This certainly is a strange time in our lives. We are social distancing with stay-at-home orders to “flatten the curve” and dreaming of days when toilet paper was widely available. We are shocked by the nightly news with new “numbers.” People are wearing masks to run to the store. Online home-schooling is the norm with a little help from amazing teachers.
We are going stir-crazy yet feel guilty for a weekly trip to the grocery store. Imagine how our children perceive all of this. We need to speak to them in terms that they can understand, yet not overwhelm them with technical jargon that frightens them. What do we say?
Answer their questions.
Try to answer their little questions simply, but honestly. If they ask about COVID-19, explain that it is a new disease going around that no one has ever had before. This means that anyone can get it. Most people get just a little bit sick, but some people (especially older people) may get sicker. Explain that some people can be sick and not know that they are sick. Teach them that we want to protect others from getting sick by staying home.
Let them know that it’s normal to feel somewhat anxious, unsure, or afraid. We all do. These are unusual circumstances. Tell them that they are safe. Explain to them that children (and most people) don’t usually get very sick from this disease. If they do get sick, reassure them that you will care for them. Let them know that things will eventually get back to normal, even if it is a “new normal.”
Tell them what they can do to stay safe: wash your hands before eating, don’t touch your face, stay indoors or in your own yard, stay a safe distance from others, cough or sneeze into an elbow or mask, and avoid crowds. Explain that they can’t go to school, visit Grandma, or play with their friends right now so that no one spreads germs.
Turn off the TV. It’s important not to get too wrapped up in the news cycle. It can make anyone feel anxious, especially children who pick up on your feelings. Take this time to play games, do crafts, tell stories, write journals (which they may value as adults), color pictures, learn to knit…be creative.
Keep a schedule.
It’s important for all of us to maintain some semblance of a normal routine. Have a set wake-up time and write a daily schedule. Include school time as well as daily chores. Teach them how to do laundry, prep dinner, bake, and how to clean the bathroom. Stick to a routine, especially at bedtime: bath/book/bed.
Who knows when we will have this opportunity again…the chance to bond with our family without interruption. Enjoy cards, games, puzzles and make-believe play. Build a fort with blankets over a table. Play with them. Read stories aloud. Linger at the dinner table and tell tales from your childhood. We have been given a time of intimacy with our kids. Try to find something positive in the experience.
Dr. Melanie J. Wilhelm is a Doctor of Nursing Practice and a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner in Norfolk and an asst. professor at ODU. Her book, Raising Today’s Baby: 2nd Edition, is available on Amazon. For more info., visit RaisingTodaysChild.com, www.facebook.com/RaisingTodaysChild and www.twitter.com/Rzn2dayschild.