Kids are very intuitive and observant – sometimes even more-so than adults. In fact, when something is wrong, they may even be the first ones to notice and point it out – and while many children do adapt well to change, there are others who may not – particularly when changes are as drastic and sudden as what we’ve seen occurring as a result of COVID-19. For example, a close relative may become ill with the virus (such as a parent or grandparent), they can no longer attend school, and can’t spend time with friends. Naturally, these types of changes and the uncertainty that comes along with them would cause our children to have many questions (and want answers) – and while COVID-19 might seem like a heavy topic to discuss with younger individuals, it’s important to explain the situation to them, but doing so in a way they’re able to easily understand.
As mentioned, one of the biggest challenges a child might face as a result of COVID-19 is a lack of social interaction with their peers – whether that interaction came from playing outdoors or seeing each other at school. It’s not being able to have that personal interaction that can cause a child to feel confused. However, it’s important that we explain to our children just how crucial it is that we keep our distance from others at this time. As adults, we know this as “social distancing” or “physical distancing” – and while some children may understand these terms, it’s also important that we explain things to them in ways that are age-appropriate. One way to easily explain the definition of social distancing to a child is by letting them know that it’s important for us to stay home and rest so that we can remain as healthy as possible and keep those we care about as healthy as possible, too – and that the longer we stay home, the quicker we’ll be able to get back to enjoying the things we used to and seeing the people we used to see. To keep social interaction going, this can be a good time for parents to encourage children to video chat with friends and relatives. If your child is missing out on their education as a result of their school being closed due to COVID-19, many classrooms are now moving to online instruction and other virtual activities that they can partake in.
We also need to teach our children the importance of regular hygiene. While a child may not be thrilled about being told to wash their hands, we can encourage them to increase their hygiene by explaining what a virus is and how it spreads. For example, by telling them the following: “A virus is a tiny invisible organism that travels between humans – and that some of these organisms are good, while others are bad and can make people sick, which is why it’s important that we be careful and wash our hands to keep the bad germs away.” Try to avoid medical terms when having this discussion, as that may only confuse them.
Because a child might hear or see something in passing either on the TV or radio, it’s also not uncommon for them to experience fear. This is a completely normal reaction, even for us as adults – especially when we’re facing a lot of uncertainty. However, reassure them that by taking the aforementioned steps (i.e. social distancing and handwashing), they are safe.
Children also tend to be curious and, as such, will likely have a lot of questions. While raising the subject of COVID-19 might sound like it could do more harm than good, it’s important that we don’t completely shield our children from these types of discussions, as this could ultimately lead to further fear which can then potentially lead to depression and anxiety. We should allow our children to express their concerns and ask any questions they have, while answering them in an honest but reassuring way. Alternatively, a child may feel overwhelmed by the topic and not want to talk about it – and that’s okay too. Let them know that you’re there whenever they want to revisit the subject.