Ask Ann Cannon: How to talk with kids about coronavirus

Ann Cannon

Dear Ann Cannon • I think you should write a column about how to talk to children about the coronavirus.

Someone Who Follows Your Column

Dear Someone • Well, I’m not a child psychologist OR a health care provider, but I do know how to use the Google, so here goes.

The Mayo Clinic has especially useful information on the topic, some of which I summarize here. The site recommends that you should ask your children what they already “know” about the virus, which will give you the chance to correct any misinformation they have.

Explain that COVID-19 is a virus that can make you feel ill in the same way that certain viruses can cause colds or the stomach flu. We don’t know a lot about this particular virus yet, but reassure them that smart people all over the world are working hard to understand it and thereby limit its spread.

Explain that while this research is happening, there are things we can do right now to help keep ourselves and others from getting sick. One of the most important things, of course, is practicing good hygiene. Show children what good hand-washing looks like and encourage them to sing “Happy Birthday” — twice! — to themselves while doing it. Remind them to avoid touching their faces.

The site also recommends defining what certain terms mean. Explain what “social distancing” and “quarantining” mean and why they’re important practices right now. Meanwhile, listen to your children. Answer their questions calmly.

In my opinion, one of the most important things we can do as adults when talking to children is to manage our own anxiety. A friend of mine who’s a therapist says this: “As humans we often ‘co-regulate’ each other’s nervous systems. For instance, if I’m close to you and you’re upset but I stay calm, it will help you to calm down.” Keep calm and carry on when it comes to the kids is what I’m saying.

Speaking of carrying on, the Mayo Clinic also recommends the following:

• Provide your children with structure. Doing so will give everyone a sense of normalcy and control. Outline your days. Make schedules. And while you’re making schedules, be sure to schedule time for your children to stay in touch with grandparents and other loved ones electronically.

• Use this time to create pleasurable new family routines. Take walks. Play games. Watch movies together. You get the idea. Choose to see this new time together as a positive.

Stay healthy and good luck!

Meanwhile, I received this email from a reader with advice for the mother whose daughter can’t stop saying snotty things about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to her active family members.

Dear Ann Cannon • My parents, sister and her spouse, my wife and I have all left the church, too. Many people leave the church nowadays. This woman should tell her daughter to get over the church and move on in life. Tell her to stop sending church-related texts. Be bold and make it clear.

And, finally, I feel like writing a letter of my own …

Dear Tribune Readers • I’ve been taking a LOT of walks lately, and here’s something I’ve noticed: People I don’t even know say hello and wave at me. It’s like they each got the memo that says, “Hey! We’re all in this together, so let’s make the best of it. Let’s be friendly from a distance.” This random kindness of strangers has made me seriously consider who I want to be during this time of crisis, and (among other things) I want to be the kind of person who says thank you.

So thank you to the clerks at the Avenues Smith’s who have remained consistently helpful and cheerful. Thank you to health care providers who show up day in and day out to jobs that are increasingly stressful. Thank you to the people who deliver packages and mail and food to my front porch and to those who pick up my garbage and recycling. Thank you to members of our local governments who approach their tasks both seriously and calmly. Thank you to all first responders who are still first responding.

And thank you, Tribune readers, for reading, for responding, for caring.


Ann Cannon

Ann Cannon is The Tribune’s advice columnist. Got a question for Ann? Email her at askann@sltrib.com or visit the Ask Ann Cannon page on Facebook.