Our local elementary school is closed with one confirmed and a few more probable swine flu cases. I’d like to say I didn’t panic, but I did cancel my plans to hop on the el and go to a meeting downtown yesterday. Then I forbad the babysitter who showed up anyway, from taking the children to the park. Fortunately, it’s cloudy and chilly this week, so no one minded staying in.
My kids are little and they don’t go to school, so no explanations were necessary. But if they were regular preschool attenders and I was a full-time worker who had to either suddenly stay home or arrange different child care, they’d need to know something about why. This morning’s USA Today had a bit of advice for those of you in a position to need to explain to your kids why their school is suddenly closed.
Principal number one is open honesty. According to experts in child psychology, it’s best to tell them some facts about the situation, or they will often fabricate something much worse and more frightening than the truth. Therefor, even if young children don’t explicitly ask what’s going on, it’s a good idea to initiate the conversation.
Principal number two is–you guessed it–keep it simple and age-appropriate. One suggestion is: “Some people have gotten sick with a flu you get from contact with someone who has it. Mom and Dad are going to make sure you’re safe. We’ll take care of you.”
Principal number three? Teenagers will act cavalier but may be afraid anyway. Don’t hesitate to share “basic facts and concerns” with them. I am guessing that means tell them to wash their hands and stop kissing strangers for a while.
Even though I panicked, I am hoping I made a silly error in doing so and this situation turns out to be a tempest in a teapot. But with children, it never hurts to err on the side of caution. Here’s wishing you health and safety in coming weeks!