Having a regular dialogue with your children is important under normal circumstances but becomes even more critical during scary and uncertain times. In the absence of information, children will fill in the blanks on their own, often with an even scarier version of the truth than the one we are facing today. Having conversations with your children is important to help them process the fears they may be facing as well as to correct any misinformation they may have received from friends, their favorite websites or television shows. Take this time to develop deep connections and a strong and open rapport. For those with young children, we have outlined some key factors to develop effective, open communication across generations.
- Prioritize communication. Children worry more when kept in the dark.
- Ask them questions and listen. What do they feel? What concerns do they have? You may assume that they are worried about older relatives or becoming ill, when they are in fact anxious because they miss going to school with their friends or attending church.
- State facts. Use the appropriate level of detail depending on age and be reassuring when children voice their feelings.
- Walk your talk. From infancy, children watch and mimic their parents’ actions. How do you align your behaviors with the messages you want to convey? If the message you share with your children is “don’t worry,” and they see through your behavior that you are stressed and anxious, the message will not resonate, and the dissonance could result in a lack of trust. If, however, you acknowledge that this is a scary time, and you are worried but will always make sure that they are safe, children may feel more confident as they recognize the truth in your message. Self-awareness is a critical element of success when communicating.
- Discuss actions and values. What measures can your children take to be safe and healthy? What measures can they take to help others? Providing them with examples will empower them to know they can do their part. Something as simple as explaining to them that washing hands gets rid of germs, and germs can make people sick, so it’s good to get rid of them, can make them feel like they have a direct role in keeping everyone healthy. Discuss how your values inform your decision-making and choices. For example, “We care about other people, and we don’t want anyone in our family or in another family to get sick. Sometimes germs can go from one person to another person when we give hugs, so it’s important to talk with grandma over video for a little while. Does that make sense? What else could we do to help make sure we keep germs away from other people?”
- Keep the communication lines open. Let your children know they can always ask questions and that even when you do not have all the answers, you will do your best to find them out.
For more information around fostering communication among your family, particularly during this difficult time, please reach out to a BBH relationship manager or wealth planner.