Where’s Nana? Why can’t I play with my friend? Why is he wearing that mask? Why are you washing my toy? Why are we staying at home? Why can’t I hug grandpa?
Your instinct may be to shield your toddler from knowing about the coronavirus, but the truth is, toddlers can sense when something is amiss. They rely on routines and predictability, so when there’s a disruption in their world, they catch on pretty quickly. It’s important to acknowledge this and provide some clarity and support in a developmentally-appropriate way.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when addressing coronavirus related questions with your toddler.
Take It One Question at Time
When it comes to your toddler’s questions, answer one question at a time and follow his lead. If he doesn’t seem concerned about a lack of playdates, you don’t need to offer any unnecessary details that might confuse him. If he does question why he’s not seeing his friends, it’s perfectly okay to say you’re going to play on your own at home for a while. If he’s satisfied with that answer, you can stop there, but if he presses on, continue offering developmentally-appropriate information until he is satisfied. Remember that toddlers don’t understand what a virus is, so simple answers are best (see next tip).
Offer Simple and Honest Answers
Many of your toddler’s questions will stem from what he observes, such as why you’re cleaning more than usual, why everyone is washing their hands so much, or why someone is wearing a face mask. It’s hard for toddlers to understand what viruses are, how germs develop, or why we’re practicing social distancing, so answers to these questions can be clear and honest, but short and sweet. For instance, if he asks about frequent hand washing, you can say, We want to stay healthy. If he asks about someone wearing a mask: He’s not feeling well, and when he feels better, he’ll take the mask off. This strategy offers honest information without confusing or scaring your little one.
Don’t Talk About It If You’re Feeling Anxious
Toddlers can sense our anxiety, even when we’re trying to hide it. If you’re feeling anxious or upset about the latest developments regarding the virus, it’s best to wait until you feel calmer to answer to your toddler’s questions. Try a mindfulness exercise, take a few minutes to breathe, or distract yourself with something comforting. Take the time you need to feel less anxious before addressing your child’s concerns.
In the process of implementing new routines, toddlers need consistent reassurance that even though things are changing, we are there for them and doing everything we can to keep things calm, fun, and safe. This is especially true if your toddler can’t see friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other adults he’s used to seeing. Have daily phone calls or video chats with friends and relatives so your child can continue to feel connected to them. Remind him that even though things are a little different right now, grandma and grandpa still love him very much.
Even though your toddler won’t understand what the coronavirus is, he’ll still have questions and concerns about the changes in his world. Acknowledging these changes can help ease his worry and make him feel more secure.