A four-year-old girl, playing doctor with her sister, examined her with a toy stethoscope and took her temperature with a make-believe thermometer. She then told her sister that she had the “virus” and was going to die.
The incident, recorded in a recent article by Kate Gray in the April 1 issue of The Atlantic magazine describes a scene families all around the country are experiencing during the current coronavirus pandemic. Parents are reporting that children are paying games related to the disease.
In the middle of a disaster-such as the current pandemic-many parents witness episodes like these. Many parents have become disturbed because with so much talk on TV of sickness and death, the play often reflects what the children hear all around them. In difficult times like these, parents should keep certain things in mind.
Play is children’s language. They act out pretend scenarios as a way to express concerns, ask questions, and, crucially reshape a narrative. In a pretend scenario, children are driving the plot and can change the outcome of a scary situation or try out different solutions to a problem. The coronavirus is influencing children’s play by showing up in the games they play. As children absorb scary and confusing news, many turn to play, seeking understanding and respite.
In general, parents do not need to be concerned by children incorporating the coronavirus into their play. Children use play to express their worries, so an occasional mention of even death is natural. “I would worry if the play takes a dark turn and children seem anxious when they’re playing. Ann Masten, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s institute of Child Development, cautioned. But unless children seemed distressed, or compulsively repeating the same scenario without changing the outcome, play can be a healthy way for kids to process the news and can give insight into their child’s emotional state. “When you watch them play, you can pick up clues about what they are thinking and what they believe about the virus and the pandemic,” says Abigail Gewirtz, a family-social-science professor at the University of Minnesota.
Parents should manage their own emotions to ensure that they are not projecting anxiety onto their child, and then identify and validate their kid’s feelings. While not making promises about uncertain outcomes, parents can fact-check misconceptions about the disease, shield children from the most brutal information, and brainstorm with their kids about ways to feel safe.
More than anything, most experts say that parents should not discourage play. Engaging in imaginative play can help with creativity and coping skills. Experts also claim it can be a way to process emotions-or simply an outlet for a fun distraction.
While play can harbor children’s deepest worries, it can also be a place for them to practice their creative problem-solving.
(To view the original article in The Atlantic click on the link.)