Talking to our Kids About Coronavirus or Climate Change: The answers are Eerily Similar

By NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory, Public Domain

Once you know the truth, it’s devastating. The mental anguish of the reality at hand can feel paralyzing and overwhelming. The storm is upon us. Understanding clearly that the outcome may not  be okay – not only for others in far off places, but for you, your community and your family is both angst and grief provoking. It is incredibly frustrating to see friends, colleagues and those seemingly “in charge” down playing the facts. Particularly  when science is telling us we must act with urgency and that we are out of time.

Fully grasping our climate emergency, is understanding that the train wreck is imminent. We know we can slow it down and make it less bad than it already is; but will we be able to?

Fully understanding the coronavirus however – let me premise this by saying that no one does fully understand it –  is knowing the train wreck is already here. Time has been compressed; we have no more time. We must go into triage mode to make it less bad than it will certainly be, if we do nothing or continue business as usual.

But before we can do this, take some time for you. Let yourself feel the weight and gravity of the situation and then remind yourself we can and will recover. Look  to China and to updated and current reports from Korea and while it may be too soon, perhaps even Italy. These countries are already coming out the other side; slowly –  but also surely. So know there is another side, and remind your children of this too. Many people have died, but many did not because care was taken to limit exposure;  the situation was taken with the gravity and the weight it requires. We too must do the same. So as your child complains they are bored, they are restless, they want a “real” play date. We must be the adults in the room. We can and must take charge. Know there will be a brighter tomorrow. This too shall pass. While we may currently only be heading “down the rabbit hole” in the cities and towns where we live, know there is an end and a way back. We are already seeing this today from places and people who have been where we are at, and where we are headed.

Our next immediate steps will be different for each of us, but in some ways, they will be very similar.  Our ClimateMama motto – based on advice we teach our children and that our parents likely taught us –  is our guide in addressing the urgency of the climate crisis. It’s simple and straightforward directions are useful in addressing the coronavirus too.

With our climate emergency, the beginning point is to tell the truth – keeping it simple and straight forward.

There is so much we don’t know, but there are things we do know,

  • We know it’s  happening fast
  • We know we are causing it to happen faster.
  • We know there are things we can do about it

With the coronavirus it will be the same,

  • We know it’s happening fast
  • We know we are causing it to happen faster
  • We know there are things we can do about it.

As with climate change there are many, many resources already shared and developed on immediate steps of what to do. Share the best ones and put the common sense ones in place immediately. Be prepared. Over the next few weeks, in countries like the USA and Canada,  the virus is just taking hold; listen to warnings and guidelines that  local authorities are beginning to put in place.TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY. These new rules will likely include strong instructions to stay home and to shelter in place.

If your job is deemed a necessity (ie health care worker) and you must go into work, or even if not –  if and when you go out  to get food or medicine –  immediately upon entering your home, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Also, keep all surfaces clean. Do  stay home in the short and intermediate term, our countries and cities are working to take control back from a situation that is initially only going to feel more and more OUT of control.

Stay informed.

Know that there will be widespread testing soon.  This will add reassurance for us all.  We will add links here as soon as this becomes clearer to us; and if you hear before we do, please share.

Actions speak louder than words.

  • Showing your children in every way you are taking our climate emergency with the seriousness required.
  • Sit down together and come up with a family plan (have ideas ready to share)
  • With young children, encouraged them to do concrete things:  make signs – “turn out the lights” –  send letters to elected officials, demand they act on the situation with the urgency required.
  • With older children, middle school, high school and college, as needed, help them organize. Listen and really hear their plans and ideas for organizing your neighbors your friends, your family. When asked, help them have their voices heard; stand behind, in front, to the side, ready when asked and when needed.

Actions speak louder than words.

  • Show your children in every way you are taking the coronavirus with the seriousness required.
  • Sit down and come up with a family plan (depending on their age, make sure to have ideas ready)
  • With younger children, let them help do concrete things, make and post signs in various locations in the house such as:  “wash hands”,  “mommy’s chair”,  “grandmas brush”  – get creative. At this moment,  we all need to be hyper vigilant at what we touch, keep surfaces clean, and practice social distancing, even in our homes. Set up “virtual play dates” where your kids can visit with their friends. Figure out how they can play a game together even over FaceTime;  read a book together. Encourage regular video calls with  friends and family who – as time goes on – likely will be housebound, at least in the short term.
  • Encourage young children to draw pictures, and make cards, these can be dropped off at assisted living facilities, with neighbors as a surprise gift. Show your children how to be kind, to be loving and caring, even and especially, in an emergency.
  • With older children, middle school, high school and college, let them help you establish new household routines – encourage them to do so if they don’t live with you too. How are you organizing meals and food for the coming weeks? What system do you have in place to keep door knobs and light switches clean? What other family organizing events can they help with? Once online schools are established, this can be an important way to keep busy and stay current with homework. Remind your kids, or help them, set up study dates with friends.

Don’t be afraid when it comes to coronavirus or the climate emergency. Be resolved, be determined; put one figurative foot in front of the other, and then put the real ones forward, one step at a time too.

We must work in overdrive to “flatten the curve.” You see that everywhere. What does that mean really? It means we must give nature and us time to adjust, to find a cure that hasn’t been invented yet, to rely and trust in hope that is based on science, we can get there, we just need to be focused on the end goal. A place where we and our children not only survive but thrive. Let those that must do triage do so, let those who are working on cures, do so. Let’s stop what we know we are doing to prolong and exacerbate the problems at hand.

In the immediate, if you can’t see the train wreck, know it is just around the next bend. Get ready, be prepared and take immediate action.

With Coronavirus – different, then our climate emergency – there will be a “day after.” There will be a calm, a vaccine, maybe even a cure.  There will be medicine to make it less bad, enough tests so we will know who has it and who doesn’t, who needs immediate help and who is okay for now. Remind your children of this, and yourselves.

Begin a list, big and small of what your family has learned, what we can do without and what we must have.

My family list  begins with compassion, with patience, with love, with humor and with hope.




Climate Mama

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