We are being constantly bombarded with information about coronavirus and the current global pandemic but do we have the right information to talk to our very young children about what is happening? There are lots of great articles and suggestions out there about how to communicate with school aged children but it is equally important that our young children understand what is going on, without being scared or overwhelmed! I would like to share some advice with you about talking to preschool children, toddlers and babies.
Young children are born thinking that the world revolves around them (and they are correct for the first few years). As their understanding develops and they begin to take in what is happening outside of their lives they still apply this knowledge directly to themselves. So when they hear about the coronavirus, people getting sick and food running out at the shops they will expect this to happen to them. As parents our job is to make them aware of what is happening in an age appropriate way and reassure them.
Have conversations when you are calm
Children will pick up on your emotions and body language more than the words you say. Make sure you understand what you are going to explain to them and keep the conversations calm and casual. Try talking while engaging in a normal routine activity like giving your child a bath.
Keep your language positive, simple and repetitive
Keeping things positive will help you and your child! Focus on the things they can do to stay safe and help others. Use simple language, be honest but don’t give children more information than they need or are ready for.
- We can wash our hands to help keep everyone safe.
- Some people are getting sick because of germs, no one that we know is sick.
- At the moment we need to stay at home more because of the germs, this will help keep people healthy.
- There are doctors and nurses working to help make everyone better.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Children process information and seek reassurance through repetitive conversations and asking the same questions over and over! (Think about how many times you have read them their favourite story.) This is normal behaviour and will help them to understand what is happening and calm any anxiety they may have. Most of the time children simply want to know that you will give the same answer each time they ask the question. If your child is really struggling to understand something you may need to change the way you are giving the information.
Include toddlers and babies
Babies and toddlers might not be able to ask questions about what is happening, but they will still pick up on our emotional state and changes to their routine. Try and keep things normal where possible and explain changes using simple language. Remember babies and toddlers often understand much more than we realise! We will stay at home today instead of going to the library. Daddy is going to be working at home this week.
Look for the helpers.
Limiting the amount of time that we devote to news, media and frightening conversations is good for us and our children! Children often find the images on the news disturbing and intrusive. When children are exposed to news encouraging them to look for the helpers can reassure them. Aim to keep language positive when you are having discussions in front of children.
Here are some of the questions that children might ask and suggestions for ways in which you can answer!
Will I get sick? Will I have to go to the hospital? We are looking after ourselves to stay healthy. Most people only get a little bit sick and don’t need to go to hospital.
Why is that person wearing a mask? Wearing a mask keeps germs away from other people.
When will this be over? We don’t know but we are keeping each other safe and there are lots of people working together to help.
Why can’t we go to the playground/library/dance lessons? Everyone is taking a break from playing together. That’s how we can help keep each other healthy.
Why can’t we go visit Grandma/Grandpa/Aunty/Cousins? We are staying at home so we don’t share germs, We want everyone to stay healthy so we aren’t going out visiting at the moment.
Why do we have to wash our hands again? We are getting rid of the germs so they don’t make us sick.
Why are we using wipes and hand sanitiser? Germs might make us sick so we use wipes and hand sanitizer to get rid of them.