How to Talk to Your Kids About Addiction and the Coronavirus
In light of the recent pandemic we are facing as a nation and worldwide, many parents are now wondering, how do I discuss the coronavirus with my kids when they were already worried about their mom or dad and their addiction? For so many families impacted by addiction, the fear and worry that was once specific to their loved one’s recovery has now been extended to the concerns over the coronavirus. With so many unknowns, many are wondering how to children about their worries about mommy or daddy and their recovery and treatment, let alone reassure them of their safety during the pandemic we are currently facing and coming up with a Coronavirus explanation.
Providing children with the tools to learn how to regulate their emotions and create narratives that inspire hope can help children manage such strong feelings and emotions. During this time when children are homebound, this can be a great opportunity to begin teaching them these necessary skills and begin a dialogue that can foster a lifelong connection of honesty and transparency with their families, thus increasing their sense of safely.
Children are incredibly perceptive and know when something is wrong. What they need from the adults in their life is the reassurance that they are safe and the honesty that they can trust you will listen to them by providing them real answers. Things like” everything is fine” or “there’s nothing you need to worry about” are not effective and often increase stress because they no longer feel they can ask those important questions. Instead ask them what they are worried about. Listen to their fears and then address them. Here are some helpful tips in discussing these serious issues with your children.
- Don’t be afraid to discuss the coronavirus or addiction. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news. Make sure you stay ahead of the narrative your child takes, so that the story is guided by facts and not fears. With so many precautions being taken to ensure the safety of treatment communities, many families are unable to visit their loved one which, can also raise anxiety. Discuss this with your child(ren): I know you miss daddy and I do too, but Daddy is getting the treatment he deserves because he loves you and wants to be there for you. RCA has taken every precaution necessary to keep daddy safe. Would it be helpful to talk to daddy tonight? And then call the facility to set up a time to speak.
- Be developmentally appropriate for your child’s age. Let your child guide you in the questions and answers. For younger children, it is often brief honest answers: Mommy is taking care of her health and getting treatment. Don’t volunteer too much information. Children don’t often want long answers, not even older children. Stay focused on their questions and answer them directly and honesty. It’s OK to say you don’t have the answer but that you can both look into getting an answer together. Is mommy safe in her treatment since everyone is talking about how dangerous the coronavirus is? If you don’t know the precautions, you can inquire by calling the treatment facility or reading their updates online. Provide brief, direct answers and ask if they have any more questions before providing too much detail.
- Create skills to help them manage their natural body’s response system. Breathing, talking walks, running around the house or backyard for those more active children. There are so many wonderful resources for families to read about to help children increase mindfulness practices.
- Create a safe place for your child to ask questions. Ask your child to tell you what they might have heard about addiction treatment and the coronavirus, and how they feel. Don’t push it if they say no but check in with them and continue to ask. Children can be hesitant in starting a conversation they know can be difficult. They might need your prompt to get started.
- Deal with your own fears and anxiety. It is important to notice your own feelings before discussing your child’s. It’s OK if you need time to discuss if you are worried. Engage in your own skills to manage your fears before discussing with your child theirs. You can also share in skills that you use, like taking a walk outside together or: When I worry I have found when I breath out slowly, it helps me feel calmer. Do you want to try that together? .
- Be reassuring. Reassure your child that mommy or daddy are safe and getting the help they deserve and how much they love them. Also reassure them about how rare the coronavirus actually is (the flu is much more common) and that kids actually seem to have milder symptoms. Let your child guide you on their worries that need reassuring. Don’t assume things.
- For the coronavirus, focus on what you’re doing to stay safe and what the treatment facility is doing to keep mom or dad safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you and the treatment facility are taking.
- Keep talking and find moments in each day to stay connected and have FUN!! Remind your kids that the lines of communication are going to stay open and that there are no questions off limits. Kids often times feel more comfortable talking when doing things. So plan fun activities, play board games together, or charades. Spend time together each day. You will find this is often the times most questions are asked. And above all remember to remind them (and yourselves) that even when we worry about mommy and daddy we can have still fun and laugh. Remember that play and laughter are two of the best things we can do for ourselves.
– Written by Trish Caldwell, RCA Director of Family Services