Helping Young Kids Through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis
As adults, we may tend to overlook or minimize how very young children are affected by current events. However, even very young children are watching and listening to what is happening, including how we respond emotionally. This means we need to think about how to help even very young children make sense of current realities, and it also means that our own self care is essential. In moments of stress, remember to breathe, connect with others (while keeping a safe physical distance), take a walk, or do some other thing that helps you feel better. Then think about how you can help your child feel safer and more secure.
Young children often cannot tell us about their worries in words. Instead, you might see changes in their behavior, such as:
All of these behaviors may help you know that your child is feeling stressed. They will need more patience and guidance in managing their feelings, which can be so hard to offer when you are worried yourself. None of us will be perfect, these are hard times. But we can strive to care for ourselves so we can care for our children.
Following are some suggestions about how you might think about helping your young child make sense of current events.
What has your child heard, and what does she think? Little kids can have all sorts of ideas about what is happening, and why? Sometimes when young children are trying to make sense of things they will come up with explanations that are not only wrong, but may make them feel even worse. For example, does your child think that everyone who gets COVID-19 will die? (Note- this is not correct. In fact, the risk of serious illness or death among in the general population is still low, and the risk for children is particularly low). Or do they perhaps think that they are no longer going to school because they did something wrong? (Note- this may seem very illogical, but this kind of “magical thinking” is very common among young children.)
Correct misperceptions, and offer honest and realistic reassurance.
Here are some realistic, honest, and reassuring things you might choose to share:
We can share our gratitude with our kids, and that helps us all keep a more balanced perspective.
Explain the “rules” and follow them.
To help keep most people safe and healthy, we are following the rules that scientists and doctors tell us will help. These rules include:
We can explain that we do this because it helps stop the virus from spreading. Children learn by observing, so it is important that we model these behaviors consistently ourselves.
Keep playdates safe!
Social distancing is the most critical and important factor that parents can control during this COVID-19 outbreak.
Kids can still get some fresh air and run around. Try to avoid playground fixtures that may transmit the virus.
Try virtual playdates
If possible, set up virtual play dates – kids can play games, dance, and interact with friends from a safe distance.
Write snail mail
Write letters, draw pictures, and create a pen pal system of friends and family so kids can stay connected.
Find your “family purpose”. Helping others helps ourselves.
Look for opportunities to ‘do good’—for example, leaving groceries on doorsteps of neighbors who can’t get out, or drawing pictures for loved ones, neighbors, or people who cannot have visitors at present such as residents of nursing homes. You could work together to make “thank you” cards and pictures to people in your community who are working hard to help others. Finding ways to “do something” helps move away from just worry to feeling more purposeful and helpful and helps strengthen our community response.
Kids thrive on predictability—and school closures, work changes, and other things happening right now can really undermine that sense of predictability and routine that keeps kids (and honestly, adults, too!) feeling secure. Plan a daily routine and make a calendar. Include play time with you. If possible, include time in the outdoors. Make a list of fun activities, like “dance party time” “read a book time” or “time to draw thank you pictures”. This also helps kids practice what they’d be doing in preschool. Dancing and playing and other fun activities can help everyone de-stress together.
Limit exposure to TV, news, and conversations among adults that might increase fear and anxiety.
We are all in this together, and parents and caregivers are understandably worried and wanting information, too. That makes sense, but be aware that “small pitchers have big ears”—even very young children (infants and toddlers) are aware of our emotions, tone of voice, or the urgency and fear coming through the tv or radio. Do your best to minimize children’s exposure to these things and be mindful of #1 above—care for yourself, too.
These are unprecedented times. But these times also create tremendous opportunities for us to practice our values- to care for others, connect with those we love, to find community and purpose wherever we can. This reminds us all of how connected we are to one another—and ultimately, we get through this together.
Resources for parents to help children cope with the COVID-19 pandemic:
Additional COVID-19 information and resources: