My fiance and I have four sons, ages 13, 14, 15 and 16. They all have different styles, and that's never been more apparent than in talking about the news in the past few weeks.
One son asks several times a day, "Is there any news about the news?" Another son listens to conversations, but he doesn't engage. A third son tunes us out when the topic comes up. And the fourth has directly asked, "Can we talk about something else?"
Parenting is an ever-moving target. Just when I think I have it figured out, my boys change. I try to change in response — and I try to meet each of their unique needs as best I can. I'm grateful that they accept my parenting as a work in progress.
Here's what our mommy M.D.'s — doctors who are also mothers — do to talk with their own kids about complicated things like COVID-19.
"My 3-year-old daughter just knows about being extra careful to wash hands and not kiss on the mouth and cover coughs and sneezes," says Michelle Davis-Dash, M.D., a mom of two and pediatrician in Baltimore. "My 9-year-old son, however, got a full discussion about what the disease is as far as we know, its transmission and strategies to contain the spread — especially because we had to cancel our spring break trip."
"Always make conversations age appropriate, but it's important to have the conversation," says Jennifer Hanes, D.O., a mom of two and a wellness physician at DrHanes from Houston. "When talking about challenging things, remember that faith and fear are similar. They both ask us to believe in something that hasn't happened yet. We can choose fear and be scared of something that hasn't happened yet. Or we can choose faith and believe that good things are going to happen. Faith means things are working for us. It improves our attitude and even our immune system."
"The best way to speak with children is to set aside time and space to do it, and to engage the child with respect, warmth and curiosity about the child's own point of view," says Elizabeth Berger, M.D., a mom of two grown children, a child psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character" from New York City. "It is important to get a handle on the child's developmental level — how much abstract thinking might be required to process the adult's explanation, and how much detail is really meaningful. Much depends upon the child's personality as well. It is important to understand that certain children may appear to be asking for complex intellectual information, when what they really crave is a hug and simple reassurance: 'Don't worry! We will always take care of you and everyone we love!' Some children are simply curious about the buzz that they notice overhead. The child may not feel that the conversation is scary and difficult; it may be the grown-up who finds it scary and difficult."
Berger continues, "The kind of information that would be suitable for most children might be something like, 'There is a new kind of cold going around that is making some people sick. We are staying home and closing schools for the time being, to keep everyone healthy while we wait for the sick people to get better.'
"There is so much alarmist material about COVID-19 floating around that it may be hard for many adults to avoid being caught up in panic themselves," she adds. "But if parents become panic-stricken, this emotion may readily be picked up by their children in disturbing ways. Ideally, parents need to be mindful of their own anxieties and do their best to calm down. Then it is not too difficult to find a way to contain their children's worries in all the usual ways that parents know well. It is good to remember that through the ages, many terrifying challenges have faced the human community — huge disasters, widespread famines and terrible wars. And even under privileged conditions, every household has to deal with sorrow, pain and even death at times. Meeting the uncertainties of the moment takes a plucky spirit, but most parents will be able to reach down into their own hearts to find the courage and leadership to provide comfort to their children."
Jennifer Bright is a mom of four sons, co-founder and CEO of family- and veteran- owned custom publisher Momosa Publishing, co-founder of the Mommy MD Guides team of 150+ mommy M.D.s, and co-author of "The Mommy MD Guide to the Toddler Years." She lives in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. To find out more about Jennifer Bright and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: finelightarts at Pixabay