‘Will this last forever?’: Answering kids’ questions about COVID-19

  • Alice Barber. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 4/13/2020 6:53:30 AM

Hey, kids. Knock, knock. I’m talking to you. You may share this with your grown-ups if you are having trouble reading some of these words (there are over 700 of them!), but this message is for you during this very, very strange time. It is a time that is so different from all the times before, isn’t it? It is different because you are not going to school, not going out to eat at restaurants, not having play dates — and you are having to wash your hands a lot! I wonder if you can think of other ways in which this time has changed from the times before. 

Many of the grown-ups in your life may be acting differently, too. This is because there are a lot of big feelings floating around right now. Usually, when there are big changes, big feelings come right along with them. You are allowed to feel all of the feelings! Some of them may be anger, fear, sadness, happiness, nervousness, worry and boredom. You may also notice that sometimes your body feels very, very sped up, like a fast rocket, and, at other times, slowed way, way down like a little worm. Sometimes, you might be right in the middle. This is all OK. 

In my job, I spend time talking to many children who have lots of questions about what is going on right now. I bet you have a lot of questions, too. You are allowed to ask all of them. I’m going to share some answers to a few of the questions I’ve heard. 

Why do we all have to stay at home?

We have to stay at home right now because of something called a pandemic. That is a big way of saying that lots of people are sick with something called COVID-19, caused by the coronavirus. We don’t want lots of other people to get it. Have you ever had a cold and then your grown-up gets the same cold? Sometimes, people share being sick. This happens when a sickness is contagious (another big word!). Some sicknesses are contagious or shareable, and others are not. COVID-19 is contagious. But, if we can stay away from each other for some time, we can stop sharing the sickness. Staying home is one of the ways in which grown-ups are helping to keep you and lots of other people healthy. 

Why do I have to wash my hands so much?

Doesn’t this feel like a bother? But it is important. One of the ways we help this sickness not spread is by washing our hands. Germs are tiny things that we can’t even see (without the help of a microscope) that sometimes cause us to get sick. Germs like to be on our hands. If we wash our hands with soap and warm water, we can make some of the germs go away. Telling you to wash your hands is another way grown-ups are helping to keep you and lots of other people healthy. Another thing you can do to keep yourself healthy is get enough good sleep. 

Will I ever go to kindergarten? Will I ever see my friends again? Will this last forever?

Yes, you will go to kindergarten. Yes, you will see your friends. No, this will not last forever. Something that makes hard times even harder is that time seems to slow way down, and it can feel like it will last forever. This is especially true if you are a kid. Time seems slower the younger you are. But this is temporary, not permanent. Permanent means something that lasts for a very long time or even forever. Things like pennies and mountains and bricks last a long, long time. There aren’t many things in the world that are permanent. Most things are temporary. Temporary means that something comes and then goes away, like leaves on trees, flowers, wind, rain, baseball games, caterpillars and even your age. You will not be 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 or any age forever. Likewise, COVID-19 will not last forever. It is temporary. 

One question I really wish I could answer is when it will be over. Something that is making many grown-ups cranky is that we cannot give you, our children, an exact date. We don’t yet know the answer to that question, but lots of people are working hard to figure it out. While we try to figure out what helps, please keep asking us questions. Ask all of the questions that you can think of. All of them. And you can share these tips with your grown-ups, who may need to hear them, too. 

Alice Barber, LMHC, is a psychotherapist with a 25-year specialty in working with young children who have experienced trauma. Currently, she works as an outpatient clinician at ServiceNet, a clinical supervisor for BRYT (Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition) a program of The Brookline Center for Community Mental Health, and also has a private practice in Easthampton. She is the former program director of BHN-Carson Center for Children and Youth in Westfield. She is the author of “Blue Butterfly Open: Moments from a Child Psychotherapy Practice” (Gallery of Readers Press 2015).


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