In our lifetimes, we’ve never experienced anything quite like the current pandemic, its toll on health and lives, mental-emotional well-being, social ramifications, and economic impact. Rather than pretending that everything is “fine,” it’s more useful to be honest (with boundaries, determined by what feels right to you) and to model feeling, expressing, and managing emotions.  

Another way of putting this is, that you can strive to model “Wise Mind.”  Wise Mind is about making room for both your “Emotional Mind” AND your “Rational Mind.”  For instance, depending on the age of your child, you might calmly say something to the effect of, “I am anxious that hospitals will get overwhelmed with sick people, like they did in Italy; and we are doing our part by making healthy choices and socially distancing.  How are you feeling right now, about what’s been happening?”  Notice a few pieces of the interaction: 

There is honest expression about something specific (“hospitals…”) that is making them anxious. 

Because it is specific, it can feel more manageable (even if only slightly). 

The word “and” rather than “but” is intentionally used.  The “and” does not negate the first statement; it makes room for both emotional and rational thought.   

The rational statement (“doing our part”) centers on what is controllable, rather than uncontrollable. 

The modeling segues into an open-ended exploration of how the child is feeling. 

Be prepared to reflect what you think you’re hearing (i.e., “it sounds like you feel anxious, sad, etc.”).  By using phrases such as “sounds like,” you manage to tentatively put the feeling out there so that the child (or whomever) can own and express how they feel and can make tweaks to the description if you don’t quite have it. Keep in mind, that not every conversation has to be a deep emotional dialogue. This is a great time to work on family communication skills in order to connect better moving forward.  

Dr. Tim Herzog of www.reachingahead.com is based in Annapolis, Md., though he also sees clients at MedStar in Hunt Valley.  Dr. Herzog is a licensed mental health provider in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Montana, and currently meets with all his clients via video-conference.