By Heidi Alene Harris, Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education
Children are like sponges and even if we do not realize they are listening, they absorb everything they hear. We know that the focus of every current adult conversation is the COVID-19. You cannot go anywhere without the topic coming up in conversation, hearing it on the news, or seeing it on social media. Children are overhearing bits and pieces about the spread of COVID-19 everywhere. When a public concern of this depth hits it is important that as parents we remember that it is not only impacting us as adults but our children as well.
The news on this virus can be scary, even for us to hear and see as adults, so it is important that we help alleviate potential fears by discussing the virus simply and honestly with children. Children need support from a trusted adult in order to directly communicate and process the information.
It is important to make time to have conversations and follow child-initiated questions in an effort to help them process the information. Follow the child’s lead and respond to their questions as they come up and watch for behaviors that may display they need help to process what they may have seen or heard. Children may respond with a variety of emotions and it is important that we respond with love and attention.
A few tips for parents on ways they can support children during this time:
- Be Honest.
- Keep it Simple.
- Watch Out for News Overload.
- Adults Keep Calm, Too.
- Practice Healthy Hygiene, such as washing hands. Reading children’s books about germs, such as Germs Are Not for Sharing by Elizabeth Verdick, helps children understand what germs are and practices to prevent the spreading of germs.
- Try to keep to a routine or schedule as much as possible. During school closures, communicate daily the plan for how the children will be spending their day.
Mr. Rogers’ mom, Nancy Rogers, said it best when she said we can help our children process scary news by pointing out the people who are helping; the scientists, the doctors, the medical staff, and others. Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Our children are watching us and learning how to respond to situations based on how we respond, the best we can do as parents is help our children feel safe during this unsettling time.
Refer to this parent resource, Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource, from National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and National Association of School Nurses (NASN) for other guidelines and procedures for supporting children.
Join our NEW Facebook group, Toledo Parent Support Group, where the Toledo area community can post local resources for parents during the coronavirus pandemic.