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How To Explain Coronavirus To Your 4-Year-Old Grandchild

How To Explain Coronavirus To Your 4-Year-Old Grandchild


How do you explain the Coronavirus to your four-year-old grandchild? This is not a riddle, but the answer is easy and obvious to someone that age, while to the adults in his life, it is quite silly.  I certainly laughed aloud when I read it in one of the many text messages I get daily from my daughter in California. Recently, she wrote, as she was about to embark on a baking activity with her twins,  she told them to wash their hands before they started. Spontaneously, my grandson added, “yeah, we don’t want the cookies to taste like COVID-19 because it doesn’t taste good.”

Wow…look at the way the mind of four-year-old works! It’s not easy, my daughter says, for them to fully process the simple physical restrictions and guidelines of the state’s “shelter in place” order.  “We didn’t go anywhere today, Mommy,” my grandson announced with a puzzled look on his face. Usually, it’s school drop-off and pick-up, a stop at the grocery store or pharmacy, gymnastic and music classes, maybe a Target run.  Now their lives are limited to their house and yard. They understand that school is closed and that they can see their teachers only on a computer screen at certain times during the day. They know they can’t see their friends and parties are canceled and Daddy is working from home. But even that can be confusing.

My daughter is limiting what she tells them to what she deems age-appropriate information.

“Why is Uncle Mattie at the hospital,” asked my granddaughter. “The hospital should be canceled.” That little four-year-old girl knows that he’s a doctor but she has no idea why he is out working and everyone else is not. There’s no way (or no reason, I might add) to explain to a child that age what pandemic means or what ventilators are. My daughter is limiting what she tells them to what she deems age-appropriate information about Coronavirus. She is doing everything she can to make them feel safe and to establish a routine that grounds them- and her. And I am trying to take my cues from her and follow her example.

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I want to keep my fear and anxiety about this current crisis out of their sight.

As natural as I find most things about being a grandmother, on this matter I feel a bit lost. Last night, when we were on FaceTime and my grandchildren asked me what I did today, I stopped myself from saying that I was sewing face masks for friends and family.  I also resisted the urge to run upstairs and show them what I had made. We typically do a lot of ‘show and tell” across the screen; I read books to them, take them on virtual tours around my house or flip the camera to catch a funny shot of my dog. But now I’m being careful. I want to keep my fear and anxiety about this Coronavirus crisis out of their sight. I want them to continue to see their world with the same innocent, beautiful, blue eyes. I don’t want them to understand, or question, too much about this “new” normal.

I tell them I love them and I’m coming to visit soon.  For the past four years, there’s always been a place on a calendar marking my next visit. “I’ll see you in six weeks…or six days…or tomorrow.” Now I don’t know when that will be. But my grandchildren don’t need to know that. I’d rather laugh with them together. The other day they asked, “Do you know how long to wash your hands?” Before I even had time to open my mouth to answer,  they shouted in unison, “sing Happy Birthday twice”… and then they broke into song.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Deborah Levin

Deborah Levin lives in Westchester County, NY with her husband and lovable Labradoodle. Her work has been published in the New York Times and Clinical Social Work journalsGrown and Flown. Pulse and GRAND Magazine.


Read more from Deborah Levin


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Cover image courtesy of Healthykids.org

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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