Someone recently came to me asking for advice on how to talk to their child about the pandemic and social distancing. Their 6-year old daughter had been managing well, but last week had a “meltdown”, not understanding why she couldn’t go back to school, visit her friends, etc.
That is so hard! Adults are struggling with missed concerts, dinners out, and parties. At least we, as adults, can go to the grocery store or Target, so some things feel somewhat normal. First, I would empathize with this 6-year old by saying, “I hear you, it’s not fair. I know you really miss your friends and school! And I know you miss helping with the lunch count and all the other things you do during the day. I’ve been really busy working from home, and I know that is different for everyone, so I might not have explained the reason very well about why we have to stay home.”
Sometimes just actively listening and validating concerns to children (and adults) can help let go of some of the sadness. Just like in the movie Inside Out when Sadness comfort Bing Bong about losing his wagon.
Once he felt someone understood what he was going through, it was much easier for the thinking part of his brain to move on to problem solving. And children may be much better able to hear the reasons for the stay-at-home order after feeling that her sadness was valid. Parents could explain like this…
“There are germs that no one can see that ‘jump’ from person to person when they are close to each other - and that there is one in particular that makes people very sick and so we have to stay apart so that it stops jumping around. Maybe you and I can come up with ways for you to see and talk to your friends without being in the same room.“
Some ideas that could come out of a brainstorming session could spark, “Dad, could I use your Zoom to call my friends?” or mom could suggest they play games online together – or watch a movie on Netflix with friends simultaneously while on Zoom together.
Finally, help her to see how much their family has adapted to staying at home with longer sleep-in times and more outdoor playing together. And that their family will continue to work together to honor everyone’s needs until friends can hang out again.