changes that have taken place, once they start going back to the grocery store or the library, the hair salon or walking through a parking lot, and even going back to church , some people will look different.

Kids will see people wearing masks, and I wonder how it will affect them. I know it has been strange for me. It’s like living in a Sci-Fi movie. It’s like my childhood revisited. If I feel this way, I imagine others, especially kids, do, too. So how can we help ease them into the “new normal”?

Don’t let the conversation end as “re-entering” social situations is happening.
Just as important as it was for parents to discuss with their children how things were changing as the social distancing and shelter-at-home was beginning, it will be just as important to discuss what is happening now.

Here are a few tips that might help:

  • Keep conversation open and honest. Let your child know they can talk to you about anything. We see many children today dealing with anxiety issues, and much of those come from the unknown and the “what ifs.” Don’t be afraid that you won’t have an answer. Let your child know you’ll figure it out together.
  • Keep answers short and simple. Often children won’t ask questions, because the answers can be confusing or they don’t want to worry their loved ones. As parents, we sometimes give answers far beyond what our children are asking. Listen to their comments, concerns and questions, and address them specifically.
  • Calm reassurance is what our children need. Let them know that you are doing everything to keep your family safe and healthy. For younger children, that might be enough. Older children might want more details about how and what is being done. Remember to keep answers short and simple but accurate.
  • Continue safety and hygiene habits and routines. Now that our children are more aware of cleanliness habits and routines, let’s remind them that washing their hands, coughing and sneezing in their elbow or a tissue, not touching their face or getting in other people’s personal space are all ways we can continue to stay healthy.
  • Affirm and encourage your children. Let your kids know when you see them following their safety habits and routines. Compliment them.
  • Focus on the positives. As restrictions and regulations continue to be lifted, our children will be able to get back to so many things they enjoy. Remind them about some of the things they will be able to do soon, like play a sport or go to a dance practice and especially go back to church to spend time friends.

Lastly, in all conversations keep Jesus first and foremost the focus. Our children are naturally curious, and much of that curiosity comes in the form of spiritual questions about God and faith. Remind our children to reassure them that God is the Creator of all things and He is aware of all things big and small – that nothing about the past several weeks has caught Him off guard.

For children to know that we as earthly parents are here to protect and care for them, remind them that they have a Father in heaven who loves them so much more. Encourage your children to talk to God and share their concerns, questions and burdens. We might not have all the answers, but we can direct them to the One who does.

You can find more information about talking with children about the Coronavirus on the CDC website:
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/talking-with-children.html

The blog “Talking with Children about COVID-19 & Re-entering Social Situations” was originally published at kidzlink.org.

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