Every so often, life throws a ‘one off’ life event at us such as a wedding, house move, death of a loved one or school and nursery closures. In our eyes, these events can be good or bad; exciting or scary; invited or uninvited. For children though, the event is likely to be very different and very new, therefore no matter how much excitement there is, it will also bring uncertainty. Some life events are meticulously planned but, as the world is currently finding out, some of them aren’t.
There are many things that you can put in place to support a young child through a planned event. You can give them a plan for the day and tell them what to expect. Highlight any ‘sticky points’ for them – any parts of the day that they may find particularly difficult such as the food options or when they would need to sit at the table. Not only will this help them feel much calmer because they have an understanding of the expectations of the day, but it will also help them feel really important as they have ‘insider’ information.
One of the things that makes the current Covid-19 situation really difficult, however, is that no one had time to prepare. We didn’t have time to prepare our children for the fact that they were going to be taking a break from nursery or pre-school. We didn’t have time to buy a few resources to help our children learn and thrive at home, and keep them entertained. Parents didn’t have time to organise themselves so that they were prepared to juggle working from home and parenting, or being a keyworker and parenting. So, given the short notice with which families have been thrown into this situation, what is the best way to support early years children with their understanding of this and their emotional wellbeing?
The suggestions below are ways that you can support young children at this time. Obviously this isn’t going to be easy given that you don’t have direct contact with the children at the moment. If you can share these ideas with parents though, then you can help entire families, plus it gives you a way to keep in touch and give your
business a presence.
Social stories are a great learning tool that help pass information to someone. They are short descriptions that describe a particular situation, giving the reader information about what to expect in that situation and why. The founder of social stories is Carol Gray and she has written some books that guide you on how to write social stories. There have also been some great social stories floating around that relate to Covid-19. They are very carefully written and give enough information for children to understand about germs and staying healthy, without frightening young children.
Talk about feelings
This is a really important one. Teach children that is OK to experience different feelings and that no one is going to judge them for feeling a certain way. Give children the opportunity to tell you how they are feeling and, if they are able to articulate it, what it is that is making them feel that way. As they talk they will hopefully be able to work through some of their emotions with the adult. This is key to having good mental health as they grow up.
Following on from the previous point, something that you can do that will have a big impact on a little mind, is to show empathy. Show a child that you understand how they are feeling, and that you also feel that way, or have felt that way in the past. It’s amazing how many children (and adults!) really believe that they are the only one that feels the way that they do and it is often very enlightening for them to find out that actually, many others that they care about feel the same.
With the coronavirus, I know that it has definitely helped my own children to understand that children all over the world are on lockdown. It makes them feel part of something big and important, which they are, and stops them thinking that it is only them having to stay at home.
“Give children the opportunity to tell you how they are feeling and, if they are able to articulate it, what it is that is making them feel that way.”
Keep some routine
Keeping a routine is never going to be as simple for families at home as it is in a setting. However, if you can offer any simple daily input to the children that are usually in your care then it naturally helps develop a routine as the rest of the child’s day might fall around it. You could share a video of a member of staff reading a story or singing a song, you could suggest a simple craft activity, set children a simple challenge or encourage families to send photos in. Just seeing your face and hearing your voice will help maintain a little normality for the children that you normally care for.
Make them the hero
For any life event that is happening – good or bad – make the young children the heroes. Explain to them what they can do to help, how much you need them to help, and why their help will make such a difference. During Covid-19, many children have learned a lot about the NHS and how they are our heroes. Explain to children that they can also be heroes by staying at home which stops the spread of germs, by looking after our elderly neighbours and by brightening people’s day with colourful artwork in their windows.
Getting thrown into a situation you are not prepared for is never easy for anyone. The current situation is particularly difficult because we can’t give an exact end date. The best we can do is to help children, on a very basic level, understand why we are doing what we are doing; let them know that they are not alone in their feelings; and let them feel that they can make a difference. Remember, as well, that taking care of young children also requires you to look after yourself, so please, keep safe, and hopefully you will be back in your settings soon.
About the author
Gina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.