"Mommy, are there ever going to be parades again?" My 4-year-old asked this the other day over breakfast, apropos of nothing and everything all at the same time.
"I don't know, sweetie," I replied. "I hope soon."
"Me too. Because I really love parades." (Note: To the best of my recollection, he has been to one parade in his whole life, the Westchester County Volunteer Firemen Association Convention Parade, and it clearly left quite an impression.)
Parades aside, we all have a lot of questions right now and our children are no exception. The difference, of course, is that we adults know (at least most of the time) that we have no choice but to live with some uncertainty. Our little ones, though, expect us to have the answers.
Everyone's anxieties are running high right now, and parents are constantly bombarded with well-meaning but vague advice (including, I hope not too frequently, my own). "Be honest," we say, "but also developmentally appropriate." Or, "Be authentic, but make sure not to burden children with your own emotions." It's not that it's bad advice—it's accurate—but it's also kind of like telling someone who has never played baseball to "hit the ball squarely." Great idea. What, though, does it mean?
Parents in my talks and virtual coaching sessions have been asking me recently how I would answer a range of questions their children have about their new day-to-day reality. "Not just generally," they press, "But, like, what exactly would you say?" Parents want to tell their children the truth in a way they understand but won't find overwhelming. They want to follow the popular wisdom—to be honest, developmentally appropriate, authentic, and with boundaries—but need to know more about what that looks like.
And so I offer what follows. These are a few of the questions parents have asked me about, along with what I might say in response were I speaking to my own children. My words are only suggestions; as always, I am a firm believer that you are the expert when it comes to your children and that you know best how to communicate with them in ways they will understand. Consider these answers merely a jumping-off point—food for thought to inform the conversations in your own family.
1. "When is this all going to end?"
I don't know, honey. Nobody does. This situation is just so new. But even right now, as we're talking about it, there are so many people—doctors, nurses, scientists—working to make sure it's safe for everyone to go back to school, work, birthday parties, play dates and restaurants as soon as possible.
2. "Are we going to get coronavirus?"
We are doing everything we can to make sure that we do not get the virus. We are washing our hands a lot and staying home. When we need to go outside, we are wearing masks and staying far away from other people. All of those things are keeping us, as well as so many other people, safe. If we do get coronavirus, it may not feel any different from a cold or the flu. If we need help, there are amazing doctors and nurses who will know how to take care of us.
3. "Why do we have to wear masks?"
Wearing masks helps us remember not to touch our faces, which is important in case there are germs on our hands. When we're home, our hands are mostly clean because we're washing them a lot, so it's not as bad if we touch our faces. When we're outside, we may get germs on our hands, and the masks help us remember not to touch our faces, or to stop the virus from getting in our noses or mouths if we have a really bad itch and we can't help it. We also want to protect other people, just in case we may be carrying the virus.
4. "Why is everything so boring?"
Things feel boring right now because there are a lot of rules about things we can't do. We can't go to school or work, or have play dates, or go to places that are closed like the library, museums and playgrounds. That can make the days feel really long. I also sometimes say I'm bored when what I really am is sad, mad or frustrated. Or sometimes when I just need a hug and something to make me laugh.
5. "But if you're home, why can't you play with me more?"
You really want me to pay attention to you, huh? I get that. It used to be that when I was home, you were the thing I'd focus on most, because I went to my office to focus on work. Just because I'm home all the time now doesn't mean that my work—and all the other things I used to do during the day—have gone away. I still have to do all those things, I just have to do them while I'm at home.
I know that must be confusing, and also annoying. It's confusing and annoying for me too. Let's make sure to figure out each morning when I am going to be able to play with you, and then we can both look forward to it even when we're doing other stuff.
6. "Why did you yell at me before?"
I was really frustrated that you spilled your water, even though I knew it was an accident. I didn't mean to yell, but it came out of my mouth before I could stop it. I'm sorry. I know that's been happening a lot; I'm having some big feelings because of everything that's different, and sometimes they're spilling out onto you by mistake.
7. "Is that why you and Daddy are yelling at each other more too?"
Yup. Everyone in our family—including you, I might add!—is having big feelings because this is such a weird and tricky time. And we all have to stay inside together in a pretty small space. So there are lots of big feelings in this one small space, and lots of times the feelings aren't landing where they're supposed to. The fight that daddy and I had was this big [hold up pointer and thumb an inch apart], but the love that's in our family is this big [hold out arms as far as they stretch]!
8. "Mommy, are you scared?"
Yes, sometimes I do feel a little bit scared. It's okay to feel scared; this is new for all of us, and new things can be scary. But then I think about how safe and cozy we are right here in this house, and how much love there is here. I think about how many people in the world are helping other people right now, how much good there is in the world, even when there are bad things happening. And then I feel better.
9. "Will you come with me to pee [from a child who has been peeing by himself for years now]?"
Yes. [Then, to self: I have a zillion things to do and there's no reason on earth I need to come watch my 5-year-old pee, and yet little kids often need more connection during times like these, and at least she's asking for my attention kindly today rather than being super irritable and defiant like yesterday, so here I go to the bathroom.]
10. "What can I have for a snack?"
Forgive me, I hadn't realized it's already been 37 seconds since you last ate. Once again, from the top, here are the options...
This post was originally published on Psychology Today.