Coronavirus: How Children Play It Out

Children naturally respond to this period of uncertainty with play centred around the coronavirus. It helps them to act out their fears and emotions within the safety of their imaginary worlds.

By Divya Badami Rao

Coronavirus: How Children Play It Out

The word “coronavirus” is currently very much an integral part of our lives. It seems to have swiftly entered the play scenes of children in different parts of the world. My children, for instance, have started yelling “I’ve got coronavirus! Now you’ve got it!” in a high-energy game of chase around the house that ultimately leads to one child building a contraption out of Lego to kill the coronavirus. At some point, a dinosaur becomes a carrier of the coronavirus, and it gets shot because there are no doctors for dinosaurs. Maybe your children are playing doctor to patients with coronavirus. Maybe your friend’s child is pensively drawing a sketch that depicts social distancing.

How playing out the coronavirus helps

While storybooks and television shows have introduced many young children to the concept of an emergency, they have probably never before encountered, nor have they been mentally prepared for this particular sort of emergency. 

On top of the sudden rush of rules and information they must contend with—everything from wash your hands constantly, to don’t touch your face, to keep your distance, stay at home, and don’t go out to play with friends—they are also grappling with the idea of a nation-wide lockdown. Let’s see how playing out coronavirus themes helps your child during these trying times.

  • Play helps express feelings: We must remember that while adults process their thoughts and emotions with words, children use play as a medium to express and process their developing thoughts and emotions. The information that enters into children’s play during this extremely tense lockdown moment ranges from accurate, made-up, whimsical, or sad. Common to all of this is the simple fact that these instances of play are sincere attempts by children to process the sudden shift in the way their lives are being lived. It is through acts of play that children exert a degree of control over the uncertainty in their lives.
  • Play builds resilience: As children try to negotiate uncertain situations, including traumatic ones, play can help build resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope and adapt to stressful circumstances and challenges in the face of adversity. When fact and fiction blur into each other when children play, they build resilience. In the safety of their imaginations, in the safety of familiar spaces and in the safety of play, some children may also be processing big ideas and feelings such as isolation, or even death associated with the pandemic. Through the experience of play, children explore the social, emotional and physical risks involved. Playing it out helps children problem-solve, and experiment with different ways of dealing with complex ideas, without giving in to too much anxiety or fear.

Responding to your child's play

As you observe your child playing out the coronavirus situation, you may have many questions running through your mind - Is this normal? Should I intervene? How should I respond? Here are some tips that serve as a guide on how you can support your child’s play:

1. Understand playing it out is normal

You may feel amused or upset when you observe your child playing out coronavirus themes, depending on the narrative unfolding in your child’s play. Sometimes your child’s play may reflect isolation, sickness or death, which can be upsetting for you to witness as a parent. But be aware that children sometime recreate dark themes in their play, and it’s okay. Your child is probably confronting fears through the medium of play, and that is perfectly normal. So, if your child is playing out the coronavirus theme, be assured it is one way in which your child is dealing with his big emotions within the safety of his imaginary world.

2. Allow your child to play it out

Allow your child the freedom to play out coronavirus themes without stopping her, or brushing it aside, or making fun of her. Most of the time you will not need to respond or intervene in your child’s play that stems from coronavirus. For instance, your child may simply be playing doctor, or enacting the coronavirus being conquered in a good against evil fashion.

As a parent, you may have valid concerns as you observe your child’s play. But it’s important to handle the more serious issues that come up carefully and sensitively. Therefore, it is best to not directly intervene in the play of your child. If your child’s play is stopped, or she feels she is being watched, she may stop playing out the subject matter entirely, thus losing out on a healthy outlet for her big emotions.

3. Join the play if invited

It’s best not to intervene in your child’s play, unless he invites you to join in. You may find yourself in the role of the patient or nurse, or your child may ask you to wash your hands before you join in a tea party. In such cases, play along, as you would naturally do.

4. Give age-appropriate information

It is important to filter the information that reaches our children to protect them from unnecessary panic. Give your child just the right amount of information to keep her safe. Make sure the information you share is age-appropriate. Keep your TV news switched off around your child. Allow your child to express her feelings about the situation in whichever way she chooses, playing it out being one such way.

5. Know when to step in

If you find your child repeatedly playing out the gloomier ramifications of the disease, you may want to insert yourself into his play and then try to gently change his narrative to take the edge off your child’s anxieties. For instance, if your child is playing illness and death, become the patient who gets better. If your child is playing quarantine, become the patient who comes back home. Focus on the positives, and find ways of bringing in the details of how you are working towards staying safe as a family.

However, if you feel that your child is indeed deeply disturbed, you may want to consider seeking the help of a professional counsellor, or someone trained in play therapy to work with your child.

Children playing coronavirus themes is a natural fallout of our times. It is becoming increasingly common to see coronavirus themes reflected in children’s play. If you want to know how your child is responding to and coping with the changed circumstances, pay attention to the details of your child’s play. If your child’s play is focussing on coronavirus themes, know that your child will come out stronger because of it. 

Also Read: Children And Play In The Time Of Lockdown

About the author:

Written by Divya Badami Rao on 21 April 2020.

Divya Badami Rao holds a Masters Degree in Social Work and has worked for several years in the development sector. A parent herself, her recent academic interest revolves around the importance of play in children. She can be reached at di.badamirao@gmail.com.

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