An expert’s advice on how to explain current happenings to children
  • 09 May - 15 May, 2020
  • Eman Saleem
  • Spotlight

Dealing with an unknown and invisible enemy is a situation we as adults haven’t grasped with complete understanding yet, so the concept of the lockdown and the health threats is far too alien for children, something which can be very unsettling for families. And in this time of uncertainty, if there is something we need, it is some sense of comfort and normal – as much as happenings of the world can muster at this moment – to hang on to as we tread on.

Confined indoors with social life limited to screens, the concept of social distancing is bizarre for adults, we are done with Zoom calls and day for night and night for day work schedules. During the hustle of a 9 to 5, we had fantasies of spending the days in PJs and working from the couch; now a reality that has been exhausted of its charm. But the world hasn’t slowed down or paused for everyone, one of the worst affected in the lockdown are families, with no drill practice, everyday deadlines and unaware children who are getting tired of staying in and starting to ask questions.

While a lot of Instagrammers have been on a posting spree on how to keep their tight ship afloat with day and night activities for children, most of us are struggling to get through the day without snapping. So the most important thing to remember right now is that none of us have parented through a pandemic before and if you’re feeling burnt out, unwilling or stressed, it’s because all of those emotions are appropriate and normal at this time. So if Instagram parents are making you feel bad about yourself, it’s time to unfollow for your own mental well-being. Understanding and experiencing this, MAG got in touch with psychologist Sana Akbar to talk about how to explain the pandemic to young children. As a parent, it’s always good to go with your gut but an expert opinion never hurt.

Explaining ‘normal’

Children are getting agitated confined indoors all the time and cannot comprehend why school had to come to an abrupt end or why no family and friends can visit at this time. It is imperative that children were taught about the ground realities positively and maintaining political correctness (yes, it is!). “COVID-19 and everything that we are going through right now, nothing about all this is relevant or familiar. We usually negate change, we dislike that feeling where we have to change certain things a certain way to accommodate something new; COVID-19 changed everything quite literally. I have been practicing for over seven years now and my first advice to parents is that "keep it all real."

The novel coronavirus is a reality for the kids too, they need to be taught and informed as best as possible and without any racist attachments to it,” Akbar says. Asian children have reported xenophobic violence over the spread of the virus but if there is anything we have learnt in 2020 is that nature doesn’t discriminate.

When talking to kids about the virus, stop painting a picture more horrific than it already is. Avoid using terms like ‘plagues’ or ‘apocalypse’ that can generate more fear, people are scared enough and there is no need to dramatise the situation. Explain the situation to your children with scientific facts, tailored according to their age.

Parenting from the frontline

The new found definition and dialogue on essential jobs and workers is fascinating, it took a pandemic for the world to realise what is important. An outpour of love and appreciation has poured in for doctors, nursers, hospital staff, grocery store staff, police force, journalists, sanitary workers and more. But these individuals have families to return to, a dire situation considering their exposure to the virus and a resulting separation that has tremendous psychological effects of young kids. “It is advised to such families or parents working in the field that they use the HERO METHODOLOGY to explain the circumstances to their kids. For example, create a story of a family who lived somewhere far away and their daddy or mommy had to go away for some work thing outside the city and so the kids were alone with their grandma and then the kids took care of themselves and came out strong. These stories fuel the kids’ imagination and help them cope better,” suggests Akbar. Effective communication is always key.

“There is tremendous uncertainty around us, as adults we don’t know when this will end, kids always look up to their adults for answers, this time we will actually fall short of giving them accurate answers, which can be overwhelming, but stay optimistic and hopeful,” concludes Akbar. Given the circumstances, whatever you do, staying healthy is the only priority and however much you can manage, is enough. •