Navigating through our new lives during the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be difficult for everyone. Even the most knowledgeable professionals often don’t know what to believe or what to say when people ask them questions about the pandemic. “How long will this last?” “Why can’t I spend time with friends?” “How much toilet paper is too much toilet paper?”
These are strange times.
Everyone is struggling, and everyone is confused. We thank our healthcare workers and essential workers for helping us get through this time. But during all of this craziness, I think that parents deserve a special shout-out as well.
A parent’s job is to protect and love their children. And with that job comes a lot of stress and exhaustion. No one can ask a question like a preschooler can. No one asks as many questions as a preschooler can. And all of these questions and all of this time that parents have been spending with their children can lead them to a very important question that they ask themselves:
“How do I explain the pandemic to my child?”
Here’s the short answer: Don’t.
Parents do not need to explain the pandemic to their small children. COVID-19 is a scary topic, even for adults. To discuss such a heavy matter with a young child unprovoked can cause them to become scared, and their fears may cause them to act out in destructive ways. But when a child comes to their parents asking questions about why they can’t play with their friends, or why they can’t play on the structures at the park, there are healthy approaches that parents can take to talk their children through what’s going on in the world right now.
First, parents should always acknowledge their children’s fears and feelings surrounding the state of events. If a child is visibly upset that they cannot play on the play structures at the park, parents should take the opportunity to say “I can see you are having big strong feelings. Tell me what this is about.” If a child cannot tell you, sit close to them, if they are comfortable, and give them time to talk. If they cannot talk about it just be with them in a close, calm way. When parents validate their children’s feelings, it is also important that they reassure their kids that their feelings are normal and healthy and that they just need to keep being patient.
Answer direct questions
It is also important to make sure that you only give accurate and appropriate information to children when they ask direct questions. Many parents and teachers are taking the approach of simply referring to COVID-19 as “the virus”. So when a child asks why they can’t play on the play structure at the park, the parents can say “because of the virus”. If parents decide to go into a little more detail with their kids, concepts about germs are a great starting point. The PBS Kids website has a list of episodes of Daniel Tiger and Sesame Street that discuss germs and handwashing.
At La Cañada Preschool, we used glitter to represent germs and showed the children how to wash the glitter germs off their hands after we sprinkled glitter on them. And just as it’s important for children to be patient during this time, the parents must be patient as well.
Be reassuring and take care of yourself, too
Take that extra time with your child and assure them that everything will be alright. Our children need to hear it now more than ever. Let them know that you – their parent or guardian – will keep them safe and protect them. Remind them that the doctors, nurses, and teachers are all working hard to keep us safe now and always. It can help to play games with your child that involve taking care of a stuffed animal or baby. Use that time to teach them what gentle love and care looks like. As parents, we can create safe spaces for our kids by being intuitive to our child and their needs. If you see your child struggling, reach out for help. You are always your child’s best teacher.
Remember, children pick up on stress. Parents need to practice self-care during this time as well. As much as possible, keep your serious and intense conversations away from your kids. Turn off the news when your child is in the room. If social media is stressing you out, it might be best to unplug for a little while and spend that time counting your blessings with your child instead.
These times are hard for all of us.
In this ever-changing climate, it can be difficult to know what news to believe and what actions to take. As the time approaches for kids to go back to school, make sure to do thorough research into the guidelines each school has in place to keep your child safe. Children – especially small children – need social interaction. Preschool-aged children are at a crucial developmental stage in their life where they begin to learn how to interact with others. The right school will take all precautions necessary to keep your child safe and have teachers that will be there for your child when they ask important questions and have big feelings regarding the pandemic. The phrase may be overused, but remember, it takes a village.
You are not alone, and you are doing an amazing job.
Debbie Ficarra, owner and director of La Cañada Preschool, has been teaching preschool for 33 years. She has a bachelor’s degree from Pacific Oaks College in Early Childhood Education and a master’s degree in Human Development. She has also raised three daughters, and she now has two grandchildren. Her passion for early childhood development can be seen in everything she does. In this article, she speaks about the appropriate ways to discuss with children the frightening pandemic that has impacted our world this year.
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