What next? Post covid, for children

Normally around this time of year I, like many, have assumed my position as an amateur tennis commentator, and am busy joining in conversations about Federer’s performance as though I know what I’m talking about.

And not just because he looks a bit like my husband, only less handsome (sorry Rog)
Image: Sky News

Instead, Wimbledon cancelled, this year our armchair expertise is firmly in the virology camp, and I eagerly join in conversations with equally-highly-unqualified people about the R number and stats on mask-wearing vs social distancing policies.

All that to say, I’m no immunologist.

However, I am a mum to the power of 5, and I just worked out that my children have been home now for nearly 10 weeks. And then I used my exceptional maths skills, along with my iPhone calculator, to work out that Wilf, 3, has now been in isolation for 5 percent of his life. Mim, 3%. You get the idea.

Just a Mum, not an virologist

What I’m saying is, there’s a lot of discussion about new-normals, and how office life might look, or public transport or classrooms. And yes all the practical dilemmas are crucial here.

But I’m curious about the fact that for the average three year old – or four, five, even ten year old – over the past few months we have very suddenly plucked our children from their exceptionally routine-based lives; separated them from extended family members that they miss and care about; thrown them into a home-based life with adults that mutter about viruses and the news and probably look perpetually a bit stressed or exhausted, and then will, eventually, at an as-yet-unknown date, push them back out into a world that is in many respects, virtually unrecognizable.

All the social norms that we have been busy modelling and teaching our children about – from handshakes, to previously acceptable levels of personal space, to visiting people’s homes and even giving family members a hug – these social norms have been exploded.

Still acceptable: looking this cute on a beach, alone

I personally find queuing six feet away from people who don’t want to make eye contact, and shopping with masks on, a wild departure from anything resembling normal. I can’t quite imagine how much more confusing this is, or will be, for children, when we start reintegrating them into the world again.

Not very normal but, you know, normal.

I don’t want to overstate this – I mean, I can confidently check my own privilege here, around our safe and secure environment, financial and food security, nonviolent home, and all the other many things that mean my children are quite happy to spend their days in the garden ziplining and playing elaborate games of tag. But there remains the issue – how are we going to explain this all, in a way that conveys the situation honestly, accurately, but not overwhelmingly, when our children re-emerge?

I don’t have a neat and pithy answer to the dilemma (maybe should have mentioned that in the first paragraph, for those of you scrolling down to find a step-by-step plan that makes this new covid world seem safe and happy). But there are some themes, borrowed from other life changing events like new siblings and house moves, that I think might be useful.

Sharing stories

Reading books about life changes is always a good idea. For younger children and toddlers, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer’s images from reimagined beloved stories are a good start.

Photograph: Axel Scheffler and Julia Donaldson 2020

Honesty

Being honest with children – I mean – we are kidding ourselves if we think they don’t have some sense of what is happening, at any age. Wilf asked me at bedtime the other night if the virus was slowing down. He’s three, and also likes to drink bath water on occasion, so I think we can confidently assume that all children are absorbing at least some of the circumstances, however much we try to filter what they hear. Giving children some real facts to understand, at whatever level they require, is really the least we can do.

You set the Tone

I am trying, hard, to make sure I move through my own personal difficulties in accepting ideas like mask wearing, in a bid to normalize this in my own mind enough to be able to seem calm and relaxed about it in any interactions that the children will encounter.

If I have learnt anything from the past decade of parenting, it’s that children are highly adaptable, but also that they need to be given a clear and calm narrative to understand the world around them if we want them to adapt easily. And also, they can totally tell when you’re stressed about something, even if you put on your best forced smile and announce in tones of jollity that everything is FINE.

All the rest

What else? As much normalcy as possible at home; doing whatever it takes to keep the peace in your particular household; a good sense of perspective, and fundamentally, a really great no-knead bread recipe.

I’m only half-joking about the bread, because eating warm bread with melted butter is the sort of treat that makes everyone feel a little less anxious and, well, if all the insta-sourdough baking looks a little like too much effort, then this is the perfect compromise. Recipe soon.

Hope you’re all doing well. Let me know your strategies, on helping children adapt to the present-post covid world. I’m interested. xxtMatM

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