It has been eight days since school closed, but for those of us who have long thrived on routine, predictability, and the busy schedule that having young children brings, this pause feels much longer. Most children are used to going to school, music classes, dance, sports, and a myriad of other activities that keep both them and parents very busy. So we are all adjusting to a new rhythm, and a bit of isolation. But an even greater concern is what to say to our children about this change. How do we describe something that even we ourselves are unsure of? How much should be revealed, and how can we reassure young children that life will return to normal?
Perhaps the greatest gift we can give to our children is comfort. This virus is unpredictable but our love is not. If parents are anxious, it is very likely that young children will mirror that same anxiety. The good news is that you can help ease anxiety by providing affection, outdoor time, and a general sense of calm in the household. It is okay to not have all the answers, but we must convey to children a feeling of security.
I think it best to talk about the virus as you would other illnesses and by keeping the explanation simple. Explaining to children that last month’s tummy ache or strep throat made them feel poorly, and caused them to stay at home will be relatable. Tell your child that the coronavirus can also make people not feel well, and doctors still need to learn more about it. So while the doctors are hard at work learning, we can be great helpers to them by washing our hands, and staying home to make the germs go away!
Although our LANK children are still very young, they can feel empowered by doing their part. It is important that children view the world optimistically. You can help in this endeavor by conveying that you enjoy spending time with them, and reminding them that doctors and scientists are all working very hard to find just the right medicine to make the coronavirus go away. Fred Rogers (my personal hero) was a master at making children feel safe and secure even when chatting about difficult topics. One of his tried and true methods was to remind little children that there were all sorts of grown up people, working hard to keep them safe. What a wonderful gift to give children!
Children will invariably miss their friends, so providing paper, markers, and stamps for letter writing is an excellent way to help them connect. Young children love talking on the phone, so encourage conversations between classmates. By the way, this also reinforces number recognition, while sending a letter to a mailbox is also a great learning lesson in itself. Once as a kindergarten teacher, I spent weeks having children mail letters to reinforce the idea of home address, and where we live in the world! The school will soon be incorporating Zoom as a platform for another means of connecting children to their classroom friends.
Conversations about topics of health are difficult to have, but we can provide our children with comfort by honest, concise, and hopeful rhetoric.