Explaining Life of Restricted Socialising to a 3 Year Old: COVID-19 Case Study

COVID coronavirus with toddlers gentle parenting

I hear so many parents struggling with how to help their toddlers understand why they are self isolating at the moment. Many families may have avoided communicating the worldwide pandemic much at all, in fear of instilling their children with fears of germs or other people. They believe their children are too little and should be protected from the reality we all face everyday at the moment. I am not of that view, mainly because I’ve had no choice. I live with type 1 diabetes which puts me at higher risk of hospitalisation and death if I was to catch a bad strain of coronavirus. Here is how I have gently educated my eldest child about COVID-19, about keeping ourselves and others safe, about governmental policies and about good personal hygiene. It does have its downsides, but I am confident these will only be temporary and once COVID-19 is vaccinated we can communicate the new norm then. This blog post also highlights some benefits that the Coronavirus situation has brought our family.

Communicating The Truth

Key parts of my conversations with my 3 year old to explain our shielding situation for COVID-19 involved:

  • Explaining our reasons that we are shielding. That Mummy needs to stay well due to her diabetes.
  • Brief facts about viruses and germs. That sometimes people can seem well but have this virus, so nobody knows who has it. Hence why distance is good to keep us safe.
  • Scientists work. That the government are working on finding a vaccine (much like her 3 year jabs) which will protect us and allow us freedom again in the future.
  • Government recommendations. Brief explanation of the current recommendations for safety e.g. face masks. Allowing her to try things like face masks on, for fun. Educating her about personal hygiene such as washing hands which will help protect her and others from unwanted germs for the rest of her life.
  • That there will be many years ahead, once the virus has gone, to do all the exciting things life offers. We look at photos of holidays and soft plays we’ve been to and talk about these happy memories, to help her remember the activities we will resume when COVID has a vaccine.

Parts I Missed Out Of The Conversation

I did explain that we can’t risk Mummy going into hospital as we’d miss each other too much and not be able to see each other. That we’re staying safe so that doesn’t happen. We did not mention that I could die, as this seemed unnecessary and she did not ask any more detail on what would happen in hospital.

How I Know This Was the Right Thing To Do

My daughter has expressed openly her sadness at not being able to do so much anymore or see people. That’s allowed me to discuss these bigger world issues. When we’re out in public she got very upset once as she wanted to go play on a slide we walked towards. I got down to her level and calmly reminded her why we needed to keep Mummy safe. I was also able to let her understand that not everybody is the same, and each family is experiencing this virus in their own unique way, as the families using the slide were in a position to choose to do those things. Her love for Mummy and empathy for my condition kept her away from the slide without any fuss after that conversation. She has not raised much sadness about the COVID situation for a while now, but has plenty of optimism. She will regularly say “when the virus has gone, the first thing I want to do is… xyz”. To me, this says she has accepted the situation we’re in, in a similar way to how I have. I have my moments of wishing to do more things again, but ultimately I feel better keeping our family together and safe. Children can and do understand if they’re talked through it honestly and gently enough.

Benefits of the COVID-19 Situation

We hear all the fears regularly through media or other parents, that their children may lose out on key socialisation skills. That their children will not be exposed to friends and family and miss out on connections. I feel these are all temporary and when COVID-19 is vaccinated, they will all naturally improve again.

Putting the obvious negatives aside, I do feel there are some great benefits to our children as a result of COVID-19. Many of us will relate when we feel that some of the people around us seem so selfish. They push their way in the line of traffic, park on the pavement so Mum’s with a twin pram have to go into the road around the car (touchy subject for me, maybe!), go to mass gatherings even with COVID warnings to keep distance, etc. My children, as a result of the situation we’re in, have learnt that sometimes we have to put our wants aside if someone else has a need bigger than our own. I feel this situation will help them grow into considerate citizens.

The coronavirus situation has also taught us how to keep hold of hope or faith. That there are better situations to come in the future, even if we’re in challenging times now. This will also have huge benefits to our children that they can survive tough times with the love and support of their parents around them. It helps us teach our children how to look forward and value what they have in the present, even if it’s more challenging than normal.

The benefit for me personally, with having 3 children so young, is I no longer feel alone by being this isolated. I’ve been isolated most of the time since the twins were born due to my husband working 6 days a week and me feeling unsafe managing 3 babies / toddlers alone in public. See my previous post about postnatal depression. Now, I no longer feel like I’m letting my kids down or that they deserve to be out and about ‘like all the other kids’. I know that, even if I could get out and about, it’s not recommended that we do at the moment anyway. I also know that our children are now in a similar boat to millions of other children their age, which helps.

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