Child Communication and Shared Parenting Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic

March 25, 2020

The Minnesota Health Department reported on Monday, March 23 that there are now 235 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota. Schools have been closed, businesses have shut down, and there seem to be new developments to the crisis every day. If you are a parent with a shared parenting time schedule, you may be wondering how to communicate the new developments to your children and how you can deliver a united message with your ex-spouse.

CDC Child Communication Guidance

It is important to first establish what proper communication concerning COVID-19 actually looks like. The CDC published guidance on best practices for communicating with your children about the virus and how it is affecting our communities. The CDC identified six general principles to consider when speaking with children about the virus:

(1) Remain calm and reassuring
(2) Make yourself available to listen and to talk
(3) Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma
(4) Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio, or online
(5) Provide information that is honest and accurate
(6) Teach children everyday action to reduce the spread of germs.

Please see the link below for more detailed information and guidance on each recommendation. It may be overwhelming to try and remember all of these recommendations, and every parent-child relationship is different, but the CDC’s general guidance is to “keep information simple and remind them [your children] that health and school officials are working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy.”

Shared Custody/Parenting Time

If you have a shared parenting time schedule, sharing the CDC’s recommendations and communicating with your ex-spouse is critical to delivering a united message to your children. Communicate your child’s feelings about COVID-19 to the other parent so they can be prepared to answer these questions calmly and consistently with you and your child’s conversations. If your child identifies fears or concerns about the virus, tell your ex-spouse about this conversation. Talking about these issues with your ex-spouse early, rather than reacting after-the-fact, may prevent confusion and will help you identify any disagreements over the message you want to deliver.

Of course, your ex-spouse may not be agreeable to sticking with your preferred message. Your parenting plan or order from the court may not allow you to demand or enforce your communication preferences on the child’s other household. At this time, Minnesota has not issued a “shelter in place” order, and you must continue to share parenting time or abide by the parenting plan as ordered by the court. In a situation where you and your ex-spouse disagree on how to share information about the virus, it is especially important to listen to what your child is saying and pay attention to what the child sees or hears from others. You may not be able to control what your ex-spouse shares with your children, but you can remain watchful and dispel confusion by utilizing the CDC’s communication recommendations.

More information on the virus’ recent impact in Minnesota can be found here.
The CDC’s full communication recommendations can be found here.

This information is general in nature and should not be construed as tax or legal advice.