When I was in secondary school, my class was trained by our biology teacher about an easily transmitted lethal disease at the time. Listening to her sharing all about how terrible the illness was, I was so scared that I shivered. My table mate even noticed that and asked if I was OK. “I am OK, thanks,” I said, but I was not OK at all! That fear obsessed me for years and my mom even didn’t know about that. Each life experience is a chance to let our brain go down the negativity bias path which is pre-programed or to create and strengthen the positivity wirings in it. Like humans in general, kids with more strong positivity wirings will lead a happy and successful life – this is based on science (reference The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor).
So here’s the thing: If they have no one talk to them about the topic, fears will silently get wired stronger and stronger in their developing brains (human brains get fully developed till we are in our 20s). If they do have someone talk to them, but not in the right way – the brain-based way, those fears may be worse or they don’t know what they should focus on. Below are the key steps I used to have the conversations with my two kids, a four-year-old and a 10-year-old, and the actual conversations are shared below for your further references.
✅ 1. Make sure your own brain has already been rewired. As leaders (parents are leaders of our children in some way), there are three level of reacting: UNDER REACTING (saying nothing, minimal empathy, underplaying the situation) and OVER REACTING (constant obsession, creating panic), or, ideally, ADAPTIVE (empathizing, naming emotions, helping people prepare for the worst). To understand more about how you could help yourself, please refer to my previous story.
✅ 2. Talk with your kids when both of you are generally in a calm and relaxing mood, because this is when your logic brain which is in charge of high-level functions like listening, understanding, making decisions, etc. works best.
✅ 3. Listen to what they have in their minds about the pandemic. A key part of a brain-based conversation is listening. You can ask, “What have you known about coronavirus?” And just simply listen attentively (put your phone away so you don’t get distracted). This’s how you can get into what’s going on in their brains.
✅ 4. Label and acknowledge their feelings / emotions. This is among the 3 brain-based ways to help someone regulate their emotions. For example, you can say, “You feel scared right?”
✅ 5. For wrong facts, help them understand they are not true. You can ask, “Is that true?” If they say that’s true then you can show them counter facts. If they say it’s not true (some kids, when asked, will start to realize what they’ve heard is not true but they may not have the concrete facts) then you can ask them why to solidify their understanding.
✅ 6. Help them face with the real fear because hiding fears will make it worse it they are not “de-wired” in our brains. This could be applied to older kids. For younger ones like my daughter, it’s too much and they don’t need to know about this. You can ask, “What if someone at your age gets the virus?” Then you can help them understand that even that happens, they can easily recover and strengthen their immune system. But again, let them talk and you only chime in when really necessary. That way, the information is truly hardwired in their brains.
✅ 7. Focus on a vision, solutions / things they can control. You can say, “So we all want to stay healthy of course. What do you think you should do?” And let them talk. You can add where needed, as like I mentioned in point 5, when they do the talk, the information is truly hardwired in their brains.
I’d suggest you make this as the top priority in your list before they are ridden by too much fear or too naïve not to take precautionary measures that you are not aware of.
Here are my own real conversations. As they are real, they are not by the book, but the principles are there. Can you tell which principles are used where?
☀ MY CONVERSATION WITH MY 10-YEAR-OLD SON:
Me: What have you known about Coronavirus? Did someone say about it at school?
Son: Yeah. One of my classmates said there was an experiment with the virus. A fish got the virus and it jumped out of the tank. [It seemed like he was not scared.]
Me: Do if someone has it, what are the symptoms?
Son: Coughing, fever and difficult breathing.
Me: And what will happen?
Son: This is a new virus, so the body will need some time to get to know about it and find a way to fight against it.
Mom: So you seems to know the correct facts about it. How should we not get infected?
Son: Wash our hands regularly and for 20 seconds each. Also, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables so we are healthy. Oh, mom, can I watch that TED talk again?
Me: Of course! You can always watch that TED talk about the body and the vitamins again. And please keep a distance when you meet someone OK? Let them know that’s good for everyone / greater good.
☀ MY CONVERSATION WITH MY 4-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER:
Daughter: My friends talked about the virus today?
Me: Who talked about the virus?
Daughter: All od them. [“Wow! This is a thing.”]
Me: What about the virus did they talk about?
Daughter: They said if you get the virus, you will die. [She didn’t show she was scared though.]
Me: That’s not true. If you get the virus, you will be sick. Do you know what happens when we are sick because of that virus?
Daughter: Coughing and fever.
Me: What it’s hard to breathe as well. So how can we not get sick because of the virus?
Daughter: Be clean. Wash your hands.
Me: And don’t stay near others. And… have lots of sunshine and enjoy spring together!
And we did have lots of sunshine and lots of spring magic by enjoying the green buds from the trees on our way back from the library. My daughter even pretended to take a photo of me next to the lush bush.
Remember the conversations don’t replace reminders and reinforcement of action. And keep calm, stay healthy & be kind!
For more stories like this, please visit Diary of a Happier Mom Brain.