Coronavirus: Tips for parents on speaking to children

MELVILLE, Long Island -- Many parents are struggling with how to speak with their children about the coronavirus, and kids are understandably concerned.

Child psychologist Dr. Jonathan Kratter offered tips for parents when it comes to discussing the worldwide outbreak.

Dr. Kratter said the last thing a parent should tell a child who's expressed concern over the coronavirus is "don't worry."

"When parents tell their kids, 'Just don't worry about it, it won't affect you, it won't bother you,' kids feel like they're not being heard," he said. "What's better is to say, 'Tell me what you're worried about? What have you heard in school? What are the kids saying?' And then together, they can explore what's real, what's not real."

Dr. Kratter says parents should be checking in with their children often regarding what they are hearing about the coronavirus.

"One time at the dinner table isn't enough because it's a constant source of news lately," he said.

Dr. Kratter said even teenagers need to be told details and facts.

"Not just the rumors going around," he said.

Dr. Kratter said parents themselves have to be models of calmness when talking about the coronavirus in front of their children. If parents seem to be anxious, children will grow anxious as well.

"Parents need to really kind of model the way to handle it, which is to think about it, talk about it," he said.

David Bennardo, the superintendent of the South Huntington School District on Long Island, said he has heard from teachers that students are expressing to them they are concerned about the coronavirus.

While he encourages students to talk to their teachers about any fears they are experiencing, his job is to reassure them -- and their parents for that matter -- that schools are safe.

"Schools have a responsibility to keep you safe," he said. "So just as we labor with our staff and our parents over snow days to make sure we don't bring you in and put you in danger that way, we're not going to put you in danger with this."

Bennardo said the school district is in regular contact with the state and county departments of health regarding the coronavirus.
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