We have been asked by some families for advice on how to explain to younger children why schools will be closed until September.
If you would like some pointers, I can offer some below.
1. Be honest and age-appropriate
Try and honour every question your child has. Unanswered questions will lead children to invent their own scenarios, which they may not voice, but which could be more frightening than reality.
Even if someone they know has died from Covid-19, it is best to say so, calmly and factually. There is no need to ascribe our adult fears and taboos about death to our children: they should hear about death when it arises and be allowed to process the news with your loving support.
Remind your child of the science of coronavirus (a microscopic virus than can give a fever, cough and make it difficult to breathe).
Explain that anyone can catch it and pass it on, although children are very rarely very sick.
Grandparents and people who have other illnesses get the sickest.
If people get very sick, they go to hospital.
Sometimes they get extremely sick and may die.
Remind them that schools, restaurants, swimming pools, etc, have closed to stop people passing on the virus with their breath, cough and hands.
We are taking loving care of our grandparents and people who are not strong by not passing it on.
The virus needs to die out and it will.
We are all fighting the battle against the virus every day: washing hands and not coming close to other people…yet.
5. Duration & severity of the safety measures – the adult’s reaction is key
A young child’s concept of time is different to an adult’s.
September may feel an eternity away but, more importantly, your child will take his/her emotional cues from you: if you are visibly shocked at the news of the extended closure, so will they be. If you are calm and say it gives us more time to take care of our grandparents and beat that virus, more time to learn new things together at home, they will be calm too.
Play up the relaxation of the regulations: walks, bike rides, scooters, outdoor play. They will play with friends once it’s safe, and won’t that be a wonderful time?
September is just as abstract and distant to a young child as June or January: the key is for you to present it as a reasonable length of time, which will be filled with increasingly nice things to do.
And when primary children do return in September, you can tell them, they will spend a good period of time in their old class with their old teacher, to allow them to close that chapter before moving onto their new classroom and teacher.
6. Older primary and secondary pupils – connections and dialogue
All of the above applies: honest dialogue and a recognition of their emotions.
At this age, it is also important that they maintain / create connections with the outside world- not just through instagram and whassapp. As the adult, you can foster their active involvement in a charity, support a new creative pastime; encourage involvement in optional school projects such as Radio Active, Engineering Week, and the afternoon creative work.
Given an adolescent’s natural tendency to think life is unjust, it might also help if the adult plays down their own sense of frustration and anger at the situation and political decisions: at this age, the young adult still needs to feel that his/her adult carers are generally feeling positive and not succumbing to despair.
It is also important to limit a young adult’s reading of the news: once a day, and discussed and interpreted together as a family, from the scientific and socio-political angles, is non-alarmist and will allow you deal with your teen’s questions and fears as these arise.
7. Hear and honour your child’s emotions
If your child of any age seems distressed by the news of the extended school closure, the virus, or their isolation from peers, it is essential to listen and honour their feelings. Talk these through when they need to so they can process them with your understanding and reassurance. The danger to their mental health is if we leave their emotions unspoken and unprocessed.
If you are concerned that your child is increasingly unmotivated and sad, please contact us at school and/or your paediatrician.
We are always here to support you if you need to talk things through.