Coronavirus, or Covid-19, is the word on everybody’s lips at the moment.
Television news reports, newspaper headlines and of course conversations at work and at home are dominated by the latest developments in this fast moving global health emergency.
Consequently, it is inevitable that even very young children will pick up on the levels of anxiety around them about the virus, even if they do not fully understand the context of the current situation.
Therefore, it is important that early years practitioners respond to any concerns that children express in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner.
Communicating with parents
You can help to reduce the concerns that parents may have about how safe it is for their child to attend childcare by sharing relevant information with them and being ready to direct them to reliable sources for updates.
- Make sure that you have up-to-date information and advice displayed from the NHS, Public Health England and .gov.uk. You can find all the relevant links on the Alliance’s coronavirus blog.
- Do not share or re-post links to unverified reports on social media.
- Find out what children have been saying about coronavirus at home and how their parents are responding. It is vital that the message going out between your setting and a child’s home are consistent.
- Tell parents about the contingency plans that you may have in place and how you are following advice from your local authority, NHS and Public Health England.
- Encourage good hand hygiene at home by sharing the NHS hand-washing guides. Remember – good hygiene is the most effective safety precaution parents and children can take.
- Tell parents how you have responded to specific questions their child may have asked you, or about any specific discussions you have had with groups of children.
Answering children's questions
Discuss as a team how you are going to respond to questions and concerns that come directly from the children.
Remember that some of your colleagues are likely to have their own questions, too.
Make sure that everyone in the team is informed enough to be consistent and accurate in their responses to children and their parents.
- Don’t force the issue. A circle-time activity focused on coronavirus is going to have little relevance to the majority of children in your care. Don’t overload children with information, keep it relevant, age appropriate and simple.
- Set the information you give within a context that the children will understand. For example: “It’s a bit like having a cold, but for some people it can make them feel really poorly.”
- Always acknowledge the interest or question that a child may have expressed, just as you would with any other ‘teachable moment’. A child’s real interest is an opportunity for them to learn.
- Never dismiss children’s concern. What may seem trivial to you is likely to be a very real worry to a child who, for example, has heard that the virus is dangerous for older people and is frightened that something will happen to their grandma.
- Do not talk over children’s heads to colleagues about the latest coronavirus updates. We sometimes forget just how much young children are affected by the concerns that adults show around them.
Encourage good hygiene habits
One of the most effective things that any early years practitioner can do within their setting is to encourage and reinforce good hand hygiene with young children.
There are plenty of free resources in the form of posters that can be displayed in bathrooms, but here are some key points to consider:
- Lead by example. Even if you have worn gloves when changing nappies, or during mealtimes, it is still necessary to wash your hands.
- Encourage hand-washing before and after mealtimes, after using the toilet and after touching animals.
- Use liquid soap, warm water and paper towels, wherever possible. Use alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water is not available.
- Encourage children to cover their mouths with disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing – and make sure they go straight in the bin afterwards.
Making hand washing fun
Children at Selston Childcare in Nottingham have been learning about the importance of washing their hands after sneezing or coughing and making sure they use tissues.
Staff have shared a fun song sing while they are washing their hands:
“This is the way we wash our hands, wash our hands, wash our hands. This is the way we wash our hands to kill coronavirus.
“This is the way we rub the soap, rub the soap, rub the soap. This is the way we rub the soap to kill coronavirus.”
The setting has also provided children with extra tissues around the room, next to bins with lids, and offered an antibacterial gel to parents as they sign in.
For more detailed information on the coronavirus, tailored for early years settings, visit our coronavirus blog