Care and Feeding

Our Little Girl Is a Worrier, and She’s Terrified of the Coronavirus

At first we reassured her it wasn’t coming here. But now … what should we say?

10 year old girl on her smart phone looking concerned being overlooked by a concerned father.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kerkez/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Tetiana Soares/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I are perplexed on how to address the growing threat of the coronavirus with our 10-year-old daughter. She is something of a worrywart. A few years ago, her older brother got carsick after a large meal and vomited. Ever since, whenever anyone in the family is the slightest bit under the weather, she asks, “Am I gonna throw up?” or “Is she going to throw up?” No one ever has. It would be one thing if she asked once, we reassured her, and that was that. However, she asks multiple times.

Now, she has started worrying about the coronavirus. Last week, we were simply telling her that, no, it was not coming here and it was very far away. Mostly truthful, with a dash of hope. She calmed down and we decided that we should not listen to NPR news reports when she is in the car.

Now, mainstream reports have shifted and seem to indicate that epidemiologists are concluding it is certain to come here, infect 60 to 70 percent of the population, and, based on simple math, kill millions. How do we talk to our daughter about what is coming and what it means? When? Do we wait until it starts to happen in a few to several months?

—It’s Not The End of the World?

Dear INTEotW,

Well, that took a turn. I do not know what “mainstream reports” you are reading, but you need to calm down and eliminate the coronavirus entirely from your family discourse. You certainly need to not talk to your daughter about your predictions for the coming months. She’s 10. If you want to stock up on essential medications (an extra refill or two on something you need to take every day—hoarding will not help the already-strained supply chain) or buy one of those nice pre-made kits with food and water and first-aid supplies, go for it. Almost everyone in Utah has one and rotates the contents out dutifully, and we have a designated Prepper Aisle at our local supermarket. (This is related to LDS teachings.) There’s no harm in it, other than to your wallet, and it may help you relax.

I am a simple parenting columnist, so I am not able to tell anyone what the future of the coronavirus holds, but I am absolutely able to tell you that your daughter’s above-normal fear of vomiting is something best handled by explaining that vomiting, although just the worst, is one of your body’s many ways of protecting itself from danger and is of short duration. It might also be time to have her pediatrician deliver the White Coat version of this speech. It’s a very common phobia, and dealing with it when she’s young will make her adult life much easier. We’re all gonna puke again (not from coronavirus).

Focus on your daughter. Do not move into the mountains. Drink some water.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter, who just turned 2, is often the target of aggression from a boy at day care. Twice she has come home with bite marks and is often pushed down by him. The teachers have said he treats most kids this way and they are trying to step in before it escalates, but obviously they aren’t doing very well at it. She cries at drop-off now and says she doesn’t want to stay there. She is also now becoming aggressive with our 6-month-old baby, often trying to push her down even when I am right there.

How do I handle the day care issue and how do I handle her aggression at my infant?

—Help With Hitting

Dear HWH,

I am so much more used to hearing “my kid got kicked out of day care because of a one-bite policy” that I am quite amazed this boy has not yet been cordially invited to exit the grounds flanked by bouncers.

You should have a very pushy meeting about why the day care is allowing this to continue, and, even though it’s a tremendous hassle, I think you should start looking into other day cares immediately on the assumption that yours is understaffed and unwilling to make the hard call that, at this point, clearly does need to be made. I feel bad for the other kid, who is obviously struggling, but you need to focus on your own family right now.

I suspect that your daughter’s aggression will ramp down significantly when she is no longer being roughed up on a daily basis. In the meantime, you have to continue to be incredibly vigilant when she is with her sister, to talk about gentle hands, and to spend as much one-on-one time with her as possible. Right now she just doesn’t have the emotional vocabulary to talk about her feelings—all she has is acting out and replicating what’s been upsetting her, and this is exactly what I would expect to see.

Prioritize changing her day care, and keep protecting your baby. This will get better.

