It’s not easy to find the right balance when talking to our beloved children about the coronavirus… Obviously they were the first to be affected by the lockdown measures since the schools were closed, so it’s impossible (and not advisable) to hide the situation from them.
You thus need to explain this paradox to them: \“Stay at home because the threat comes from the outside, but you may be a threat yourself\”, you will have to be creative!
So you have to communicate, protect them, explain and not overdramatise, but at the same time be careful: a subtle mix! Here are a few tips to help you deal with your children’s questions.
1. Securing daily life through habits
Like everyone else, children are creatures of habit, they have their rituals and references, this is what reassures them. It will therefore be necessary to go back to the same old habits very quickly and organise the day according to a defined schedule. Try as much as possible to include your children in drawing up the schedule, as this will give them a feeling of control over a minimum: time of getting up, school hours, meal times, break times, bedtime. Set up a schedule for Monday to Friday and a different schedule for Saturday and Sunday, which should remain weekend days: you get up later, hang out in your pajamas, don’t work, stay up a little.
After the temporal limits, spatial limits must also be established: if one room can be dedicated to play, having another to work in is better. Perhaps it is also necessary to find a space \“reserved for adults\”, especially if some of them work at home. This is not an easy feat when the confinement takes place in small flats, in which case the functions of the rooms should be doubled in exceptional cases: the kitchen can become the work room during the day and the parents’ bedroom can be transformed into a play and reading area. Move some furniture if necessary, and reorganise spaces accordingly for the coming weeks.
Finally, don’t focus too much on the mess at home: obviously with several people in a small space for several weeks it is important to maintain a minimum of order and cleanliness. Ask the children to go round the house each evening to put things back in their place and get the rooms ready for the next day. But don’t aim for perfection, there will be areas of tension in the coming weeks so everyone will have to learn to make concessions. If your home isn’t completely tidy over the next few weeks, let it go: the priority is for everyone to feel good and find their place there.
2. Make the children actors in the situation
This situation of confinement is difficult because it makes us quite passive and gives us the feeling of being subjected to it. Therefore, as far as possible, we need to involve our children in the decision-making, in the new organisation, in the programme, so that they feel they have some control over what is happening. Ask them to make a list of indoor activities they would like to do, involve them in tidying up, preparing meals, organising the life of the household. Make small lists of tasks assigned to each person, even if they are small, it is reassuring for a child to feel responsible.
Also ask them who they want to contact \“on the outside\”, try to organise daily video calls with a family member or an email. Children, especially young ones, find it difficult to imagine and project themselves on what is happening \“outside\”, so you have to show them through video communication that life goes on out of the house too, that everyone is fine, that the world is still turning.
3. Put yourself in their shoes
The concerns of an 8 year old are not the same as those of a teenager, which are also different from those of an adult, but that doesn’t mean they are any less important or any less to consider than yours.
Your concerns at the moment may be about finances, how to continue working, your parents, the family’s health, the organisation of daily life. You should know that your child may not be preoccupied with all these subjects and that’s a good thing, it’s not their job, it’s yours! So try to put yourself in your child’s shoes to identify what their worries might be: \“Will I be locked up all my life? \”, \“Are we all going to die? \”, \“Will we be able to go on holiday? \”, \“When do I start playing football again or will my riding skills drop if I stop for three months? \”
In short, this may seem trivial to you, but this is what is going on in your kids’ heads and this is what you must reassure them about without getting upset.
4. Talking to your children about the Coronavirus
Before you jump in, remember to educate yourself and try to anticipate their questions! If your child finds you unclear or unsure of yourself, this will worry them. They may go looking for information on their own via social networks or other information channels that may not be suitable. If you don’t know how to answer a question, say \“I don’t know\” and look for the answer together.
Don’t be too alarmist, that would make them anxious. But you should not minimise the situation either – children are not fools and know that you don’t close schools to fight a harmless flu. We must make an effort to strike the right balance for them. Because reassuring them will make them rational and will have the advantage of encouraging them to adhere to precautionary measures.
One should not hesitate to normalise one’s emotions and share them: \“It’s perfectly normal to be worried, to be angry about this situation, I am too sometimes\”.
Explain to them that this scary containment measure is precisely there to reassure us all and fight against the virus, and that it is therefore a good thing, that confinement should be seen as a positive measure.
Don’t let them watch the media alone, especially before the age of 10, be the recipient of information and pass it on to them once you have assimilated it.
Reassure them by making plans: in the short term (\“next weekend we’ll do…\”) and medium term (\“during the summer holidays we’ll go…\”), to make it clear that the virus and the situation have a beginning and an end.
Explain to them that they have little risk of becoming ill, but that they should be careful with their circle of friends, their parents and grandparents. It is important to involve them in daily hygiene precautions and explain why hand washing is essential, for example. Children will only do what they understand. If they don’t see the point of washing their hands or staying at home, they won’t obey.
And finally, let’s try to see the positive: it’s an opportunity to come back home as soon as the February holidays are over, to do manual activities, to have dinner with their parents and maybe see them a bit more, and to watch (a bit) more TV. In short, from a child’s view, it can be a great situation.