These are very difficult times. Slowly our city is shutting down and life is changing. I've been asked several times to write about how we can talk to toddlers about the virus in a Montessori way. We haven't approached the topic with Otto (2yrs), we are more vigilant with hand washing and we have stopped going out. Our explanations to Otto have been brief, "we need to wash our hands really well with lots of soap and bubbles to get them clean", "there is no art class today, the art studio is closed". But if your circumstances are more extreme you may need to explain more to your toddler, or your toddler may have started to ask questions.
The Montessori way to explain this would be in a developmentally appropriate way, using language the child is able to understand, being factual but reassuring. We need to provide the child with information so they can feel empowered to take action.
Here are a few resources that may help in teaching toddlers about germs and hand washing:
- A Germ's Journey: Dirty Hands! Clean Hands!
- Germs Make Me Sick! - this is for older children but the writing is factual and may be appropriate for some older toddlers.
- Germs Are Not for Sharing - this is a board book and the whole series is good, I highly recommend this one for toddlers!
- What are Germs? Very First Lift-the-Flap Questions & Answers - I've ordered this but haven't read it yet, it may be suitable.
- Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes - I love this one, it has lots of information about microbes but it is more for kindergarten age children and up. It is good for explaining that we can't see microbes and they are all around us.
I've found these excerpts really useful from Early Childhood Australia as they have advice for each age group including some words that we can use. This advice is for educators but I found it's also relevant for parents. They stress to limit the child's exposure to media and encourage careful, child led conversations:
"For very young children from birth to two
A simple reminder to wash their hands may be all that is needed. Some parents may choose to verbalise changes and social distancing measures by saying things such as ‘there are some illnesses about and so we can’t see your grandparents, we can phone them or connect via facetime or video until everyone is healthy again’. Likewise, brief explainers on why hygiene measures are in place can be useful: ‘there are some illnesses about and so we need to wash our toys or wipe this trolley before we use it’. Use songs and games and as always with children of any age, but especially pre-verbal children, an adult’s calm and reassuring tone, builds feelings of security and safety.
Some very young children may demonstrate changes in behaviour at this time (eg seeking handwashing or wiping more frequently). Being aware of this and responding calmly is most effective. Adopting a calm manner can be helpful for settling adult anxiety too.
For two- to three-year-old children
This group, often referred to as toddlers, is likely to be aware of changes. For example that shelves are empty or less food is available in the supermarket. They may notice that parents are working from home. They may demonstrate insecurity by requiring more comfort and support, not wanting to separate from families or crying more easily.
For this age group, simple yet factual explanations are particularly important, even if they are unable to completely understand. For example, an educator explained ‘Germs are tiny things, so tiny we can’t see them with our eyes—but they can make us sick. We have to take extra care to wash our hands so we wash off the germs before we play/eat/go home’. Again, explaining simple hygiene is something that many early childhood educators do well and reminding children of these is vital. Some parents at this stage may choose to outline that there is a specific ‘germ or virus people are worried about at the moment. This virus can make some people (such as grandparents) very sick and so we need to take extra care’."
This article is brief but is also specifically for toddlers, Answering Your Young Child’s Questions About Coronavirus: Here are some age-appropriate responses to the common questions a toddler might have about coronavirus at Zero To Three.
Janet Lansbury is always a voice of reason. This is a useful transcript Parenting in Anxious Times which starts with a question of talking to a four-year-old about current events.
There are a lot of articles online about how to talk to children about the virus. These are two that are not specific to toddlers but I've found them useful. If you have any concerns about how to talk to children about the virus please read these, they have important and poignant tips:
- Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus - Kids worry more when they're kept in the dark at the Child Mind Institute (USA). All eight points are useful. I appreciate the comments about not volunteering too much information and to keep to a routine, empower the child with what they can do to keep safe.
- How to talk to your children about coronavirus (COVID-19) - Eight tips to help comfort and protect children at the World Health Organisation. These eight tips are similar and are protective of the child's need for comfort and reassurance.
If like me you also have older children, Brains On have a new podcast episode about Understanding coronavirus and how germs spread here.
Let's keep on talking and sharing resources.
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