Dear Dr. Debbie,
Especially at bedtime, my five-year-old gets very concerned about this pandemic.
She hates missing her friends, extended family, her teacher, and playing on playground equipment. I don’t want to paint too serious a picture about why her life has been so transformed, but yet I think she needs to be impressed with the dangers of the virus for herself and others.
What’s a good balance?
Looking For a Rainbow
This is a good time to remember the age-appropriateness of sharing information and feelings with our children. Yes, COVID-19 is a serious health threat. However, unless someone your child knows is directly affected, you need not go into grim details about symptoms of the coronavirus nor the daily death rates. The Stay-at-Home order, resulting from the extremely contagious nature of this disease and our lack of effective testing and treatment, has put many families into difficult circumstances. Again, a five-year-old child only needs information that directly impacts her. If a parent is now working from home, is unemployed, or is taking extra precautions returning home from an “essential” employment, she needs a simple explanation of why they are, but more importantly, how this affects her.
So Many Questions
“When can I go back to school?” “Why can’t I have a sleep-over at Grandma’s?” “What is the coronavirus?” Be honest when answering questions. Your child trusts you as a source of information and protection. Use reputable references for information that is beyond your professional and personal expertise. “Let me look that up,” is a reasonable response to show that you value getting it right above knowing everything about everything.
Here are some basic facts:
The virus germ is so small you can only see it under a microscope. It looks like a ball with lots of very tiny points all over it. If you could slice one in half, it might look like a crown. That’s what “corona” means.
A pandemic is when a disease spreads from one place in the world to many others. “Pan” means “all” or far-reaching, like a panorama, a wide view, which means this disease is affecting people in many places around the world.
Symptoms can be mild for some people, so mild that they don’t even know they are sick. This is why we must stay 6-feet apart from anyone we aren’t living with and must wear a facemask if there’s a chance we might have to be closer than that.
Unless you are really, really sick, you don’t go to the hospital. You might stay in bed, like with a bad cold or the flu, and want lots of stories and juice and soup.
Some answers are not even known by the experts. Your child’s teacher doesn’t know when school can resume. Neither does the principal. Knowingly, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, answered a reporter’s question about projections for the length of shutdowns with, “The virus makes the timeline.”
Your child may be worried that she, or someone she loves, will become sick. The best answer is that you share her concern, and that is why hand-washing and staying home are so important.
There is a good chance that school will be different when she returns to it. Could there be morning temperature checks? Shoes removed at the classroom door? We can watch things play out with Asian countries, hit earliest by the virus, followed by west coast states, for scenarios of re-opening schools. There are many options including continuing with e-learning, attending only half-days, smaller class-sizes, and or staggered returns starting with older grades first. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Grown Up Helpers
Bolster your child’s confidence in grown-ups’ abilities to manage the problems caused by the virus. A famous quote about disasters, attributed to the mother of Mister Rogers, goes, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Say that scientists that are working very hard to make effective medicines and a vaccine. Mention the important jobs that are going on in your community – mail deliveries, recycling collections, and grocery store service, and the important jobs done by people working in hospitals and elsewhere.
Playgrounds and libraries are closed, yes, but librarians are still doing story times and other activities online . Chesapeake Children’s Museum posts daily activities for children and their families to do from home. Some nice grown-ups in London, England, (yes, they are shut down, too) wrote a book for children about the coronavirus that you can read together from a computer screen or print out .
If your family is experiencing a work-from-home parent, take time to explain the importance of this work for the people benefitting directly from it, and the importance to your family for the income it provides. If family finances are tighter than usual, address the issue with other grown-ups who can help you without unburdening your troubles on your child.
Children Can Help, Too
There are many ways your daughter can help, though. She can help you to cook food for the family, set the table, or start a vegetable garden. She can draw pictures to put in your front windows, or use her chalk on the sidewalk, to cheer up neighbors out for a walk. She can mail a picture to a friend or relative. A rainbow in the mail is sure to prompt a happy video call from Grandma!
She can help by keeping up with healthy habits: washing her hands for two lengths of the Happy Birthday song, getting a good night’s sleep, and finding ways to exercise every day – indoors or out.
She can help by playing quietly if you are in a video meeting, and by sharing her feelings with you when you’re ready to listen. Bedtime is an excellent time for heart-to-heart communication.
If she’s angry at coronavirus, that’s certainly understandable. Let her know that you are proud of her for all of her help each day.
These are trying times to say the least. Balance is key.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: www.drdebbiewood.com.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com