As the news on the COVID-19 coronavirus is changing daily, it is important for educators and parents to remember that young children look to adults for cues on how to respond. Experts at the Children’s Learning Institute (CLI) share simple advice and lessons for classroom teachers that focus on preventative, hygiene steps.
Keep calm and be warm when talking with young children about COVID-19
Expect that children have heard of the COVID-19 coronavirus, so you don’t need to be afraid to talk about it. Also, expect children to feel nervous and need more reassurance and warmth from teachers and families. Follow your child’s signals – do they seem slightly worried or very anxious. Respond accordingly with invitations to talk and offer hugs or appropriate physical affection.
- For example, if a child is worried that they will make a grandparent sick, you might say, “I can tell you love your grandma and want her to be healthy. She knows how to make good choices to keep herself healthy.”
Simple explanations reduce anxiety
Many children have questions or misconceptions that caregivers should talk about. Be aware that children may have inaccurate information about the cause and spread of COVID-19. Know the facts so you are a source of accurate information. Maintain normal routines as much as possible to reduce concerns. Also limit children’s access to news, television and social media sources that may increase their anxiety.
- For example, if a student is blaming others behaviors for COVID-19’s spread, you can redirect to avoid blaming and anxiety provoking information. You might say, “Remember that viruses can make anyone sick.” or “It is not your job to guess about why people might be out of school; our school leaders are making sure that people who are sick are staying home.”
Teach basic hygiene and how viruses spread
Remind children of ways to reduce the spread of germs. Remind children to cough or sneeze into their elbow or a tissue; you may want to practice acting this out even to model small details like immediately throwing the tissue into the trash and washing hands. If you are taking any new steps to protect children at school or home, give simple explanations for things such as increased handwashing or why some events are being cancelled.
- For example, think of creative ways to keep kids interested in handwashing habits. You might say, “We should wash our hands for 20 seconds to get them really clean. I bet many of you have heard that you should hum the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice to know you washed long enough. I wonder if you all can test out other songs to figure out a list of songs that are about 20 seconds.”