How I am answering questions from my child on the Corona Virus!

With the COVID 19 overwhelming every aspect of daily life from going to school, seeing other loved ones, meeting friends and playtime, kids are naturally asking questions about this pandemic.

While every family deals with the situation differently, we share the experiences of Anjali Shenoi, mother to 4-year-old Ananya, on how they are dealing with it. 

With the Corona virus epidemic gripping the entire world, these are confusing and scary times for all of us. As many of us are overwhelmed and anxious, homes are rife with conversations about the pandemic and its far-reaching effects – social, psychological, financial and political and out little sponges are absorbing it all in. Psychologists and children’s organisations have warned that children could be vulnerable to feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness and respond in different ways such as - being more clingy, anxious, withdrawn and aloof, angry, agitated, with a recurrence/ increased instances of bedwetting etc.

At the same time, an overdose of information from online and offline sources, inundate our consciousness, leaving us to the arduous task of weeding through the fake and almost absurd, to get to the facts.

How then do we speak to our children about this pandemic? How do we address and explain to them, the abrupt end of school, well before their scheduled vacations, no park time (after harping on for years about the importance of playing outdoors) and of course the separation from their friends – their second families?

As expected, we have also been bombarded with several questions by our curious little four-year-old and here’s how we as a family are dealing with this difficult time –

Asking questions, listening, giving information – Before the lockdown our daughter’s school had already initiated a discussion around the virus and its impact and way and means to stay safe. At home, we encouraged her to ask questions which we answered to the best of our abilities.

We have had discussions around a range of topics like – What’s a virus? Where did it come from? Why is it making people sick? Is it going to make us sick? What will happen if we fall sick? Who will take care of the dogs (we have two) if we fall ill? Why can’t I visit my grandparents – they are family? Why is A. Maushi (our help at home) not coming anymore? Are we running out of food – I heard you say that there were no vegetables in the shop across the street? Why are we clapping in our balconies? How will the policeman and doctor hear us clapping? Why didn’t we clap and say thank you to A. Maushi while she was with us – how will she hear us now? What’s going to happen to the people who live on the road – my friend said they would not get anything to eat? What’s going to happen to Dex and Dee’s friends on the tekdi (a bunch of street dogs we feed regularly on our hill walks)

Some easy to deal with others’ heavy and loaded and at times, we worried were even age-inappropriate – she’s only four after all! But we are in exceptional times, and it calls for thinking out of our usual boxes. It meant reading up on facts, using child-friendly resources and at times also admitting, that actually we didn’t have all the answers! While questions to do with the science of the pandemic have been dealt with facts (websites of organisations such as UNICEF and WHO are wonderful sources of information), without falling prey to race bias or fake news.

Those to do with our health, caregiving in case of illness etc., have however have been emotionally more draining. We try to be reassuring while acknowledging her fear without minimising or dismissing her concerns. We remind her that it’s okay to be scared and that as a family, we can talk through our fears together and support each other with love.

Some of her worries have also given us an excellent opportunity to build on her empathy and shape her social consciousness for those around us who are less privileged and having a harder time dealing with the crisis. At four,  we are not sure how much of this is getting through to her yet, but we definitely hope that in the times to come, the conversations we have today, will lead us on to more difficult conversations around class, bias, gender etc.

Quality Family Time – If there’s one positive of the situation we are in, it’s the unprecedented quality time we are getting together as a family and we are making the most of it. At a time when screens can get us out of a lot “mommy I’m bored” situations, this is a battle we are trying very hard to fight! Ananya is usually allowed screen time on weekends, and as with all other house rules, this one stays on for this lockdown period too! While this means thinking of newer ways to engage her – it’s a challenge we’ve taken up head on!

With chores piling up, we are tackling them together, instilling ownership and a sense of doing things as one unit – whether it’s washing dishes or making our own beds and putting away the toys! Without spending too much time stressing over the alphabet and numbers, we are using this time to harness out creative energies and spend a lot of time in free play and “masti” ofcourse. While Ananya and Chiraag have been working on a herb garden (getting in that much needed morning vitamin D) and lots of art and craft, she and I have been taking on cooking projects. As a child who also enjoys time to herself, we make sure to give her, her time for pretend play without us – while we get in those much-needed moments of self-care and peace and quiet for ourselves! Screen time now includes family movie afternoons with popcorn and cookies and lots of cuddling with the dogs –, going through old family photographs and of course video calls with the family and friends!

The lockdown can be particularly hard for children like Ananya who love the outdoors and miss the physical activity. We try and take her cycling or running within our apartment complex (maintaining social distancing protocols at all time of course!) once in a while.

Self-Care – While our energies are focussed on keeping Ananya happy and loved, we have realized it’s also it’s important for us to take time out for ourselves to ensure that we don’t project our anxieties on her. This is, of course, an ongoing battle and one that we don’t always have under control. Some days can be particularly hard, especially given the uncertainty of the future and our own means of livelihood. What has helped so far though, has been keeping time aside for each of us to do things that keep us happy – whether it's leaving me alone to read in my nook while Chiraag engages with Ananya, or binging on shows together well into the night once she’s in bed – we each use our own coping mechanisms. We also take time out to talk to each other about our fears and anxieties and sometimes that’s all you need!

These are just ways in which we are dealing with these extraordinary times and is by no means a commentary on what other families should follow or do. We hope we emerge from this crisis stronger and more together as a family and wish the same for everyone around us.

We would love to hear from you as to how you are coping with your situation. After all,  it's only by coming together in this way that we can distance ourselves from the virus. 

March 31, 2020 — Suchismita Pai

Comments

Sripriya Iyer

Sripriya Iyer said:

Loved this, I could identify with every experience here. It is soo important to understand that children cannot often express their anxiety in ways we do, and more often they are neglected. Honestly, this is going to encourage me to talk to my 5 year old and encourage her to express her fears/ thoughts.

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