Explaining pandemic to your young child(ren)

Hi BPN folks, hope everyone is finding ways to stay safe, healthy and supportive/be supported in this crazy time. Up until now, I have not really 'questioned' how I was explaining the pandemic to my toddler and preschool kids. I have been saying that there is a virus and that a lot of people are falling sick, so we must wash our hands and be careful not to touch our faces. Sometimes they will catch a glimpse of the news if I have it on, but I try not to have it on too much in their presence (anyway, they already get a lot of screen time these days!). When they clamor to go outside or see their friends, I tell them we have to stay home because a lot of people are sick (it's a bit like a broken record). When they see me with a mask outside, I tell them this is so that other people won't get sick. However, I have a friend who has chosen not to tell her school-age kids anything (they are all under 9) because they get very worked up and anxious - a choice that obviously fit her family better. It also prompted me to wonder though - how are other people managing to explain to their children what is going on and the reasons for the huge adjustments they've had to make? How do you balance telling a child about grave matters and the fear/anxiety that would surely arise from that? I have not noticed a huge difference in the behavior of my kids, but I just wonder what they must be thinking/feeling.

Parent Replies

Parents, want to reply to this question? Sign in to post.

I just saw something in the New York Times on this topic - when I went to look for it, I found lots of resources online (including videos). I'm not sure this was the article I was thinking of but it gives you an idea

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/parenting/coronavirus-kids-talk.html

Our oldest is not quite 3 yet so we've been keeping it super bare bones. He already knew that "germs make you sick" and we've been telling him that we can't play on the playground, hug grandma, etc because we don't want to share germs so that no one gets sick. We have told him that there are a lot of germs right now, and when there are less germs we can go back to the playground, etc. I'm not sure he gets it, but he has stopped asking as many questions. I'm a little worried about what sort of ideas we're giving him generally about germs and human contact -- will he be forever afraid of getting too close to people? -- but we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. 

This is very child specific and how ready they are to handle this emotionally.  I told my kids the truth since they are elementary and preschool aged and answered all their questions.  My preschool-aged one knows that there is a bad virus out there and that we are trying to keep us safe and keeping the grandparents safe and that is why he cannot go to their house now.  My elementary aged kids understand a bit more and asked about their chance of catching it and whether the elderly grandparents are at risk of dying and we told them their grandparents are at a much higher risk but are staying safe and that is why we cannot see them and do all their shopping for them, so hopefully grandparents will be ok.  They are a bit worried about elderly family members, but once they were reassured that even though there is risk grandparents are being very careful, are not saying that at least this means that they no longer need to go to school as they are loving this being at home time, and otherwise seem happy and ok emotionally.  I knew my kids will be ok which is why I shared a lot of details, but i would not have done it if I suspected that my kids will be weighed down by the worry over it and would be having a hard time dealing with the information. 

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/05/childhood-in-an-anxious-age/609079/

advances the theory that avoiding things that cause anxiety in the short term will cause more anxiety in the long term.

I have a 5 year old and a 2.5 year old. The 2.5 year old we haven't really talked to that much, except to tell him we need to wash hands, etc, to protect ourselves from the virus. The 5 year old has a lot more questions. Similarly to your family, we've talked about virus making people sick, what we need to do to protect ourselves, why everything is closed and the things we'll do "once the sick is gone." His teachers at his preschool also talked about it some as they were closing and have talked about it more on their video calls.

I'm surprised that your friend can successfully keep the information from her children. Do they not ask questions about why school is closed, they can't go to parks and the like? And if they interacting with others it would seem like it would come up.

My kids are four and seven years old, and I've taken pretty much the same approach as you. We don't watch TV news, so they haven't been exposed to that, but we do discuss our concerns in front of the kids. They are not showing any signs of anxiety and are content with our current situation. They think that hanging out with mom and dad at home all the time is pretty fun! I believe that your friend's approach is more likely to create anxiety. The kids will pick up on the fact that something scary is going on, but they will think it's so scary that their parents won't even discuss it and that they aren't allowed to express their concerns. It's impossible that they are unaware of what's going on. My children's teachers had told them about it before schools closed, and all the kids were talking about it.

I had been approaching it the same way as you with my 4.5 year old, however in the past week or so my son has all of a sudden been refusing walks and getting anxious if we leave the house. I was surprised as I didn't think we were being overly dramatic about it or frankly talking about it much at all, but they are so perceptive. Would love tips as well on how to address anxiety in young kids around this topic.