Toddlers and coronavirus

Like the rest of us, children will have mixed feelings about coronavirus (COVID-19), physical distancing and face masks. Without accurate information, children often imagine the worst. Children need accurate, age-appropriate information, and opportunities to ask questions and talk about their feelings.

Turn off the news
Your child is probably seeing and hearing a lot about coronavirus on TV, radio and social media, as well as from other people. It’s not helpful for anyone to hear or see distressing news over and over again, so once you have the facts, switch off or switch to something else.

Make time to talk
Making time to talk about coronavirus is important. Children might not fully understand physical distancing and self-isolation, but they’ll probably have many and mixed feelings about the experience. Find a peaceful time such as snack time or in the car, and start by asking how they feel about the virus and whether they have any questions.

Stick to the facts
When explaining coronavirus to younger children keep it simple and brief. Some children might not be worried while others will be frightened and upset. So be reassuring and remember, plenty of cuddles helps us all feel better.

Children with special needs
Children with chronic health conditions may worry about getting sicker because of the virus. It’s a good idea to seek advice from your GP or specialist about whether your child has a higher risk of infection and what extra precautions you might need to take. Then talk to your child about coronavirus in a calm and reassuring way.

Children who rely on facial expressions for communication, like some deaf children, might need extra support – particularly in relation to face masks. Depending on your child’s needs and age, you could try written communication or visual aids, or clear face shields or face masks with clear mouth windows are available.

Children’s reactions to face masks
For both children and adults, face masks can be confronting. The way children feel about seeing people in face masks can depend on age. Babies and younger children pay a lot of attention to faces, so they might get upset when they can’t see your face or the faces of the people around them. However, with the right support and reassurance they will quickly adapt.

Using play to learn about masks
Children learn through play and this can be a great way to help children feel more comfortable about people wearing face masks. Play can also help children express their feelings. Here are some play ideas:

  • Play peekaboo and make funny faces each time you take your mask off.
  • Play ‘guess the expression’ behind your mask.
  • Make up stories about masked characters who are superheroes.
  • Dress up your child’s favourite toys in a face mask.
  • Draw pictures of family members wearing face masks.
  • Turn face masks into works of art with fabric pens, paints, ribbons, transfers, etc.

Communicating when you’re wearing a face mask
Face masks hide some of our facial expressions, so they can affect the way we communicate, especially with children. Here are ideas for improving masked communications:

  • Turn to face your child and use lots of eye contact.
  • Try speaking more loudly, slowly and clearly so your child can hear you through the mask.
  • Use exaggerated expressions so that your smile or surprise shows in your eyes.
  • Use more body language and gestures.
  • Give your child a lot of cuddles and face time when you’re at home together and you’re not wearing a mask.

Remember, the best way to do physical distancing is to stay at home as much as possible. Coronavirus spreads easily through sneezing, coughing and contact with infected people or objects. If you need to go out for essential items like groceries or medication, you should keep it brief and stay at least 1.5 m away from other people.

Source:

  1. Coronavirus (COVID-19): family guide
  2. Childcare, school exclusions, and COVID-19

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