Left: Public domain electron microscope image of the coronavirus, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
If you’re a parent or grandparent, you’ve probably fielded questions from children about the coronavirus (COVID-19): “Why are those people wearing masks?” “Why is the store out of toilet paper?” “Why did they close the school?” “Why can’t we visit Grandma and Grandpa?” “Will I get sick?”
I’m not a child development expert. I’m just a dad, a granddad, and an author who has written books for children. I want to offer some suggestions for talking to kids about the coronavirus.
- Communicate with calm confidence. You may not feel confident about the future when you see your supermarket shelves cleared of toilet paper and hand sanitizer and when the schools are closed. Nevertheless, you have good reason for confidence. The pandemic will pass. The economy will rebound. We don’t know how long it will take, but we do know that governments around the world are taking steps to save lives and shorten the duration of the crisis.
- Filter the daily news. Our children look to us for their sense of safety and security. Our job is to filter out as much of the scary stuff as possible, and interpret these events so our kids will feel safe, secure, and loved. Turn off the 24-hour cable news when they are around. Be the news filter for your children.
- Be a good listener. Invite children to talk about their feelings and fears. After you have listened to them, tell them the steps you’re taking to keep them safe. Tell them what they can do to help, such as covering their coughs and thoroughly washing their hands while singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice through. Make it fun by washing your hands with your children and singing with them.
- Answer questions honestly—and reassuringly. Children often get misinformation from friends or by misunderstanding news broadcasts. Answer their questions simply and briefly. Avoid overwhelming them with more information than they want or need. If you don’t know the answer, say, “I’ll find out and tell you.” If they worry, “Will I get sick?” tell them probably not, but even if they do, kids generally don’t get as sick as grownups. Reassure your children that they can always talk to you about their fears and worries.
- Create new routines that give children a sense of normalcy. If your children are unable to participate in their usual gymnastics or dance classes, they may feel their lives are disrupted. Create new routines and structure for them. Set aside certain days for crafts, reading, backyard play, homework, games, baking, and other activities that help kids feel engaged and secure.
- Help your children stay connected with family and friends. Skype, Facebook Messenger, Facetime, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts, and Marco Polo are great ways to hear and see your family and friends during these “social distancing” times. (Note: I do NOT recommend Zoom because of its vulnerability to being hacked by “Zoombombers.“)
- Rely on your faith. Praying with your children in stressful times can lift their spirits. Lean on the reassuring words of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Read the entire psalm here.)
- Encourage your kids to read. Reading good books is time well spent—during stressful times, doubly so. Reading takes kids’ minds off of headlines and confinement, and transports them to other times, other places, with messages of hope and reassurance. Here are some recent releases I would suggest:
Another by Christian Robinson. A cat leads a girl into a magical world of adventure, where she learns to appreciate similarities and differences.
Birdsong by Julie Flett. A charming story about a family moving to a new place, making new friends, and experiencing loss and growth through a season of life.
Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe. A whimsical tale of a frog and his drum, and the parade he leads.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Delicate illustrations enhance this poetic meditation on food, heritage, history, and culture.
Truman by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins. When five-year-old Sarah begins her first day of kindergarten, her devoted pet turtle Truman escapes from his tank to search for her.
I Miss My Grandpa by Jin Xiaojing. In this lyrical tale, a girl recalls all she has heard about a story-telling grandfather she has never met.
Middle Grade Books
This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews. Graphic novel about six boys who explore a legend about paper lanterns becoming stars.
New Kid by Jerry Craft. Graphic novel about an art-loving African-American boy at an upscale private school.
Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez. Sal Vidón is a thirteen-year-old boy afflicted with diabetes yet gifted with the ability to alter the space-time continuum.
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis. Graphic novel and alternate history inspired by the early life of Queen Elizabeth I and her sister-rival, Mary Tudor.
The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu. A tale of twin sisters Iris and Lark who discover a dark secret that threatens to separate them forever. A triumphant story of love and empowerment.
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Alexander Nabaum. Ten overlapping stories about the adventures, fears, and first crushes of middle-schoolers when school’s out.
And, if I may . . .
I would also suggest my four-book Timebendors Series, originally published in 2002. I have just revised and updated all four books for a new generation of readers. Designed for middle graders, ages nine to thirteen, the Timebenders Series is a thrill-ride through time and space with Max McCrane, a young genius who invented a time machine. These books deal with themes of faith, courage, character, and spiritual warfare from a Christian perspective. Young readers who enjoy C. S. Lewis’s Narnia tales or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time would probably like the Timebenders series.
One Amazon reviewer wrote, “I read this series as a kid and they have remained four of the most memorable books from my childhood. Well-written and action-packed, they helped me understand important concepts like ‘Why does God give us free will?’ . . . I was so wrapped up in the story that I wouldn’t realize I was learning until later. I would read a few chapters and then excitedly run over to my mom to give her the latest update on what was happening in the lives of Max and his three friends. . . . The Timebenders Series is such a fun read!”
Max McCrane is a young inventor who built his own time machine. Climb aboard with Max and his companions—Allie O’Dell, Grady Stubblefield, and Toby Brubaker—as they face dinosaurs, alien Emissaries, and mankind’s most ancient and terrifying Enemy, the Silver Dragon.
In Book Two, Max, Allie, Grady, and Toby tumble through an ancient time portal—the Doorway to Doom. It sends them to an age of warrior kings, knights on horseback, and dark wizardry.
In Book Three, Max is trapped in the past by Luna Skyes, a wannabe witch. His friends Allie, Grady, and Toby jump aboard Timebender to search for Max and Luna, only to be chased through time and space by the relentless, robotic Time Troopers!
In Book Four, Max adds something new to Timebender: Anti-gravity! Meanwhile, his friend Allie O’Dell feels her life is falling apart—and the troublesome Toby Brubaker is chased by the police! So begins the latest Timebenders adventure as Max, Grady, Allie, and Toby are swept away to another world to face the strange, golden-eyed beings called the Timelings. Jim Denney has written more than a hundred books, but the Timebenders series is his favorite. He is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).