Well- the topic of talking with little kids about Coronavirus is not something I anticipated writing about- but here we are. I’m seeing lots of great resources for talking to kids about Covid-19 appearing- but most seem to focus on kids that are elementary age and older- so I wanted to offer a resource for other families with toddlers and preschoolers (like me). We were planning on our baby’s 1st birthday this weekend, and had planned to combine her baby naming ceremony with her 1st bday party, mainly because coordinating schedules of all the people we love who live far away is complicated.
We just cancelled it. I am disappointed.
I imagine some of our friends and family members are, too- but also relieved. The baby won’t care- but her 3 and 4 year old sisters will. They have been SO looking forward to seeing the family that was going to fly in, and have been planning the cake for weeks (thankfully, we can still make that), and we have been going through the photos of each of their baby naming ceremonies. They planned to help lead a blessing and we have been discussing what they think their baby sister wants for her birthday- a fascinating exercise in their developing abilities to understand the perspective of others. I will break the news to them later- because I want to set us up for success and give them time to process. I imagine some of you are in similar situations- or will be soon.
Thankfully, I have significant relevant experience as an early childhood educator and advocate for and teacher of D.A.P. (developmentally appropriate practice) and feel relatively prepared to navigate talking with little kids about Coronavirus.
I wanted to share a bit of the process I am going through with my own children because a) I hope my insight might be useful to others and b) I know that documenting the process will foster deepening my own reflection and our family’s learning as we go through this experience.
Over breakfast, I asked my kids what they knew about the word ‘reschedule’.
My four year old explained that if two things we wanted to do were happening at the same time, we might try to ‘reschedule’ one. I was glad she gave such a neutral example- so we thought about examples of times when we moved a doctor’s appointment, or changed a play-date, or shifted a decision. We discussed times when plans changed and then we were really happy with the outcome.
Plans change when new information becomes available. I pointed out that sometimes it can feel disappointing and that sometimes it can feel surprising.
We remembered that we had to ‘reschedule’ a trip we planned to visit Bubbie and PopPop for Thanksgiving when one of the kids had pneumonia.
I made talking about the previous experience we’ve had rescheduling something into story:
Beginning: We were excited and looking forward to the trip.
Middle: We were upset, sick, and disappointed.
End: We traveled to see them for Chanukah instead and had a fantastic time.
So- when we sit down for snack this afternoon (while the baby is napping) I will let them know I want to talk to them about something and share the news that we need to reschedule the party we planned to host this weekend.
I will make sure that I’ve taken steps to deal with my own anxiety and practice self care.
I will make sure that I have put my phone away and demonstrate to them that they (and this conversation) is important.
I will give them time and space to decompress from school and look for cues that might suggest to me that the timing isn’t right- and I will change my plans (and reschedule this chat for later in the day or tomorrow) if one of them is particularly tired, upset, or otherwise not their feeling like their best selves.
I will make sure to make myself available and be present after the conversation concludes as we do a puzzle or color or whatever…because if additional questions or concerns emerge, I want to be hear them (and I know they will likely pose such questions to each other, and I want to ‘overhear’ the ways that they are processing this information).
We will make alternative plans for the weekend that are special, and I’ll ask them to help me brainstorm a different way to celebrate their sister until we are able to figure out when we will reschedule.
We will videochat with the relatives who are changed their travel plans. I will be transparent about the fact that I am disappointed and share with them ways that I’m dealing with my feelings. I will acknowledge and validate whatever feelings they express. I imagine they will have questions, and that they will have become more aware of the concerns and anxiety swirling in our world (even though they are very young, and we don’t watch TV or news in the house when they are awake, and they go to a tiny Montessori school for part of their day- I’m certain they are getting messages explicitly and intuitively about the situation).
We will reiterate that making safe choices like washing hands and taking good care of ourselves is our first job. I’ll highlight the fact that lots of brilliant, kind doctors and scientists are doing hard work to be able to give good advice and everyone in our community is trying to work together to reduce the spread of germs.
I don’t think that any of this is revolutionary- but I do hope it will be useful. Talking with little kids about coronavirus shares many of the same dynamics of any sensitive (read: emotionally loaded/grown-up triggering) topic- so use the same insights gleaned from discussing sex or god or whatever else might be important and tough to talk about and apply them here (and you can use what you learn from these conversations in future chats about things of that nature).
Stay safe, stay social, stay strong. Look for the helpers and enjoy your time at home with your kids as much as possible.
A few additional resources to check out as you are preparing yourself to talk with little kids about Coronavirus:
A dense and complete collection: PJ Library Resources for Quarantined Families
An oldie but goodie: Why Mister Rogers’ Plea To ‘Look For The Helpers’ Still Resonates Today
Look for the good: A Jewish Teen Created the World’s Go-To Source for Coronavirus Updates
Good for grown ups with some practical tips: Flatten The Curve