Talking with children about Coronavirus – Tips from a Nursery Teacher

Someone asked me what to say to the children. I said, “Let’s go wash dishes; we’ll use extra soap this time!”

I was joking. But it is true that most children do not need to hear much of anything at all when it comes to stressful events. “Yes, it’s a work-at-home day again,” may be enough.

And other simple answers:

  • “We are taking a break from school.”

  • “We will visit your cousins when it is time.” And then,

  • “Don’t worry, your parents will know when it is time!” 🙂

Still, so many little things have changed that we adults are uncertain of answers even for ourselves. And if we are uncertain, the children are unsettled and insecure in everything that they do. The simple statements above are helpful, and an important reminder that children need us more than they need our explanations. But that may not be enough. We also need strong underlying answers for ourselves, as adults, because it is from our own certainty that the children garner the sense of security and hope that they need to grow.

I’m a nursery teacher; I’m not talking about scientific answers.  I’m talking about a positive, all-encompassing truthful picture of ourselves, our situation and the people around us that we can hold onto and share with our children as need arises. Therefore, I would like to introduce The Queen of Corona. She just might help. She explains a lot for me. If she prompts fresh ideas for you, either how you think about the current situation or how you talk to the children about the day-to-day, please let me know.

She came up for me after being out in the woods yesterday. You see, where I walk, this coronavirus has led to awkward moments. The other hikers and I bend waaay out from the trail as we pass, leaving the trail in the middle between us. We’re calling it “social distancing,” but that’s not relevant to a child’s experience. Yesterday I wondered:  what would I have told the Snowdrop children had we been together, out in those woods bending off of the trail? I think I would tell them that we are making way for The Queen. I might even bow to the empty trail and to the people across the way. “Greetings, Your Majesty!”

This is because I can imagine, as an adult, that all the world is being visited by a vast and powerful queen. And just as we might stop business for an important day of mourning, or an international day of celebration, so now are we paying extra respect to this most particular and powerful of visitors.

How did she get here? Where did she come from? These are good questions for adults to ponder.

I think that she came from far, far away. From beyond the sun even. She is the Queen of Corona, after all. I do not know how she travelled here. Perhaps a good many horses were involved. The truth is, I have never seen such great distances traveled by anyone except the sunbeams, and I am still trying to figure out how they get here. So, I may just have to wonder at this question.

And why do we honor her? Why is she even here?

Now this answer I do know! She is here to teach us something important:  how to touch another person without physically touching. She is requiring us to connect in a more deliberate way. We may think at first that she wants us to avoid people, but I do not think that that is the case. And I am not referring to video here. I’m trying to think more old fashioned: talk with someone, say something sincere, do something nice for someone, call someone you have not called in a long time…

Touch is so important. But it can be problematic. It’s just too shorthand sometimes — an abbreviated substitute for actually showing that you care – and, on the heavier side, it can lead to trouble. We become wary of each other.

So maybe one way to look at it is that The Corona Queen has given us a new, safe physical space from which to interact. She wants to help us to shake old habit, rediscover “longhand” methods of connecting. I felt more connected to the people I passed in the woods yesterday than I ever did to those I have shared the trail with in closer proximity. I can still picture their faces! The joint confusion about the space we occupied – you could see it in our slowed pace, our off-trail stepping, and our awkward chuckles – brought to consciousness what is usually less conscious. Confusion over personal space and proper social distance is not new. The Queen of Corona is new, reminding us that we can safely interact with other people if we let ourselves.

Looking back, maybe I should have paused further, from across the way, and asked, “How’s it going?” It would have been a little awkward. But now is the time. Isn’t there something about this “we’re all in this together” kind of time, that makes you want to say hello to someone, a neighbor even, who you rarely speak with? That’s what The Queen of Corona wants us to do, because that’s why she’s here. Thinking of her that way puts me in a more secure frame of mind, allows me to interact with the world in a way that says to the children, “All will be well.” What do you think? Can we adults get to a place where this coronavirus prompts human connection instead of hindering it? Checking in on neighbors and such? Making food for someone and then finding a virus free way to deliver it? Writing a letter? The Queen of Corona is fostering an impulse and providing us the time to manifest that impulse. She’s not telling each of us exactly how to do it.  Personally, I am making something for the three little girls who live two houses down. The parents and a baby moved in seven or eight years ago, then had two more children. In that whole time I have stood on their doorstep and said hello only once, and with a cake that wasn’t even cooked by me. If I had a young child now, I’d say, “Come on, we have a delivery to make.” And then I’d call from the street, “Just stopped by to say hello! Do you have a minute to chat!?” In fact, I am going to do this, sans young child. Don’t worry, I’ll check with the family first. But mark my words; I’m doing it. The question is not quite, “How much do I tell my kids about the coronavirus?” I think the question is, “How do I show my children, now, that the world is good?”

Do you have any ideas for connecting with someone? Darah had a good one; she and a friend met in a parking area. They pulled their cars rear to rear, a safe distance apart, climbed behind their back seats and opened the hatchbacks. Voila, a “trunk date.” They were honoring the queen, each other, and their children’s wonderful world. You can ask her about it if you want.

– James Kennedy, Snowdrop Nursery lead teacher


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