Reassuring Young Children during the Coronavirus Crisis
“I made my family disappear.”
Thanks to Kevin in the movie “Home Alone,” we understand what it must feel like to believe with absolute certainty that our actions have caused something bad to happen.
To be honest, you and I are also baffled as to how our lives could have changed so dramatically in such a short period of time. One day we are looking forward to planting pansies, watching college basketball play-off games and checking to see if any of our spring clothes still fit. (It has been a long winter in Missouri.)
A few short days and weeks later, we are now obsessed with purchasing a six-month supply of toilet paper and Double Stuffed Oreos as we ponder whether we will have a paycheck or be able to protect our most vulnerable friends and family from this virus.
You may be feeling overwhelmed and confused with the current circumstances of your life. (I am so sorry about that and would hug you non-social-distantly if I could.)
Now consider your world from the point of view of your favorite preschool-aged child. Get down on your knees and look straight into the eyes of the little boy who lives at your house. He hopes that you can fix everything by Monday so he can head over to his buddy’s house to play.
How about the little girl who is now officially your responsibility to teach via “distance learning” as she gazes at you on a computer screen? The confusion our children are experiencing is understandable.
Preschool-aged children operate from a perspective that is decidedly egocentric. This “let’s make everything more about me” stage identified by psychologist Jean Piaget describes a four-year-old’s inability to see the world from another person’s point of view. Because they believe everyone thinks and feels as they do, children at this age are convinced they can actually control the world. Piaget calls this “magic omnipotence.”
How does this apply to our current health crisis and your increasingly complicated life?
Your child may actually believe he is causing all of the difficulty you and the world are experiencing. Grandparents cannot visit. You and your family cannot go to school, the park, dance lessons, soccer practice, or play dates. And all of this is somehow his or her doing.
As adults, we all admit to a certain amount of superstition around certain rituals or events in our own lives. For instance, I am fairly certain that by hiding in the laundry room to fold clothes during the frightening fourth quarter of this year’s Super Bowl game, I helped Patrick Mahomes rally the team for a big Chiefs victory. (You are welcome, Kansas City!)
However even I will concede that Mr. Mahomes and his teammates had more to do with that big Chiefs win than I did.
Young children lack the life experience and working memory to understand causation, or the effect that our behavior and choices have on others. “Grandma cannot come over right now because she is making a choice to help us all be healthy and safe. She needs to remain at her house for a while. That does not mean that she will have to stay away from us forever. And she still loves you a million gazillion.”
How can you help your young children during this time? Here are three suggestions to reassure your Littles.
1. Make time for phone calls or FaceTime chats with absent friends and family members. Your child needs to see that his grandparent, caregiver or teacher still exists and is doing alright. Check in with these important people often to comfort him. It may be the shortest chat they have ever enjoyed with another person, but it will serve the purpose of reminding him that his people are still there and care about him. (“Hi, Grandma. Love you. Bye.”)
2. Try to stick to a routine at home. Get up at the same time you would ordinarily rise and shine if you were not self-quarantining. Brush your teeth, comb your hair, and put on your play clothes. (You also, Mom and Dad. Pants with zippers are optional but try and wear a different shirt each day. Your young child won’t notice that you are recycling your leggings or sweats.) Have meals and snacks at regular intervals. Stick to your nap and bedtime routines and do not skip any steps. Add extra books and snuggle time. It helps your child feel safe when he has a consistent plan for the day.
3. Give your child the words he needs to reassure himself. Get on his level and look into his eyes as you smile and say: “You are safe. You are calm. We are going to be fine.” Less is more when it comes to sharing the mantra of your choosing, so keep it short and sweet but repeat it often. How you say the words is as important as what you say, so check your face to make sure you look “delicious” and sound soothing. With frequent repetition of your mantra, you will be able to start each sentence and pause for him to complete them with the words safe, calm and fine.
I offer these words to you and your Littles in anticipation of the days and weeks to come: We are safe. We are calm. We will be fine. And we can do hard things together.
Come self-calm with us at my SING.PLAY.LOVE. video “Party.” www.vimeo.com/party1
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