Today, parents are faced with the challenge of discussing the coronavirus outbreak with young children. For something we may be struggling to process and understand as adults, communicating it to our kids can seem daunting and make us feel inadequate. There’s no “parenting through pandemic” books out there, so how do we go about these difficult conversations? How do we communicate empathy and exude calmness when we may be feeling anything but? What is the right amount of information to share with them? How do we answer their difficult questions, discuss their fears and create an empathetic space to share feelings? How do we help them know that God is near?
The Family Evangelization Team wrote a guide with Scripture, activities and talking points to help parents respond to the most frequently asked questions by children (based on a recent social media poll) through the lens of faith.
1. When can we go visit or play with our friends and family again? When can we go to fun places, like the zoo or do the other fun things we do in the summer?
“Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” (Matthew 6:34a)
Any parent knows that “waiting” and young children are like oil and water. We are all likely feeling the pain of this prolonged “wait,” especially not knowing when it will end. It’s okay to say that you don’t know. This is honest. As parents, we battle an instinctual desire to give our kids the answer that will bring them peace, but in this case saying, “The truth is, we really don’t know when we can visit people again and go to fun places” will likely be more productive.
Activity: Have an open conversation with your children about the quarantine. Ask them to share the feelings they are experiencing while waiting and some of the ways it has made you feel tired, angry or frustrated. Encourage them to talk to Jesus about their feelings, stressing that he understands and wants to hear about everything, not just the good and holy moments in their lives. Make praying for a swift end to the virus a part of your daily family prayer and invite your children to add intentions for the specific difficulties they are experiencing during the quarantine. Reflect on the questions below and discuss responses as a family.
Reflection questions:What were some of the difficult parts of today, and how did they make you feel? What were some of the moments today where you saw God’s blessings? What is God asking of you today? What can you do today to show his love to others, especially the people in your home? Is there a way you can show love to your family and friends, even if you can’t hang out together? Each day is important to God, even these days where we can’t do the things we would normally do, how is today a gift from God?
2. If I’m healthy and grandma is healthy, why can’t I play with her and give her a hug?
“. . . live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love . . . “(Ephesians 4:1-2)
For kids who may just be starting to grasp the concept of germs and the importance of covering your mouth when coughing or washing one’s hands, coronavirus throws a real wrench in their basic understanding of sickness. And when kids only notion of feet are “those things on the end of your legs” explaining six-feet-apart, the stay-at-home mandate and social isolation from those loved ones they would normally see is as bewildering as it is painful.
Talking points: Usually, people who aren’t sick can still visit with other people and give hugs. This time, things are different. Coronavirus germs are tricky because we may not know when they are spreading. We are all doing our best to avoid these germs and keep everyone safe. So, for the safety of the family and friends who don’t live with us, we aren’t supposed to give them hugs, kisses, or be too close to them right now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t show them that you love them!
Activities: Help your little ones stay in regular contact with loved ones through phone calls and video chat. Teach them how to mail letters, or make special gifts for them to open later. Maybe even find them a family member or friend who would be willing to be their pen-pal. You can also pray for and with them. Help your child come up with a special prayer for just them to say with grandma or grandpa, etc.
3. Am I ever going to school again?
“If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” (Habakkuk 2:3b)
You probably never thought the school year would end like this! In the season where the occasional snow day was a cause for celebration, kids (and parents) are feeling the loss of their old normal. Talk with your kids openly about the reality of the school closures, but stress the positives of this moment they will likely never encounter again.
Talking points: It is not known yet when you will get to go back to school, it is known that it won’t be during this school year. Your teachers are working hard to stay connected with you to help you to continue to learn at home and help you to get ready for your next grade level. This gives us the opportunity to work with you and the opportunity to know more about what you do in school! Although you miss your friends and teachers, God can help us to grow closer as a family during this time. In the meantime, you can continue to pray and do what you can to stay safe and healthy. This time at home is protecting all of us . . . our family, your teacher, your classmates, and their families. When school does re-open, it will be a joyful reunion!
4. How can we move on to the next grade without getting to say goodbye to this year?
“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.” (Jeremiah 29:11-12)
Moving from one grade to the next is a big deal! The end of the school year is usually filled with year-end activities, traditions, special projects, and special songs. Allow your kid to process the loss of what they won’t experience at the end of school, but then guide them to think about how they would like to celebrate in a new way.
Activity: Find a way to celebrate the end of the school year. Have a special meal and a “graduation ceremony” at home. Reflect as a family on how your child has grown over the past school year. Have them share the accomplishments they are proudest of. Ask them to think about what their hopes and goals are for the next year. Pray about them as a family so you and your child can look with hope to the good things that are to come!
5. What can I do to help?
“Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
It’s normal for everyone to feel a little unmoored right now being out of our routines, isolated from our communities and without the sacraments that root us in our purpose. Helping your kids understand their role during this virus, and how they can contribute to helping others can be particularly grounding.
Talking points: Our leaders and health professionals are helping things get better. God is using them and their gifts and talents to help all of us. But everyone has a job right now. Our job is to stay at home to keep others safe and spend time getting closer as a family. God can use your gifts and talents during this time to help others too.
