How to Explain Coronavirus to a Pre-schooler

I cried in the middle of Tesco’s today.

I’d just popped in for some essential items with my ‘only just’ four-year-old in tow.

It happened to be approaching vulnerable people shopping hour, which is 9-10am on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. I’d completely forgotten until I was halfway round the shop.

I’d been in my own little world, thinking about a conversation I’d had with my husband this morning. He’d said that it was likely we wouldn’t be able to see much of each other over the next month or so (see diary of a doctor), and as result I was feeling a little melancholic.

Fortunately, it wasn’t quite as busy as it has been in previous days. Batman was doing his usual, darting in front of me picking up items for the shopping trolley. I could see all these people around with frantic faces as many of the shelves were still empty. I could also see a few cautious looks as my son got that little bit too close to them.

I was trying to explain to him why we couldn’t touch things and why we shouldn’t get too close, and why daddy was working so much. But I’d obviously failed to get the message across in a way that he would understand.

He began firing questions at me including…

‘Why can’t I touch things? Why do I need to stay next to you?

Why are there germs on the food? Will the germs make me sick?

Will daddy get sick? Will we go to hospital? Will you die?’

And I realised that I was completely unequipped to answer these questions …

Then at the checkout, the (extremely nice) lady behind the till asked me, one too many times, to make sure my son was standing behind the line. And that was it. I couldn’t stop them coming. Tears just filled my eyes. I was crying in the middle of Tesco’s for everyone to see.

Once home, I checked my phone. As if by magic or telepathic transmission, as tends to happen in the Oxford parenting community, I’d received a lovely text from my friend Lydia offering help.

Lydia is a child psychologist, with a pre-schooler herself. She’s always got the right advice and has one of those kind and calm dispositions that instils the utmost confidence. She pointed me in the direction of a valuable resource, The British Psychological Society.

The British Psychological Society says it is vital to talk openly to children and reassure them about the changes they are seeing around them due to coronavirus.

This is because some of the things they see, like face masks and empty shelves may be frightening, especially to pre-schoolers.

If you’d like to read their full advice, the link is here.

Some of the best points include –

  • Younger children might understand a cartoon or picture better than an explanation.
  • Allow children to ask questions
  • It’s okay to say you don’t know….
  • Be truthful, but remember your child’s age

Then at bedtime last night we were reading Harry and the Robots. In the story, Harry’s Granny gets sick and has to go to hospital. It opened up a whole discussion about germs and staying away from people so as not to catch them. Finally, I think I made some progress.

Have you found a good way to explain coronavirus to your children? I’d love to hear about it, because it’s certainly not easy.

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