- Stephanie Lemmo
"IS THE WHOLE COUNTRY CANCELLED BECAUSE OF THE CANOLA VIRUS?"
Our children making sense of staying at home.
As I tucked my four year old daughter in bed the other night, she asked me, bright-eyed, in her melodic toddler voice, “Mom, is the whole country cancelled because of the canola virus?” I paused for a moment, both to soak up her innocence and to marvel at her comprehension. I’m always surprised at what resonates with young children, the random facts and thoughtful questions that parade out of their mouths hinting to us parents that they are not as oblivious as we think they are.
“Well”, I said, “A lot of the country is cancelled, but not the whole country. People need to stay home as much as they can so they don’t get sick and they don’t get other people sick. People also need to go to work to take care of other people. The country won't be cancelled for too long”. My answer satisfied her in that moment – which was a relief as I was expecting it to turn into a bombardment of ‘why questions’ from her inquisitive little mind and thus a calculated procrastination of bedtime.
Later, I reflected on how I communicated virus-related news within earshot of her and realized that I had relayed to my seven year old daughter all the spring activity cancellations that had rolled in over email. She, on the other hand, had been prepped about the coronavirus since late January and I was pleasantly surprised one day when she very matter-of-factly (and cool as a cucumber) chimed in to a conversation about the escalating situation before we had taken it upon ourselves to explain it to her. To be totally honest, when this began I wasn’t sure how I would approach it with her and owe many thanks to her school teacher for keeping the class consistently informed in a very age appropriate manner while using it as an example to reinforce healthy behavior. Even though she has been aware throughout the situation and doesn't seem too affected apart from the daily sibling quarrels that can razz everyone's nerves (you got this, parents), I still feel it important to check in with her -- especially since "homeschooling" hasn't officially begun for us yet.
My husband and I tend to protect our kids from current events that may evoke feelings of worry and we avoid watching the news on tv when they are buzzing around, but this unprecedented pandemic and the cascading effects on our daily lives have been an opportunity to gauge their emotional understanding and gain further insight into their little personalities. There are important lessons that children can learn from this, for example, not to be picky when it comes to meals/snacks because grocery shopping may not be as accessible anymore. My suggestion to parents of primary age children and younger, is to keep information factual but light with comfort on how they can take care of others by taking care of themselves. Be mindful of adult conversations that aren't meant for sensitive ears. Some children obsess over details more than others and enter into a worry cycle - which I know I can relate to - and I find conveying information in a calm and consistent tone really does help. All of my messaging to my four year old is that this is temporary, "your dentist appointment was cancelled, but you will be going back soon". "How many days? Can you count them?", she asks... And so I proceed to count to 60. She loves going to the dentist.
If you can, celebrate the positives. This past week, we joined our dedicated neighbours in the 7pm salute to the front-line healthcare workers that are working around the clock for all of us. The kids look forward to this nightly date with our otherwise quiet community to bang pots and cheer from our balcony (we get to do this everyday?!). It’s not only a great opportunity to nurture their understanding and infuse celebration, spirit and positivity into our current stay-at-home situation, but also may become the memorable take-away for them, years down the road. We had to stay at home for what seemed like forever yet happened in the blink of an eye because of a dangerous virus AND we celebrated and cheered every night for all the people who were working hard to keep us safe and healthy. A reminder to never let go of spirit and gratitude in challenging times.
My little two-and-a-half year old, who aspires to keep up with his sisters in every way possible, told me out of the blue this week, “I’m going to scream and scare the virus away!” (followed by monster roars). To him, the virus is a creepy crawly bug from our garden - one that HE can scare away. This is his perfect two-and-a-half year old understanding and his sisters, being the good big sisters that they are, love to play right along with him. Maybe, just maybe, if we all scream, cheer and bang cookware from our balconies, we might just scare the canola virus away.
Keep it light today friends and have a safe Sunday!