Activity: Encourage your kids to find ways to be helpful in their new little world (inside the house) whether its helping younger siblings with homework, helping parents with extra chores around the house, or helping spread cheer by decorating the front windor or drawing with chalk on your sidewalk. Remind them that their prayers matter, that God hears every single prayer, and that praying for our leaders, health professionals and patients is one of the most important things they could do right now.
6. Why doesn’t God stop the coronavirus?
“The Lord has made everything for a purpose, even the wicked for the evil day.” (Proverbs 16:4)
This is the toughie. It’s likely not the only time we will face the question of suffering from our little ones. Allow this to be another opportunity for an open conversation. Let them wrestle with this tough question and all the aspects of it. It’s okay to tell them that you too have struggled with this question, and that many great Christians and Saints have as well. Allow this to be an opportunity to talk about some of the times in your lives where suffering existed, and where you saw moments of redemption in those moments. Encourage them to pray big prayers to God, whether its an end to the coronavirus or to soften the hearts of people who have not yet turned to God.
Talking points: We have a God who can do the impossible. God is big and he is powerful. Nothing, not even a virus, is outside his control. Sometimes, it’s hard to know why God allows things like this to happen. It may seem like God doesn’t care, but the truth is, he does care. He made us, knows us and loves us – completely. And in good times or in bad, he will never ever leave us. Although we don’t understand why sometimes bad things happen, what we do know is that God can always bring good out of difficult situations. For example, God wants the whole world to know him and love him back. When things get tough, people turn to God for help. This is happening today . . . people who weren’t thinking about God before the coronavirus are now looking to him for help. We need to pray as a family to God who can do what for us seems impossible.
7. Who will die next?
“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
While a quarantine is a time where you can more easily censor your children from receiving more information than necessary about the coronavirus, the topic of death is not entirely unavoidable. The more open we can be to discussing it, the more comfortable our children will be about communicating any of the fears they may be processing.
Talking Points: The coronavirus is a serious illness and some people have died from it. You may even know someone personally who has died from the coronavirus. It’s ok to be sad. I’m sad too, and I know this is really hard. Sometimes, people worry about who will die next. But, in the Bible, God tells us “Do not be afraid!” 365 times – one for each day of the year. God is always with us in life and in death. We just celebrated Jesus’ resurrection on Easter. Easter reminds us that through his death and resurrection, Jesus gives us the gift of eternal life. This means that when we die, it is not the end, but the beginning of a new life with Jesus in heaven. In heaven there is no pain, no sickness, and no coronavirus! People who are in heaven with Jesus are SO happy. They along with the other Saints can pray for us because they are close to Jesus! For those of us who are still here on earth, we can ask Jesus to help us not to worry about who will die next and to give us more faith to trust in his plan for our lives. Remember that God knows what we need and will take care of us in all circumstances.
Note: Children need space to grieve, especially if they have experienced loss. For children, loss of a loved one can be confusing and scary. When this happens, children look to their parents and the adults in their lives to fix this pain, take away what they don’t understand, and show them how to handle their emotions. Parents, you may want to contact your healthcare provider for resources or explore these resources to help children process their grief in a healthy way:
- Talking to Children about Death (Catholic Cemeteries of Vancouver)
- Talking About God and Grief with Children (Orange County Catholic)
- Parenting a Grieving Child (book from Loyola Press)
9. Why can’t we go to Mass for real?
“Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands toward God in heaven!” (Lamentations 3:41)
The difficulties of not being able to attend Mass like we used to go without saying. In a time when many of us feel we need the sacrament more than ever, we are unable to receive. But this unique moment offers an opportunity for families they wouldn’t otherwise have: the opportunity to truly make their own home a church.
Talking Points: Our parish is like our second home; we know the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the people. It is a place where we can be with God in a special way. Right now, churches are closed for public Masses in order to stay safe from the coronavirus. Just like schools have been shut down for a short time, so have churches. Even though watching Mass at home may seem different, we’re really lucky to be able to participate in this way. If we pay attention, God can still speak into our hearts through the readings, homily, prayers, and the music.
Also, the Church gives us a special prayer for Spiritual Communion so that we can invite Jesus into our hearts even though we can’t encounter Him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist:
Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You have already come, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.
Activity: Stress the unique opportunity of this moment. While churches all over the country are showing Mass online, consider visiting other churches and going to Mass anywhere in Michigan and beyond! Some of these Masses are just for kids. Check out the kid’s Mass schedule at the Archdiocese of Detroit!
Have your kids take ownership over creating your family’s space for Mass.
Have your kids help create your space for livestreaming the Mass. They can pick flowers, draw religious pictures, or decorate the area with your family’s religious articles.
Parents, in these days of quarantine, remember to be gentle with yourselves and with your children. Your lives and the lives of your kids have been turned upside down because of this pandemic, and it’s especially difficult on little minds and little bodies. Continue to reassure your kids that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe from illness and remind them that all the sacrifices that you and your family are making can be offered up for others and joined with the cross of Christ. This gives your family the opportunity to take a painful experience and make it something meaningful. This will not only help your family grow closer to Jesus but bring some physical or spiritual benefit to others. Nothing is wasted with God!