Kids & COVID-19: Children want to understand coronavirus better, learn how to stay safe

New research shows young children are very much aware that COVID-19 is a serious health threat, and they want to learn more about what they can do.

Kids are finding various ways to cope with their anxiety, including playing games like ‘corona tag’ or creating virus-related songs.

TURKU, Finland — COVID-19 continues to interrupt the daily lives of billions across the globe. Every day, adults are wrestling with the long and short term repercussions of the pandemic. Now, a new Scandinavian study reminds us not to forget about the feelings of an extremely important demographic: the kids.

In collaboration with scientists from Sweden and other Finnish institutions, researchers from Åbo Akademi University in Finland find that children in daycare or preschool are well aware that something is amiss in the world today. Most adults’ first inclination is likely to shield young children from the reality of the coronavirus. But their awareness is actually more valuable than one might assume.

The study suggests that not only do young kids want to better understand what’s happening right now, but they may even be able to play a role in dealing with this once-in-a-lifetime global event.

“Earlier research has shown that negative life experiences, such as pandemics, affect children’s well-being in the short and long term, and children are especially vulnerable in crises. Thus, it is important to consider how the corona pandemic is being comprehended and expressed by children in their daily environment,” explains Mia Heikkilä, Associate Professor in Early Childhood Education at Åbo Akademi University, in a release.

It’s better to educate young children on what’s happening right now rather than hide the truth, researchers say. Not only will this build up kids’ resilience, it also addresses concerns that kids are having right now, whether adults want to believe it or not.

“It is vital to reinforce children’s resilience, that is, their capacity to withstand adversities, both during and after a social crisis like the corona pandemic. Previously, it has been shown that supportive relations between adults and children, as well as children’s opportunity to participate actively are significant in this respect. Here, early childhood education plays a key role,” adds Ann-Christin Furu, a researcher at Åbo Akademi University.

Observations from educators

Surveys were handed out to 79 early childhood education staff members in both Sweden and Finland. Most participants report that the young kids they see each day constantly express themselves in various ways regarding COVID-19 and the impact it has had on their young lives.

Breaking the results down further, the study’s authors say children approach the coronavirus via four distinct themes. The first theme is health. Most young children are very much aware there is a new major threat to theirs health and those around them. Moreover, kids want to know more about the coronavirus and how to stop it or protect oneself and others from it.


The second theme is concern. Many young kids are nervous about the health of their parents, grandparents, siblings, and school teachers. The third theme centers on coping and dealing with all of the changes to everyday life these past few months.

“The fourth theme relates to children’s playing, creativity and humor as potential tools to cope with the situation,” Furu explains. “Children are playing, for example, ‘corona tag’ and ‘being at hospital’, or they come up with corona-related drawings, rhymes or songs of their own.

“These expressions can provide the personnel, as well as the parents, with tools to understand what the children are dealing with in the corona situation,” she adds. “It may offer a way to observe one’s own group of children, and to create situations where the children can express themselves with regard to the coronavirus.”

Children need support as COVID-19 outbreak continues

Heikkilä says that educators must offer better support for kids and allow them to express themselves with ease. Because children may not be able to explain their feelings comfortably, adults should be on the lookout for telling behavior.

“The abundant material we received in a very short time revealed that children have numerous and multifaceted expressions and reflections regarding the corona pandemic. Adults should be aware of this and act accordingly,” she concludes. “Also, there are many children who need support in coping with and understanding the situation. Early childhood education should assume a clear role in developing pedagogical approaches that allow room for the various expressions of children, and offer tools to support the children’s ability to face challenging situations.”

Most of us are feeling more stressed this year, and even the youngest among us aren’t immune. Just like any adult right now, kids need the opportunity to at least blow off a little steam regarding this unenviable viral situation.

The study is published in the journal BARN.

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