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How To Talk To Children About The Coronavirus And Earthquakes Like Mister Rogers Would


Between efforts to mitigate the spread of coronavirus and the largest earthquake Utah has seen in 28 years, there is a lot of uncertainty right now. It’s hard for everyone to deal with, but children especially may find themselves confused when large, scary, current events like these dominate the news cycle. 

When it comes to helping kids navigate these kinds of events, there is no one who did it quite like Mister Rogers. 

While Fred Rogers is no longer alive and can’t provide the information he did during events like the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr or explanations for why there is so much violence in the news, Vonda Jump Norman, an associate professor at USU and the director of The Family Place’s Trauma Resiliency Project, said caregivers can follow his lead when they talk to kids. 

“What we need to do is give kids information,” Norman said. “And I think that's exactly what Mr. Rogers would do. He'd give kids information. Because this is power, and the more kids know, then the more they can be armed with information.”

Norman said if adults talk about things in hushed tones, kids won’t feel as though they can ask about those things. 

“What we want to do, particularly for younger kids is to use simple language that they understand,” Norman said. “And we can use the word virus, because this is a word that's been thrown around a lot. And just say that, ‘you know, this is something that makes people sick.’”

When talking about coronavirus with kids, Norman said to help them understand that children are less affected by the disease and that washing their hands is something they can do to protect themselves. 

“They might find a song that they like to sing while they're washing their hands. Like the ABC song that for young, young kids, older kids might choose their own,” Norman said.

After the quake on Wednesday morning, earthquake concerns may arise for some children, and Norman said there are things caregivers can do to help kids feel in control. 

“My grandson today after the earthquake, and they live in Salt Lake City and they felt it and they woke up as a result of it,” Norman said. “So my daughter explained what was happening and he called and he face-timed us. And he showed us what's happening with the aftershocks. He showed us what you do in the event of an earthquake. He showed us how he would get under their table. And he's not the least bit worried, because he's been empowered with information.”

Despite these efforts to empower children, kids may still feel unsafe during uncertainty. Norman said this is a good time to remind them of another piece of Mister Rogers wisdom.

“If children ever do feel like they're unsafe, he always said, ‘look for the helpers,’” Norman said. “And so all of us have that opportunity. If a child is in distress to be a helper for kids, and that includes our own kids. If our kids are in distress, then we are there to help them and to support their feeling of safety and security.”

Norman also shared a this NPR cartoon to as a tool to explain coronavirus to children.