Many of you are wondering how this will affect your kids. While I would be foolish to say that I know, I can share with you my own experiences in this type of situation when I was a child.
When I was 14 years old, SARS (similar to this coronavirus) broke out in my hometown of Hong Kong. I was studying abroad in NY at the time and being that it was the age before social media, I can be thankful that news didn't create the same viral sensation that it did today and therefore I wasn't panicked by the situation. However, the second thing that I am eternally grateful for is the way my parents addressed the situation with us kids.
In order to understand their position, let me tell you a little bit about Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a wonderful place to live. I thank G-d every day that I had the fortune to be born there. It is a wonderful city with an amazing family-like community. The only challenging part is that most of this community is made up of expats, and therefore a large percentage of them don’t have permanent roots there. So when an epidemic like this breaks out, most expats will pick up and go to their country of origin until it blows over. My family isn't in the same position. While we are American by nationality, my father serves as the Chief Rabbi of China, and therefore, he can't leave so long as people remain there. He was in a very tough spot needless to say, as most people packed out of China to wait this out in safe countries but enough Jews remained that it wouldn’t be right for us to follow suit.
Ironically, the timing of the main SARS outbreak was also right around Pesach. So here were my parents in a situation where they were in a city in the midst of a scary epidemic, yet with enough people still there that they didn’t feel right to leave, and then they had children studying abroad who they had to make a choice of whether to bring them home to this SARS hotbed for Pesach. They consulted a close family doctor, Dr. Eli Rosen from CH, and only with his blessing did they fly me and my brothers home for Pesach.
Yet when I look back at that Pesach, I don’t have any memories of fear, any memories of anxiety, any memories of panic. We were well aware that there was a dangerous virus lurking. We were well aware that most of our community had left because they didn't feel that safe. We saw how empty the shul was and the absence of guest by our normally crowded seder, but we didn't know that there was fear, we didn't know that there was worry about the future, we didn't know that adults were scared of the possibility of this spreading outside Hong Kong as well. This was because my parents only told us the facts we needed to know, the facts that they couldn't hide because it was clear to see. They didn’t share with us the struggle that they were going through, the worries that had nothing to do with us children.
It's only now, in recent years once I was in my late 20s did I learn how scary those times were in Hong Kong. How people feared their health, how people feared their future, how everyone in that community spend a long time, the months of the virus and afterwards as well, worried that Hong Kong wouldn't make it through this, that the international community that makes up the fabric of Hong Kong may be too scared to return.
When I look back at SARS I don’t remember fear. I remember prudence, I remember being somewhat isolated, but not fear, because kids don’t naturally fear. Kids naturally believe that all will be okay. We don't have to shatter that belief. In fact, one of the best long-term investments you can make now is staying strong through this, so that if they ever hit a major uncertainty in their adult life, they will have your example from now to look back at and use as their guiding light. Make sure they wear gloves, make sure they wash their hands, make sure they social distance, but when explaining to them why they are doing all this, don't scare them, don't show them the long-term worries that this is causing you. Finance are probably a worry as well for most of us but try to make sure your kids don't feel it on a frightening level. You don't need to buy them a million toys and tons of new clothes but try to make sure that they don't feel like there is suddenly no money in the house, be careful of how you word your choice to not buy something.
DISCLAIMER, please don’t spend money you don’t have, but try not to panic save and also just be careful how you discuss the new spending patterns in front of your kids.
One of my biggest lights at the end of the tunnel right now is to look back at SARS and see the growth that took place after. To remember how we focused less on the fear and more on the future, so while I can't tell you what your child is thinking, the only thing I can say is that the biggest gift my parents gave me 17 years ago was the calm and the trust in G-d that they faced SARS with. The example that they showed me then is the strength that I am living off right now.