Updated: Aug 28, 2020
As of August 1, 2020, it is mandatory to wear masks in indoor public areas in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, and Banff (1). Many of us parents have been avoiding having our littles in these spaces as much as possible, but with things opening up there may be more of a draw or even a need to have kids wear masks in public spaces too. This can make for quite the challenge depending on the age of your child.
For our 2 and 4 year-olds, we tried to make masking-up into a game. They were instantly transformed into germ ninjas! Being sneaky and avoiding coming too close to others to evade the coronavirus. Our 4-year-old loved the idea and the 2-year-old quickly followed suit. This is just one way to try to make “masking-up” fun and involving kids in safety precautions.
Many kids will want to know more. Why? Why do we need to wear masks? Why is everyone wearing masks? Why isn’t that person wearing a mask? The curiosity and open questions from kids are amazing to witness but can be challenging to figure out how to respond.
Talking to children about COVID can seem challenging, unnerving, or uncomfortable. But there are some things to consider to help have those conversations. You might be surprised how much your child already knows. Asking them gives you a chance to find out if they are hearing the right or wrong information and an opportunity for you to provide guidance. Drs. Nicole Racine and Sheri Madigan from the University of Calgary Department of Psychology provide some points to guide these conversations (2).
Name it to tame it: There are a lot of emotions to manage during a pandemic. Fear, anxiety, loss of control, hope, love, comfort. It can help to figure out what emotion you are feeling, where it sits in your body, and what you can do about it. This is part of emotional intelligence. It is a largely underdeveloped and undervalued skillset in our society. Once we name the emotion, figure out how we are feeling (and perhaps reflect on how these emotions translate into behaviours), then we can start to act, think, and relate in different ways.
This is even more challenging with little ones. There are so many emotions we can experience and they may not have the words for them all just yet. But that’s where a supportive parent can come in and have those conversations. “It’s ok to feel scared, lonely, or anxious right now, I am here with you and we can work through this together”.
Tailor info for your audience: Another thing to consider is who you are talking to, their level of understanding and how much or little detail you want to use. For example, when I talk about COVID with my 2-year-old we talk about invisible germs that can make you sick and how we can help stop those germs from getting into our bodies by eating well and washing our hands. With my 4-year-old, the conversation is a bit different. We talk about the virus, coronavirus, how it can be spread through droplets like in spit that can travel in the air between people. We talk about the physical distance we need to keep between people, why things like work and school have been cancelled and why we are all at home all the time. There are some great resources and books to help talk to kids (and adults) about COVID, like one that was illustrated by Axel Scheffler (illustrator of The Gruffalo, Stickman, and the Snail and the Whale).
Stick to the facts (as we know them): When talking about COVID, use resources that are reliable, and factual. This can be challenging since what we know about COVID is constantly changing. It is important not to sensationalize the pandemic, but also not to undermine the very real risks. This is especially important when talking to children.
Comfort with what you can control: Lastly, talking about COVID can leave people feeling vulnerable or helpless in their circumstances, but there are some things that are in our control. How we take care of ourselves, our families and our friends. Things like washing your hands often, keeping a safe distance from people, and wearing a mask in indoor public spaces.
Children may worry for family and friends, for example, they might worry about you and their grandparents with masking-up. Keep checking in with your child and keep the conversation going to help them feel reassured.
Stay safe and mask-up, Calgary!