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Helping Children Understand How To Slow The Spread

As parents and caregivers, we are bound to get questions about the COVID-19 spread from the youngest members of our families and community. Children are bound to pick up on what the adults around them are discussing and may have some different interpretations or even fears about what they have heard from others. While we want to address their concerns, we also want to make sure our children know just how important it is that they wash their hands and practice good health hygiene.

We have put together some tips, tricks, and ideas to help parents and caregivers work with the children in their care to help them learn and also understand why. If you have found some key ways to help, your child be sure to let us know in the comments on our Facebook page!

Make It Visual

Children often can have varying interpretations of how a virus or germ looks. If you have access to a computer or smartphone, try to show them an image of the Coronavirus. There are plenty of visual representations out there, but we have linked one below. They must understand just how small these viruses are and how they spread.

One way to start is to inform them of how these viruses are just small, like really teeny tiny gotta get out a super-powerful microscope even to see them, little guys! And their sole goal is to find a "host" - a warm body - in which to stay alive. It's not personal, or evil, it's just science.

When these little guys or bugs get inside of us, we have an army that responds because it senses something there that shouldn't be, and our Immune System charges in and meets the virus in battle! This confrontation is what leads to those sniffles, coughs, fevers and so on. As our army fights and the virus replicates, it can spread to other parts of our body - which is something we don't want. And if we aren't careful with our coughs, sneezes, or our saliva, we can spread it to other people. Some times people have the germ and don't know they are sick, or their germs get on something which is picked up by someone else, and the process repeats over and over.

To help your children understand they do have power, make them some visual reminders about healthy habits. Creating a top of mind awareness at home is a great way to keep hygiene on your kids' minds. On the bathroom mirror, you can put sticky notes or visual schedules to remind them about how to wash their hands. We have created one below for you to print and use! Or if your kids are older, a sticky note can do quite nicely as a quick reminder on how to wash up at the sink.

Children and teens also repeat what they see most often. So by modeling behaviors yourself, you can help them learn. Keeping a hand sanitizing station in a high traffic area of your home complete with hand sanitizer, tissues, and sanitizing wipes is a good start! Show your kids how you wash your hands, sanitize, blow your knows and throw the tissue away, keep your hands off your face, or cover your coughs or sneezes. By literally showing them, they will learn how!

Let Them Get Their Hands (and Minds!) Around It

If you have more hands-on children, make it an experiment! Using chemistry, you can make your hand sanitizer at home with just some key ingredients.

2/3 C. 90% (or greater) Isopropyl Alcohol

1/3 C. Aloe Vera Gel

2 Drops Essential Oils (optional) - for scent

Storage Container - Travel size shampoo bottles work great!

Blend all of the ingredients in these proportions into a mixing bowl. Using a wire whisk, stir until they are incorporated. Using a funnel, pour these into the containers and mark them for each member of your family!

Pro Tip: Make sure the alcohol you use is at least 90% and that you keep these volumes in place. When making a hand sanitizer at home, you must follow the amounts and ratio to the letter of the recipe so that you do not weaken the end product.

Another way is for them to understand their items are just that - personal. Have them help design their labels for chap-sticks, water bottles, toothbrushes, and so on. Using some standard business labels and colored pencils, crayons, or markers, your children can design their statement on their name and add some fun to marking their items. Help them stick the labels to their things, and they become "theirs"!

Imaginative play is also an important function when we discuss helping children grasp personal space and keeping distance during times where germs are out there. Using the "Personal Bubble" help your children imaging their bubble and how it may grow or shrink depending on the situation. Using their arms have them stretch them out as far as they will go all around them, then bring them in to show how small their bubble can be if they so choose. For example, it may be a bit larger when they are out in public or a shared space, around someone vulnerable or ill already, but it may be a bit smaller when they are at home and have washed their hands and so on.

Make It Fun

While the underlying concern of the spread of a highly contagious virus is, of course, a serious matter to adults, it is okay to keep hand washing and learning about these subjects light and fun when it comes to instructing your children. Children often learn best through play!

One idea from a retired Kindergarten teacher is to use the concept of "Bubble Gloves!" as your children wash, encourage them to scrub, and fully cover their hands to the point where it looks like they are wearing gloves made of bubbles. This activity helps pass the time at the sink, lets them envision just how much of their hands they should cover, gives them a goal, and makes it fun!

Another harkens back to that concept of imaginative play. When we instruct children on covering coughs and sneezes, we often tell them to "Be like a vampire!" Meaning your face goes into the crook of your arm at the elbow, and your forearm makes a dramatic movement ala a vampire! This imaginative play helps them remember and is a little fun while we help them slow or even stop the spread of germs from coughs or sneezes!

As you buy and sanitizers, another fun way to keep them interested in their use is to use color. While some colored hand sanitizers are woefully ineffective due to the strength of their ingredients, there are some out on the market that has color or scents that are fun for kids. Hand soaps as well come in a variety of colors, and it's fun to have your children pick out their favorite color to use as they get through this season!

Since we all should scrub for 20-seconds with soap coming up with ways to pass that time is a game in and of itself! Using music to help give the 20-second mark for your kids is a great idea to make it fun and maybe get in some learning. You can get through your ABCs twice, sing the chorus to your favorite song, or find another nursery rhyme or song your child knows to help them realize just how much time is passing. Make it personal and use a stopwatch to determine which of your child's favorite songs will work!