Why can't I go to school?
As big people, we understand why we have to stay home to stay healthy right now. Our minds have designed, for example, a way to cope with raising a child 24/7: create a schedule, order new books, buy new toys, stock up on stress relief candles and frozen pizzas. But your little person, whose life has also been upended, is quietly wondering what is going on. And however many times we explain why it’s good to stay home to be safe and healthy, children are primarily emotionally and physically driven. They want to move and they are FULL of feelings. They are swimming in big feelings of excitement for being with you all day, but also equally big feelings of disappointment and confusion that they can’t do the things they used to like play with friends or go to daycare or the playground.
Because of this, explaining this virus and its effects to children is difficult. Here are a few tips for doing so for different age groups, from Bank Street College of Education:
Infants Holding, rocking, and singing to babies can relieve stress and pull the parent into the infant’s small, safe world. Creating songs to accompany your daily routine is a great way to help make the baby’s world predictable and fun. Try describing what you’re doing to the tune of “Row row row your boat” or diaper-changing to “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”
Toddlers Teaching toddlers routines and rules can be tough because they resist any kind of authority at this stage. They are just beginning to understand the power of their bodies, their will, and their behavior. Empathize with their feelings and repeat what you need them to do over and over. Sometimes the most effective thing we can do is reiterate.
For example, “It’s time to wash hands right now. I know you don’t want to stop playing, but before lunch is always hand-washing. Do you want to go to the sink by yourself like a big kid, or should I get Will Smith to carry you there?” Between these dull routines, offer other activities and playful routines that allow your toddler to feel powerful. Make sure you have fun with them too. Ask them what they want to play with and get on the floor and play with them.
Preschool Age Children Preschool children are beginning to master their routines at school. When schedules change abruptly, offer simple explanations and establish new routines so they feel secure within them. Encourage opportunities for pretend play where children can use play symbols to make sense of what is going on around them. Children are very perceptive about adult emotions! They will notice if you are feeling afraid or worried. Rather than deny negative feelings, offer simple cause and effect explanations like, “Sometimes I feel worried about grandma and grandpa because they are older and have to work harder to stay healthy.” Wait until children are asleep before watching or listening to the news.
School-Age Children School-aged children will need parents to help them interpret what they are hearing and seeing concerning the virus. Parents should ask children if they are worried or have questions.. Help your child understand that they are helping to prevent the virus from spreading by staying home and washing their hands. This age group can hear the words “virus” and “sick” because they are old enough to understand them. Just be careful that they’re not said too often and not with too much emotion.
When children are finished with online school work, suggest practicing skills that give them a sense of pride and help them feel ready to return to their activities when the threat has passed. Children who are feeling afraid, sad or angry about the sudden changes in their lives may regress in their behavior or coping mechanisms.. They may need more reassurance and support during everyday routines and empathic responses from adults. They may benefit from creative and expressive play like acting, painting and drawing and use of clay. Celebrations of holidays and special events at home are helpful when the usual more social celebrations cannot be held.
Middle School Children Offer support and empathy for children’s reactions to isolation from peers and activities. Check-in with middle schoolers frequently to see how they are feeling. Show interest in what music they are listening to even if it’s weird, movies they are watching, articles or books they are reading. Check-in on how peer dynamics are unfolding online and encourage proactive activities that are possible from home like fundraising for good causes, virtual sports, and creativity.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, gauge where they are and fill in the blanks for them. Be mindful and phrase things in a positive light when possible. Instead of highlighting that you are quarantined and stuck inside, you can say you need to stay inside for a while so your family and our neighbors can stay healthy.
Resource: Children’s Reaction to Changes Brought by Covid19: Developmental Factors LKoplow LCSW, Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice at Bank Street