Talking to Toddlers about Covid-19 (or anything stressful)

We’re all getting those emails… ‘our response to coronavirus!!” You can’t escape it when you turn on the news, even scrolling through Facebook, you see the chaos that this pandemic is bringing. And I’m part of the chaos, too. On a normal Saturday, I’d be peacefully busy, sharing the Educaring Approach with parents in my classes. Instead, I’m home dreading a trip to the grocery store and trying to stay in touch with the families in my classes. Speaking of, I just got an email from one of those parents, asking me about what to say to her toddler about all of this…suddenly both she and her husband are home with their toddler and their infant daughter…a big change in their normal lives. Here is some of what I shared…if you have a toddler at home, you might find it helpful:

So, with any big change or stressor like this this, I recommend first and foremost talking openly (but not graphically) about how you are feeling and honestly (on a developmental level) about what’s happening. Depending on how this is impacting you, your child is likely very aware that you are nervous, and is certainly aware that things are different. You don’t have to go into detail about what’s happening in the wider world, you can just talk about how what’s happening is directly affecting you.

For many of the parents I talk to, this is a day that you usually come to RIE class. And as you’ve all experienced, your children all have a marvelous internal clock/calendar that tells them that today is RIE Day. It’s okay to talk about it! I might say something like “we usually go to RIE today, but we’re staying home. I’m going to miss seeing [name children and parents in the class]. I’m excited to see them again soon, though!”

For children that are used to going to a daycare during the week, saying something like “we are all staying home, like Winter Break,” is totally fine, and emphasizing that you are trying to practice good hygiene (washing hands often and not touching faces) to keep everyone healthy is entirely appropriate and true.

What is important to assess beyond that is how are you feeling about this?

[In times of stress] “if adults pretend to the child that everything is all right, the child feels that is not so. The inconsistency between his internal and external worlds make him feel insecure; he senses that something is not right.” (Beginning Well, p. 28).

Young children know how to read our faces, our moods, our energy…and they give equal, if not more, credence to those elements than to our words. So it is important to authentically address what’s happening.

I might say something like “I’ve been worried that we might get sick lately, so that’s why we are all staying home. It is different from what we usually do and it can make me feel tense.” And then say, “but I’m glad we’re all together and I appreciate all of the things we are doing to stay healthy, like washing our hands so much and keeping the toys extra clean.” Or something like that…more true to your own vocabulary and your own specific sets of worries. You want to address your feelings…and then talk about what you are doing to feel better about those feelings.

I’ll leave you with a link to one article I really appreciate about this topic…and the Mr. Roger’s quote about this kind of thing:

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.”