With four children under the age of ten, my family is noisy, chaotic and filled with the daily routines of school, swimming lessons, dance, Brownies and football. I barely manage to last a few hours with a clean, organised home, car or life and even the days when my youngest is at preschool and I have a whole 5 hours of no children, I still struggle to get everything done. How then, in the midst of all this chaos do you add into the mix the rapidly growing concern over the coronavirus?
For the last few weeks my husband has been scouring the internet for all the latest information on the coronavirus and suggested to me a while ago that we start to add a few extra items to our shopping each week — just in case. None of my children batted an eyelid when they had to help carry more bags of food into the house — they didn’t question it or even seem concerned when I explained that its extra food “just in case”. They didn’t even ask what “just in case” meant and at that stage in the developments of the virus they certainly didn’t need to know anything more detailed.
However, it has become more apparent over the past few days that the UK will inevitably be affected by the coronavirus and that there will be an impact on all our lives — the severity of that remains to be seen. Certainly, in the meantime it is important that as parents we are as informed as possible and stay up to date with new developments from reputable sources as and when they occur. It is important to be prepared but also to stay calm and it is precisely why we need to let our children know what is going on but in a meaningful way. There is no point telling our children that they need to wash their hands more often and for a longer time unless we give meaning behind this. Similarly we cannot expect young children to adjust to possible changes in routines, school, after school activities etc without them understanding the reasons behind this. It is only when they understand that they will cooperate and accept the changes. The resilience of children when faced with change can be incredible — but only if they are introduced to that change in the right way.
Young children will struggle to understand facts and figures relating to the coronavirus as these concepts are mainly beyond their normal world of home and school. One of the best ways to teach children about new concepts is through a familiar format with relatable characters such as a picture book. For the most part young children have an expectation that reading a book will be a positive experience, with quality time spent with someone they love and that the book will deliver a happy ending. By keeping to this format it is very possible to discuss difficult issues with children and for them to take the message on board over the next few days or weeks.
I normally write true books for primary and preschool children about global environmental issues such as ocean plastic, balloon releases, ghost fishing nets, palm oil and climate change. Last week however I became aware of several stories amongst friends of children being upset and scared about the coronavirus after being told misleading information. Children were afraid to touch anything in case they got germs, they were in tears thinking everyone was going to die. Some teachers were compounding these fears by introducing strict handwashing at the school gates without explaining fully the reasons why and overall this has led to an element of anxiety amongst many young children.
I realised I was in a very strong position to help mitigate these fears for children and their parents by writing a new story about the coronavirus in a positive and gentle way. The Little Corona King has been written, illustrated and published within a week and has involved an extreme amount of work in such a short period of time — all whilst juggling 4 children. It follows the story of two young children as their parents explain to them what the coronavirus is, how it relates to their family and how they can help protect themselves and others. It promotes safe practices for families to follow such as hand washing, avoiding crowds as well as helping them adjust to possible changes in routines due to government advice. It also gives opportunities for parents to reinforce the messages in the story in children’s everyday lives.
As with many things, education is key to helping solve the problem and in this case, by engaging the children with the issue they too can become part of the solution in helping to stop prevent the spread of the coronavirus.