With schools closed and households in lockdown nationwide, the covid-19 outbreak is having huge consequences on our lives today.
Among those consequences is the effect had on children and families. With children unable to go to school, many parents have had to take on the role of educator as well as juggling their own full-time jobs from home. Children may be growing restless as they are no longer able to burn as much energy doing P.E or running about in the schoolyard, and very young children may be struggling to understand why they cannot see friends or need to wash their hands more regularly.
Explaining Coronavirus to young children
Ensuring young children understand the risks and impacts of coronavirus can feel like walking a tightrope. On the one hand, parents probably want to be transparent with their child, but on the other they don’t want to scare them or make them overly fearful.
Some parents may wonder whether they need to share any information with youngsters at all, and if so, when is the right time to do it?
Child psychologist Kate Mason says its important to get children talking and asking questions. And despite their tender age, even very young children can understand a lot more than we realise.
“[It’s important to] encourage them to have their own narrative about what’s going on and encourage them by asking really curious questions,” she said in an interview with the BBC.
“Allowing them to have their own sort of narrative and tell their own story about what’s going on I think is really important. Not only do you get an insight into their inner-world, and their understanding, but it also helps you to dispel any myths that they might have.”
Tips for Talking About Coronavirus with Children
Both teachers and parents will likely have received plenty of questions over the last couple of months from children of various ages. These questions may range from what is coronavirus and how could I catch it, to confusion about why they need to stay indoors or can’t go to school.
Here are some ways you can be transparent about the current pandemic and ensure children feel supported and safe.
1. Use simple language
It goes without saying, but children respond best to simple language they are already familiar with. Of course they don’t need to know about ‘herd immunity’ or ‘flattening the curve’ – phrases the public became very familiar with very quickly. Most children are already familiar with how germs and bugs spread from a young age and the importance of washing their hands.
By explaining coronavirus just like any other bug, children will immediately understand the dangers. More importantly however, is for parents and teachers to explain the solutions, and reassure children that by staying at home, they and their families will be safe.
2. Explain that we are all in this together
Some children might be upset that they cannot see grandparents, their friends or their favourite teacher at this time. But by explaining how not seeing those they love helps to keep them safe, children will likely be on board.
The ‘all in this together’ mentality doesn’t just apply on a national scale – it goes for children in the classroom too. Teachers can explain that by everybody staying at home, they can prevent their friends from getting sick and their family members too. And due to home learning, many children will be able to see their teacher daily through a screen, which should help bring a sense of normality to each day.
3. Enlist the help of resources
Children respond well to their favourite characters explaining difficult concepts, or seeing their literary hero overcoming a difficult challenge.
There have been lots of resources created in the wake of the pandemic that can help explain the situation to young children. One is this free audiobook by author Giles Paley-Phillips, which was written especially for this purpose and is available from audiobook brand tonies. ‘In This Together’ tells the story of Rosie, who thinks her school has been closed for an extended holiday. Rosie’s parents go on to explain that school has been closed due to a “microscopic bug” and talk to Rosie about why she cannot see her friends at this time and how she can protect her grandparents from the bug.
Meanwhile, illustrator of ‘The Gruffalo’ Axel Scheffler created a series of illustrations to explain the coronavirus pandemic to his young fans. Many children already being familiar with the drawings will absorb the information quite easily – parents have already downloaded the project hundreds of thousands of times.
‘My Hero Is You’ is another illustrated book by Helen Patuck, which features a little girl named Sara and a magical dragon who takes her on a journey teaching children how to keep themselves and their families safe.
4. Allow room for questions
Finally, questions are important and show curiosity and learning. Like Kate says, allowing space for questions gives parents and teachers the chance to know how children perceive the current pandemic and more importantly, to dispel any myths they might have heard.
Let children know they can continue to ask questions at any time, and use them as an opportunity each time to reassure children, not to create negativity or doubt.
In doing so, children will slowly gather a grounded, informed, well-rounded view of the current pandemic, an attitude that will benefit them long into the future.