If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My parents divorced when I was 11. My mom left my dad and took us—myself and my brother—with her because my dad was verbally and emotionally abusive. I do want to stress that he was NEVER physically abusive, either to her or to us. My dad remarried 12 years ago.

I just found out that he never told his new wife the reason behind his divorce from my mother—he told her he didn’t really know why my mom had left, beyond the culture clash. (He’s from a rural village in India; my mom was from a American old-money family.) In the 12 years my dad and stepmother have been married, I have NEVER seen any signs of him being abusive toward her. But I don’t really have much of a relationship with her and don’t even really like her. Still, I am concerned about the fact that she doesn’t know what happened with my mom. Am I obligated to tell her, since my dad obviously doesn’t want her to know?

—Concerned In Texas

Dear CIT,

No, I do not think you are obligated to tell her. She is an adult, your father is many years older than when he was married to your mother, and, like many people, he seems to have been capable of looking at his conduct and changing it for the better. A marriage is a unique organism, and just as bad parents can be decent grandparents, a bad husband or wife can be a better partner to a new spouse, especially if being a bad partner ended a previous marriage.

If she reaches out, if you see signs of his past behavior resurfacing (I do acknowledge you have no particular access to how he may treat her in private), then my answer would evolve with that. For now, I see no pressing need to say anything about the end of your parents’ marriage. He and his new wife have been together for 12 years, and although she may not know a great deal about his previous marriage, she knows plenty about your father.

When Parents Don’t Share a Last Name, Whose Should Their Child Get?

Dan Kois is joined by Elizabeth Newcamp and Gabriel Roth on this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are in our mid-30s and happily child-free. I’m rarely around kids, so I’d love some perspective on an issue that’s driving me nuts! We own and have lived in our house for four years, and about a year ago, some new neighbors moved in a few houses down. They have four children, all under 4 or 5 years old, and live in a big three-story house with a large fenced-in backyard and large screened-in back porch.

For some reason, they let the two “older” kids play in the small front yard unsupervised almost daily. The kids are so shrill, and they scream while playing. I work from home and can hear them in every room in my house. If it’s a nice day, I can’t even open my windows and enjoy the weather, because it’s incessant. It seems they’re told not to leave the yard, so the other day the kids screamed for a solid hour, yelling for some neighbors several doors down (who weren’t even home) to come out and play. No parent ever comes outside.

This constant screaming is driving me crazy! Is there anything I can do or say to get them to tone this down, or do I have to wait out the next 15 years until they’re all teenagers and don’t want to play in the front yard anymore? I don’t expect silence or to never hear neighbor kids playing, but this is really wearing me thin.

—Headphones Don’t Help

Dear HDH,

I must say, your signoff did take the wind out of my sails, as I am an established yet unpaid shill for Big Noise-Canceling Headphones as an industry. “Buy better noise-canceling headphones” must remain part of my answer. My personal recommendation is to buy the (very reasonably priced) ear protection that is used by people who shoot recreationally at gun ranges or work outside at airports. Read reviews (some tactical ear protection just shuts down very high-decibel noise while enhancing more ambient noise, which may or may not work for you). My own tactical ear protection has a walkie-talkie function, in case you and your partner want to walk around the house in blissful, utter silence while also pretending you are in Red Dawn (the original so-bad-it’s-good Cold War propaganda film, not the atrocious remake). I do not wear them on planes, because they look slightly menacing.

They live a few doors down. It’s daytime. They’re kids. They are at Peak Shrill at this age. If they were my kids, I would also want them to go the hell outside.

I think you could, reasonably, go over with a pan of brownies and very sweetly say that you work from home, you are very noise-sensitive, and it would be a tremendous boon to you if their little darlings spent more time in the backyard, which I have the sense from your letter is more sheltered and less likely to drill directly into your brain.

That may not work. But it’s unlikely to insult, and any improvement will be a blessing. Please update us.

—Nicole

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