JEDDAH: Children have an interesting way of interpreting difficult situations. By tapping into their imagination, their emotional well-being is far greater than adults as they dive deep into a world of their own.
Parents fearful for children’s health and the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic have various means of explaining the situation.
Arab News spoke to children aged between 4 and 8 to hear what they understand about the virus.
We learned that most children think the coronavirus is ‘some green monster that hurts people.’
Five-year-old Tuleen Sultan said: “The coronavirus are bugs with sticks as feet and no fingers. They’re small balls that float in the air, green and cute but they’re actually evil. You think they’re smiling on the outside but on the inside they’re bad and they’ll hurt you.”
Tuleen’s older brother, 6-year-old Malek, explained that the coronavirus is an invisible alien lurking outside of people’s homes: “It’s invisible and we can’t see it but we know it’s there. It lives outside the house and that’s why we have to stay inside. If we go outside they will stick to our clothes and that’s why we have to wash ourselves right away.”
He added: “If I go outside, I will run to the bathroom and wash myself with all my clothes on and shoes. This way they’ll all go down the drain. You have to kill it by using Dettol and burn them with hot water.”
This endearing distinction children make is due to their limited repertoire, said Saudi educational psychologist Hajer Al-Lami.
“Children have a very limited repertoire, they’ll always link things to what they know and what they see in cartoons and the imagination they have. For most of the time, children watch cartoons, so they are linking the ‘green monster’ to the monsters in cartoons they’re watching, the ones that are bad to innocent people. They immediately linked the two together, they thought ‘this small thing kills people, then it’s a monster,’” she told Arab News.
“This is a healthy explanation for them,” she added.
One of Spiderman’s youngest fans is 6-year-old Saleh Mohammed from Makkah. He uses his favorite superhero as the fighter against the spread of the disease.
“I’m going to wear my Spiderman costume and fight the coronavirus bugs. I’m going to put spider webs outside of my house to catch them like flies.”
INSTRUCTIONS FOR PARENTS
- Use age-appropriate language, watch their reactions and be sensitive to anxiety.
- Explain the virus through visuals and storytelling.
- Make them feel safe by informing them of precautions the family is taking, using doctors as the superheroes of the stories.
- Maintain a sleeping schedule and keep meal times consistent, allowing them to feel more in control of their time and be organized.
- Allow free play time to explore interests and hobbies, which will distract them from the stressful situation.
- If they ask what happens if someone gets the virus, reassure them that many people are being cured and receiving treatment.
- It is crucial for parents to control their anxiety as they are role models.
Al-Lami encourages parents to simplify the information they want their children to understand. She said parents need to ask their children what they know about the virus first.
“We might find funny and cute answers, such as a tiny monster. After knowing what our children’s information is, we can start explaining more and build on what they know.”
She encouraged parents to speak to their children to make things clear using simple language to get their message across comprehensively.
Four-year-old Sulafa K. said: “I have to wash my hands after everything because they can live on my hands and I have to wash between my fingers too because they can live in the small lines on my hands and fingers. You can only see them with a giant telescope.”
Dr. Al-Lami stressed that parents need to be calm, composed and not fearful of the situation and not overwhelm their children. She highlighted that children are already aware that a strange situation is occurring.
“To protect children, we need to reduce our anxiety and fear and deal with it before we pass this feeling of fear to our children. Many children are aware that something abnormal is happening. Suddenly there’s a lockdown, they cannot go to the mall to play, no family visits, can’t see their cousins and no school. Children are wondering and asking what’s happening.
“Children have a right to truthful information about what’s going on in the world, but adults also have a responsibility to keep them safe from distress,” she added.
Some children, such as second grader Layal Nasef, are knowledgeable about the coronavirus and the instructions given to them.
“I carry my magical princess wand with me because the coronavirus makes people sick so we have to stay in the house and we can’t go out. We can only go out to buy important things like food and clothes.
“When you go back to your house, you have to wash your hands,” she said.
Explaining how the virus entered the Kingdom, the 7-year-old explained “Some of the animals got sick and someone ate one of those animals, and that’s how the virus came to Saudi Arabia and everywhere.
“Do you know except where?” she asked. “It’s a place I don’t know where.”
Saudi first grader Nour Aqeel said the coronavirus makes people sick and tired.
“If you want to go out, you have to wear gloves and a mask,” the 6-year-old said.
Other children let their imagination inform them.
Kindergartner Taha Mohammed said people should not leave their homes because “corona” is outside.
“It eats people, gives them fever, headaches and colds,” the 4-year-old warned. “It’s evil, with big eyes. It’s big and its colors are orange, red, blue, green and yellow. Its arms and legs are small like metal nails. It also walks like a zombie,” he added.
There is only one way to fight the virus, he said. “We bring a fork and knife and hit it because we can see it,” he added. “When it’s defeated, we say bye-bye.”
Another way to protect their loved one would be to use the Mohammed “Kooki” Mardini method.
“I have to protect my nana (grandmother) and I’m going to put her in a big bubble. But it can’t be plastic, because they can live on plastic. I’m going to put her in a diamond bubble and put gum all over the bubble. Mama doesn’t let me eat gum so I steal it from the trash.”