Ask a Cool Dad: How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus
Maybe start by telling them Santa won't get it
This is Ask a Cool Dad, in which our resident dad who is also cool fields questions from readers about how they, too, can navigate the difficulties of parenthood without looking like a square. Have parenting questions of your own? Send them to email@example.com.
Dear Cool Dad,
Cutting right to the chase: How do I explain coronavirus and being quarantined to my kids without them losing all faith in humanity and being terrified of pandemics for the rest of their lives?
In the past 72 hours, while stuck at home with my wife and two daughters, I’ve witnessed a 9-year-old in hysterics because she realized she’s probably not going to be able to have her birthday party as planned in a few weeks, and I’ve been asked by a 5-year-old if I think Santa will get “the virus.” When I told her that, no, I think Santa will be fine, she started doing this maniacal laughter thing that she does when she’s scared or nervous and doesn’t want anyone to know. She literally laughs to keep from crying.
I assume you’re doing similarly well wherever you are.
(Though I should also note that I’m currently writing this from the bottom bunk of my kids’ bunk beds because it’s the only quiet place I could find in my two-bedroom apartment, so I probably have you beat in that department, at least.)
But anyway! Yeah, this is wild. And aside from the constant requests for snacks and the constant bickering and, oh god, the constant whining about being bored, the most difficult part of all of this, for me, has been trying to convey to children of very different ages the appropriate level of concern they should be feeling. I obviously don’t want them turning into crazy little doomsday preppers and toilet paper hoarders, but I also don’t want them to wind up like the loud-mouth dolts I keep hearing on line at the grocery store saying shit like, “Man, people are freaking out over nothing! It’s just like the flu!”
So I’ve basically taken the exact same approach with my kids as I have with… pretty much everyone else. I’ve explained that, while I personally do not know much of anything about anything, there are people out there whose job is to be informed in situations like this, and that for our sake and the sake of everyone around us, we should just do what they tell us to do and assume that everything will probably be ok.
As with most parenting situations, it’s also important that we invite our kids to share their own thoughts and concerns with us. The last thing you want is for them to be internalizing large amounts of fear and anxiety about all of this. Ask them how they’re feeling and assure them you’re there to answer any questions they have.
Maybe most importantly, it’s not a bad time to remind them, assuming they’re old enough to understand, that there are lots of people who are in much worse situations right now. We’re fortunate enough to be in mostly good health, with good jobs that allow us to work from home, and enough money and iPads and internet devices to make it through with minimum inconvenience.
And finally, not that you asked, some thoughts on how to get everyone through quarantine without killing each other:
- Ease up with your screen-time limitations. Everyone’s certainly bored AF and possibly even super anxious. Let them take comfort where they can find it. And don’t act like you haven’t been scrolling through Instagram like a 16-year-old yourself.
- But that said, assuming you’re still allowed, do try getting these kiddos outside for a little while every day. We’ve instituted a daily outing when my work slows down in the late afternoon, where we take a little walk, then my kids mess around on the lawn and I sit on the stoop drinking a beer. It’s nice.
- And don’t be a jerk about giving them food you wouldn’t under normal circumstances. My kids fucked up a pack of Oreos like nobody’s business yesterday, and nothing horrible happened.
- Invite them to help you cook, too. In my experience, they love it, and, again, it helps them pass the time. We’ve gotten really into deep frying stuff. Mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, french fries. I don’t know. I’m not proud of it, but whatever. We also made our own bread crumbs yesterday?
- Two words: Disney. Plus.