Helping Kids Cope With Coronavirus Cancellations
My son turns 4 next month — it’s the first birthday he’s excited about. We planned a party and invited friends but then Covid-19 hit. We’ve postponed/canceled the party but haven’t told him yet (mainly because after the invitations went out, he forgot).
He’s such a social kid and was so excited about the party, how do we talk a 4 year old through his disappointment?
Thanks, Amy! I really appreciate your column!
Delivering disappointing news to kids amid COVID-19
Show of hands: Who else had to deliver disappointing news to their kid(s) this month? While mine were all initially ecstatic over the school closures, it’s been a slow, steady drip of less-fun cancellations and indefinite postponements ever since.
It’s cold comfort I’m sure, but parents all around the world are dealing with this right now. Milestones like birthday parties, proms, graduation ceremonies…poof, not happening. Things our kids worked really hard for like sports, concerts, theater performances, spelling bees, science fairs…dunzo. We can try to shelter our children from the full-scale enormity of the situation, but it’s kinda hard when you also have to tell them that sorry, Disney World is canceled.
Young kids are resilient
The good news for you is that your son is four. That’s a resilient and elastic age, and his sense of time is also fairly elastic as well.
His birthday is a month away, which probably feels very far in the future for him. He’s already kinda forgotten about the party! So you could technically hit the snooze button on the whole topic by telling him that his birthday will come first, and the party will simply happen “later” and “after.” Then focus his excitement on his actual birthday instead. (Here are some ideas for celebrating kids’ birthdays while stuck in quarantine.)
But that assumes that the party won’t be postponed for months and months, or just outright canceled. So honesty is probably your best policy. Disappointment is an unavoidable part of life, alas.
Plus, he’s probably at least vaguely aware that things are…different now, right? He’s stuck at home, maybe his preschool or daycare closed, or he’s been told he can’t have a playdate, go to the library, or visit with Grandma. Or he just knows it’s extra important to wash his hands (while singing Happy Birthday to himself!) right now because of a new kind of germ that makes people sick, or however you’ve chosen to frame the situation.
Sample Script for breaking the news to your young child
So it’s okay to be honest.
1. Tell him that birthday parties are another thing that just aren’t safe to have right now.
2. Tell him you’re sorry and let him feel his feelings about it.
3. Give him a name for his feelings. “This is really disappointing. I’m disappointed too!”
4. Don’t promise anything you can’t 100% guarantee just yet (like a specific timeline for rescheduling, or that all his friends will still be able to come, etc.) but assure him his birthday will still be fun and important.
5. Propose some alternatives if he seems open to redirection. (Here are even more ideas for kids’ birthdays!)
Hug him if he cries, give him something physical to do if he’s angry, remind him that he is loved and safe at home with his family if he’s scared. Then make sure he has the best, most-fun birthday possible, safe at home with his family.
NOTE: If you haven’t actually talked to him about the coronavirus yet, here are some helpful links to help get that conversation started. (Which I would do FIRST and SEPARATELY from any birthday party discussion to keep it from overwhelming him!)
- Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus (Child Mind Institute)
- How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus (PBS Kids)
- What Is the Coronavirus? (Little Puddins/The Autism Educator)
- Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource (National Association of School Psychologists)
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