Not many of us will have prepared in advance for this one...how to explain a worldwide pandemic to your kids!
Not something you come across in parenting books all too often and rarely discussed at soft play, but nevertheless here we are! So we have compiled a few different ways you could approach this subject with your little ones.
This has been a big upheaval for all of us, but especially for kids who might not quite be able to grasp what is going on, and it can be very hard as parents to know what to tell them. We don't want to scare our kids but we also don't want to leave them in the dark as this can cause more anxiety. Have a read below for some ways to help kids understand coronavirus and how to keep them feeling safe, secure and happy.
Before you go full steam ahead with a PowerPoint presentation all about coronavirus, ask your children what they already know. There is a good chance this will have been discussed at school before the lockdown began, and for younger children, they could have already picked up on a few things, if you've been making rainbows for the window and taking part in the 8 pm clapping, they definitely know this hasn't been any old Easter holidays! Take cues from your children and tailor what you share with them around their reactions. If your child is very curious and wants to know more, take the opportunity to learn about the virus together, we have some great resources listed below. If however, your child is anxious and getting worried, or has heard something scary from someone else, focus strongly on reassurance, and making sure they know they are safe, and that as a household you are taking precautions and will be looking after each other.
Get Your Facts Straight
It is really important to deal with your own anxiety around the coronavirus if you are anxious! Or just any strong emotions you might be feeling about your situation and the situation overall. Kids will pick up on the change, we want to be honest with them but if they see that you are fretful or stressed, they will not only worry about the virus but they will also worry about you! If you are feeling anxious, which is a completely normal reaction, just take some time, even a 5 minute escape to make a cup of tea, before you speak to your kids about this or try to start a discussion and answer questions. Also, it is important to make sure you have some answers ready to go, so definitely do a bit of research beforehand so you are prepared for any questions they may have. You can also look for information together, we have found some amazing kid-friendly resources for learning about the coronavirus outbreak.
'Why We Stay Home' is a gorgeous online book, written by Samantha Harris and Devon Scott, two medical students from Southern California. Millie explains to her little sister Suzie what the virus is, and the best thing they can do to stay safe- stay home! You can download here and make a donation if you like so that this team can write more books explaining medical things to kids!
The creators of 'The Gruffalo' have come up with some great ways to help kids cope with the virus.
Here is a link to 'Coronavirus, A Book For Children', published by Nosy Crow and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, with the expert input of medical consultant Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, two headteachers and a child psychologist! It is totally free and available to download or read online.
Playmobil have created this amazing video using stop motion animation, to help explain what is going on right now, such as what we can all do to ease the situation, and why it so important to avoid contact with other children and adults, all in a way that children can understand.
To help children understand viruses in general, and how we manage them, prevent them and most importantly recover from them, watching children's TV together can be a great help. CBeebies Bing goes to get a vaccination in this episode, and in Operation Ouch they talk about why getting vaccinated from viruses can not only protect you but your whole community!
The key is to remain as positive as you can. Try not to have the news on all day so your home isn't totally saturated with COVID-19 updates. If for your own mental health you prefer to be completely up to date, aim to check the news discreetly and do not immediately share what you hear within earshot of the children, they really do pick up on everything and at times like this, they will probably be paying even more attention to what the 'grown-ups' are talking about. When you do discuss information openly, make sure to counter any information with a positive solution, or action- for example, 'it is easy to catch germs but we will take extra care to keep our hands clean'. It is OK, and encouraged to be honest with your children, there is no need to make anything up to explain away the lockdown but it is important to be age-appropriate. Older kids will be able to handle a bit more information about the virus, the government's decisions and maybe even watch the news with you, but for younger children, it is better to focus on being extra clean after you've been out, and talking about 'germs' in general rather than specific sometimes scary details about the actual virus. Your children will take cues from you on how to behave during this time, so if they see you acting as normal, sticking to routines, making the most of the time together, they will feel reassured that although they aren't at school or nursery, and can't have play dates- you will be consistent and reliable.
Find Your Routine
Children really thrive with structure, and routine helps them to feel safe and secure, so with everything being a bit out of whack at the moment, sticking to a routine as much as you can will really help with keeping things stay calm at home. You definitely do not need to be sticking to regular school hours, or being too rigid about homeschooling in general, however making sure they have things like breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at a similar time each day, keeping bedtime the same and changing things up at the weekend so the days don't all roll into one, will all really benefit the kids mental wellbeing and give them a sense of security and control, while a lot of things feel a bit upside down.
Keep In Touch
A great way to stop the kids feeling too out of the loop at the moment is to set up lots of virtual interactions! There has never been a better time to sign the grandparents up to WhatApp for a super easy FaceTime, or get the whole family involved with something like Zoom or House Party. If your children are aware that the virus is more likely to affect older people, this is especially important so they can feel reassured and see for themselves that their loved ones are at home, keeping safe. There is also absolutely nothing wrong with picking up the telephone for a good old fashioned phone call, or even writing a letter to pop in the post. Sending postcards, paintings and letters through the post is also a lovely way for kids to keep in touch with their friends, as well as FaceTime and Zoom virtual playdates!
Make Some Squishy Soap!
For a little light relief and a super fun sensory activity, we have a wonderful way to keep little hands clean! You may have seen various tutorials for Squishy Soap floating around, it is a brilliant way to encourage those 20 seconds of handwashing! In fact, it is highly likely the kids will be playing at the sink for a while. This soap has a similar texture to play dough but is a bit silkier, the ingredients are simply; foam-able body wash or soap, cornflour, food colouring if you like, and a drop of oil. Full instructions can be found here or you can check out this super cute video on IGTV of Laura Brand from the @thejoyjournal, making Squishy Soap with her husband Russell!
So, you have made sure to stay calm, answered questions, watched videos, and provided reassurance. Moving forward as lockdown continues, we recommend that you keep up these lines of communication. Let your children know that as more information becomes available, you will be passing it onto them too. It is more than OK not to have all the answers, and to show your children that this is a new experience for you too, and you will be learning about it and making decisions together. We have so many great articles full of lockdown ideas, making the best of this will ensure your children have far more happy memories of this incredibly strange time than anything else.
Freelance writer Amy lives in Hampshire with her 3 year old daughter, who is a super energetic, chatty child, leading to Amy’s interest in all matters to do with infant and child sleeping patterns and mindfulness for adults and children. Amy’s degree was in fashion design and she loves filling their beautiful home full of interesting textiles, tiles, art, ceramics, and houseplants or, alternatively, pining over them on Instagram. When they aren’t out exploring in the fresh air they can be found cosying up at home, painting, knitting, and dancing!