Reiterate your family values.
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  • Stewart Friedman is practice professor emeritus of management at the Wharton School, and Alyssa Westring is the Vincent de Paul associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at DePaul University's Driehaus College of Business.
  • The following is an adapted excerpt from their book, "PARENTS WHO LEAD: The Leadership Approach You Need to Parent, Fuel Your Career, and Create a Richer Life."
  • Parents should start a conversation about the ideals and values of their families, and use that as a jumping off point for discussing the coronavirus.
  • Parents should use a positive tone and stay optimistic - but they shouldn't hide truths from their children.
  • For more stories go to

With some schools closing and the CDC urging school districts across the country to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak, many parents' natural response is to cover up potential danger with false reassurance.

But instead of shielding children from fear, parents can help them both cope and grow in conversations about responding to coronavirus with shared values. If your goal is to raise children who are resilient, optimistic, and tolerant, the coronavirus emergency can serve as an opportunity to lead your children there.

Stewart Friedman.
Ignacio Gil
Start by engaging in a conversation about your values as a family, reminding your children what your family cares about most, and why. Is it honesty? Trust? Kindness, acceptance? Or justice? Then, use these ideals as a foundation for conversations about the coronavirus. For example, if your family has frequently emphasised the importance of telling the truth, you can explain that you will not hide anything about coronavirus no matter how frightening. Even for young children, this emphasis on shared values provides stability and a sense of psychological safety.

If your kids are frustrated about the cancellation of a social event, trip, or even school, you might emphasise the value that your family places on caring for others. By helping them to reframe these disappointing scenarios as intentional choices to care for the more vulnerable members of our society, they will understand that staying home if they have flu-like symptoms or have been told to do so by their school is aligned with what matters most. Shifting their mindset will protect your children from feeling powerless in the face of the coronavirus.

For older children, parents can use shared values as a launchpad for more complex and nuanced discussions about the virus. If your family values embracing diversity, for example, you might initiate a conversation about the importance to you, as a family, of resisting the urge to shun those who may appear to be Asian, even though they may be hearing such condemnation in social media or from classmates. You might point towards historical or even personal examples of prejudice that might help them draw a parallel to the potential harm associated with such stigmas.

Alyssa Westring.
Erielle Bakkum Photography
Taking a positive tone and using optimistic language can be very powerful. But this does not mean obfuscating or hiding unpleasant truths, which can add to the danger that our children may be in and allow their vivid fears to run wild. Effective leaders always find a way to talk about the future with some sense of hope. You might have to dig deep, but it's important to find and use optimistic language so children don't feel that they are facing imminent threat nor that you as a family are powerless to affect positive change in the world.

Even if the actions that you, as individuals and as a family, take seem small and mundane, you can discuss them in a conversation about what a better tomorrow could look like.

Talking about why it's important to wash hands more frequently than usual, reinforcing the usual parental harangues about hygiene (toss those tissues, cover your mouth when you cough and your nose when you sneeze). Those "annoying" parental admonitions can take on new meaning if we frame them as important, indeed essential, and empowering steps our children can take to protect themselves, their friends, and their families, to make things better.

PARENTS WHO LEAD: The Leadership Approach You Need to Parent with Purpose, Fuel Your Career, and Create a Richer Life.
Courtesy of Stewart Friedman and Alyssa Westring
Every child is different, of course. But there are universal truths about what children need in order to thrive in uncertain times. Rather than let our own fears and uncertainties dictate our approach to talking about the coronavirus with our children, parents need to act like leaders.

We can't stand idly by hoping that our children won't worry. Instead, we must proactively, consciously, and honestly use our shared values to guide these critical conversations. Even when real-world difficulties impinge upon our children's often insular worlds, we can take the opportunity to teach them how to remain true to what is important to them and to you as a family and how to act accordingly. That's what leaders do to help their people through crises.

Parenting is a leadership challenge. The coronavirus presents another opportunity to rise to it.

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