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What do you say when your kid proclaims, ‘Children are dying from the coronavirus?’

First, you try not to drive off the road and rue your failed efforts to hide everything bad from your 8-year-old. Then, you call an expert, who says: Stay calm. Be honest and reassuring.

You can’t get away from coronavirus concerns even when you get a cup of coffee.
You can’t get away from coronavirus concerns even when you get a cup of coffee.
AP

“Children are dying from the coronavirus,” my 8-year-old son pronounced as I drove him to his violin lesson.

For weeks, my wife and I had hastily switched radio channels and lowered our voices whenever the “C” word came up. But our coronavirus containment strategy obviously had failed.

“No, Lucca,” I told him. “In fact, it’s actually the opposite. Children aren’t dying — and Daddy should know because he writes about this stuff.”

Perhaps it was my too-quick, too-cheerful response. Or maybe Lucca has simply reached the age where he no longer blindly accepts everything his dad tells him. No matter, he wasn’t buying it.

“No, Daddy, it’s true,” he insisted.

And much like those times when your child is sick and you can do nothing to ease the pain, I felt as if I’d failed at being his protector-in-chief.

I should have seen this coming. Out of the blue, he’s been told countless times every day: Wash your hands.

And kids are talking about the virus at school during lunch.

Maybe he’s also noticed how his mother and I have stopped, for now at least, making plans for the out-of-state spring break we’d talked about.

The other day, I saw his little finger once again heading for his nose, froze and only just managed to keep from saying, “Lucca, that’s a good way to get the coronavirus.”

Dr. Nicholas Hatzis, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Lurie Children’s Hospital,.
Dr. Nicholas Hatzis, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Lurie Children’s Hospital,.
Provided

So how are you supposed to talk with your kids about coronavirus? I asked Dr. Nicholas Hatzis, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Lurie Children’s Hospital, who says: Be reassuring but honest. If your children are old enough, try to put the conversation in context. It might be good to tell them there are many “really smart people” around the globe working on this.

Or say something, Hatzis suggests, like: “Let’s look at what’s happened before. We get through this. People get sick. A lot of people get better.”

It’s probably a good idea, too, to limit TV time — especially newscasts with their daily death tallies and maps blotched in red to show the disease’s spread.

“The repetition of that is going to keep knocking at that anxiety alarm,” Hatzis says.

And one more thing, probably the most important thing: Let your kids be kids.

“Keep up with activities that give your life meaning,” Hatzis says. “Kids want to go out and play. They want to go out and run around. Make those things available.”

Shadow the kitten in a drawer full of bath towels.
Shadow the kitten in a drawer full of bath towels.
Stefano Esposito / Sun-Times

In our house, distraction comes in the shape of a kitten that likes to nibble on our toes at 3 a.m. and spring from one armchair to another as though he’s just gotten an electric shock.

It also comes from 2-year-old Matteo. He is oblivious to the fear that has infected his older brother and much of the world. At dinnertime the other night, the calamity that left him yowling on the kitchen floor wasn’t any worry over a virus. It was the possibility his fruit salad would be served in a purple plastic bowl rather than the preferred green one.

A little while later, Matteo paid no heed to my wife’s demand that everyone shut up so that she could fiddle with Lucca’s out-of-tune violin.

Nor did he care that Daddy wanted to listen to the news on the radio. Matteo had other plans for the stereo — cranking the volume to a level that made the windows rattle so he could “conduct” Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Stefano Esposito.
Stefano Esposito.
Rich Hein / Sun-Times

FATHERHOOD: AN OCCASIONAL SERIES

This is one in an occasional series of columns on fatherhood by Sun-Times reporter Stefano Esposito, the dad of two young sons.