How should you talk to your kids about the coronavirus?
Ironically, CNN actually recommends to "resist the urge to bombard them with every possible headline or piece of information about the outbreak." Twenty-four-hour news channel: Heal thyself!
But you can't expect a media outlet not to offer tips at a time like this. It has become part of the modern crisis package: Assume parents are desperately in need of someone they don't know telling them how to talk to their own kids.
Nancy McDermott, author of the forthcoming book, "The Problem with Parenting," said parents always asked for these articles when she was a mommy blog editor. But, she added, "I don't think this was something that would have vexed our parents or grandparents in quite the same way."
Yes, I doubt there were "How to Talk About the Disappearance of Amelia Earhart" notes going home from the schools. But now, a phalanx of psychologists rushes in to prescribe precisely the right mix of gravitas, insouciance, wisdom and calm that could possibly be achieved by the dalai lama on his birthday after a long nap and a glass of his favorite wine.
The usual mix of advice includes listening to your kids (duh), not freaking out during the conversation (duh), not telling them more than they need to know (good advice) and telling kids what they can actually do to be safer or keep other people safe.
In the case of the coronavirus, I'm happy to say that this includes telling the kids to wash their hands and cough into their elbows. (One site tells kids to practice the "Dracula sneeze" — a great name for this technique. But it may induce new fears of vampires.)
Many advice givers also add Mister Rogers' tip: "Look for the helpers" — the firefighters, doctors, whoever is doing the right and difficult thing to make things better. I'm happy about that suggestion.
What I'm less happy about is the tip-giving culture itself, because it implies parents want or need — I'm not sure which — expert help when it comes to interacting with their own children.
"Coaching parents how to talk to their kids first emerged in the 1930s," says Frank Furedi, author of "Paranoid Parenting." "But it kicked in big time in the 1980s. This shift was based on the assumption that communication between parent and child required expert skill, and if a parent miscommunicated it could have a devastating effect on their child."
So, Mom and Dad have basically been warned that any word they utter could ruin their kids forever. And we wonder why parents are so anxious — and read so much advice? It's a vicious circle.
NBC gives what seems like an entire script for parents to follow:
"You can say something like, 'It's really scary for you to be hearing all about this virus and people who are dying and how awful it is. I bet that has you feeling worried that you or someone you love might get sick and maybe even die. I can absolutely see — especially as a kid — how you would feel this way and have these thoughts. I think that's probably pretty normal ... '"
And on and on.
The problem with that script is that ... It's a script. It's obviously not meant to be repeated word for word, but clearly the network feels that parents need extremely granular guidance. But as Furedi points out, "Whenever parents adopt someone else's script they lose the capacity to be sensitive to specific dynamics of their very unique relationship. It is far better to invent a family ritual like, 'This is how the Smiths react when faced with a mega problem.' Such rituals make kids feel that they are special and helps forge a close bond within the family."
I realize that may sound like advice on how to talk to your kids about the coronavirus.
So be it.
Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Bessi at Pixabay