[Image: Illustration from ‘Me And My Fear’ by Francesca Sanna. A young child sleeping in the bottom of a bunk bed looks up in concern and fear as the embodiment of her fear (a large white figure) breathes droplets of anxiety onto her from the bunk above.]
In this post: Books to help kids cope with abrupt changes in their daily lives due to social distancing.
Over the last 24 hours, we’ve abruptly become a family of hermits.
Yesterday, our city shut down schools and libraries. Since I work from home, lack of childcare is our normal, and my kids have a back-yard full of mud, shelves of books, power, running water, and an internet connection. We will be just fine.
But some families won’t have this easy. So let’s talk about how we’re going to support them.
As a semi-hermit with social disabilities who leaves the house begrudgingly, I’m just the teeniest bit thrilled that my personality flaws have a new moral use. I’m no longer an anti-social weirdo parent. I’m doing my civic duty! The Raising Luminaries movement is tailored for overwhelmed families working from home without childcare relief or reliable transportation. We can tackle this with some level of expertise.
But also that is buried under that giant honking anxiety over you know, the usual apocalyptic stuff – worldwide pandemics, bubble-bursting recession, incompetent and navel-gazing leadership. Oh right and the ways people already struggling with a lack of healthcare, food, and housing are going to be left to suffer and die.
It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed. This is something we can overcome.
This is a great time for good trouble
If you’re in a similar situation, and you’re here reading this, we’ve got lots in common. So I’m willing to bet you’ve already been neurotically googling doomsday for the last few weeks. This is not helping. Let’s do something different here – and focus on what we can do.
(Aside from washing our hands. Good gracious, if anything good is to come from this, I hope folks start washing their hands after using the restroom. Dear humans, stop being so gross.)
Beyond the initial OH CRAP – Pandemics! Death! Recession! Marginalized people falling through the cracks! How are we discussing current events and this blip in routines with our kids?
From coping to empowerment – how our families can help
- Are we making kids feel anxious and helpless, or are we giving them opportunities to support families living with food scarcity who rely on school meals?
- Are we freaking them out about germs, or are we teaching them about the power of collective action and heard immunity?
- Are we feeding into fears of foreign otherness – or are we showing our kids how we are all interconnected and interdependent as a worldwide community?
This is where the deep, radical work starts.
We need to accept that this is a series of conversations. Some of them are going to be hard, and kids will have big feelings. It’s not our job to protect our kids from their emotions – it’s our job to help them manage them safely.
Below, we’ll find books to start conversations to reassure and empower our kids. At the end, we’ll discuss how to access books in the age of “oh gosh what if there are GERMS on that?”
And if I can find some spare moments to gather my thoughts in between two screaming little Earthquakes, we’ll expand later with books that show kids how events like this target multiply marginalized folks – and what we can do about it.
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It’s Time For Triage
It’s likely that your schools and events have been shut down abruptly without notice. So first, we’re going to teach our kids about putting on the proverbial oxygen mask. While they might not realize it – they are feeling stressed from the break in routine and missing people who are sick or in isolation.
For this collection, we’ll stick with books that will help kids in a wide range of sudden, scary situations – not just pandemics.
Books about separation anxiety
Kids might be missing teachers, older and immune-compromised family members, and playmates. Give them space to discuss this and understand these feelings as valid. Help them brainstorm ways to stay in contact, and reassure them with a new routine to show they aren’t going to be in this bubble forever.
You might also like: Validating Kids Books About Separation Anxiety & Parting Grief
Books about sudden life changes
How do we explain school shut downs to our kids? As an autistic parent with a neurodivergent family, we’ve got some practice handling the mental chaos that ensues from a break in routine. Even allistic kids are going to have big feelings over this sudden change. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to grieve for that loss of structure, to be afraid that things will change forever, to be anxious about what happens next. Expect kids to become disregulated, easily grouchy, and just kind of exhausted or hyper about it. Give them some tools to help them self-regulate.
A Color of his own accepts that things are always changing and that can be exhausting, but it helps to pay attention to what stays the same (like a good friend or family member by your side).
Bad bye, Good bye shows how a change that seems sad and scary at first leads to interesting discoveries and new possibilities. It’s written for kids going through the adjustment of moving homes, but it works on a metaphorical level, too.
The Rabbit Listened helps kids see there is no one right way to feel when things suddenly change.
Breathe Like A Bear is full of quick and easy calming exercises to help kids (and adults) when we are spiraling with fear, anxiety, and all those other big emotions. There are enough of these to try out new one each day and kids can feel a sense of control by practicing their favorites. My 5-year-old uses these to come down from temper tantrums and even through excruciating midnight growing pains.
You might also like: How To Talk To Kids About Shootings
Validating Big Feelings
We’ve found the ‘feelings as monster companions’ device helpful for my kids to acknowledge that feelings are valid and real – even if we can’t see or touch them. Reading these books at story time gives my kids a chance to bring up recent feelings they haven’t been able to name or talk about during their busy days.
You might also like: Whining, Tantrums & Outbursts: Books to Help Kids Chill
How we’re managing story time around Icky Germs
Getting access to books might be harder than usual now that public libraries are temporarily closed. Do your own research, since I’m not a Ickologist or whatever the word is for a science doctor who gives advice on infectious diseases. But here is how we’re handling story time in isolation:
If your libraries are still open, and these are a possibility for you:
- Request your books online and arrange to pick your books up off the hold shelf, spacing out visits as far as you can and minimizing your contact with the shelves.
- Go to the library alone, leave the kids at home or outside while you do your library runs. Even though the librarians likely disinfect, that train table in the kid’s room is a petri dish of critters. Even before the recent outbreak, we’ve never failed to pick up something nasty after a visit.
- I’m not going to quote what I’ve found on the internet about how long Covid 19 lives on cardboard and paper because that stat could be wrong – but do your own research, and keep your new arrivals in a quarantined bag for the requisite number of days to let any critters die before handing them over to kiddos.
- Do not smother library books in disinfectant and alcohol goo. It could destroy the pages. If there is gross stuff on glossy board book pages (babies be chompin’ and slobbery) wipe it down with a barely-damp cloth and leave the books to dry in a sunny widow for a couple days.
- Can we just eat around library books? Who does this. It’s gross. Stop it. Have some common decency and get your peanut butter whatevers away from books meant for public use. I’m serious, it’s disgusting to find jelly glued between pages and you could kill a child if your slobbery causes an allergic reaction.
- If your kid is sick, you hold the book for them. Don’t hand a queasy or sneezy kid a library book – stick with the ones you own. If they hold the book, put it in quarantine for the requisite time before returning it to the library. If you think your kid might have coronavirus or the flu, ask your local librarian over the phone what they’d like to do about your returns before handing over.
If your libraries are inaccessible but you need these stories now:
- Contact your local indie book store to see if they ship locally. Incoming packages can be quarantined for a bit if that makes you feel better.
- If they don’t, Bookshop is in beta delivering throughout the US – and a portion of your order supports local indie books stores. I’m testing out affiliate links and trying to convert our amazon links to them now.
- Little Feminist Book Club is a woman-owned company that employs people of color and boosts #OwnVoices stories – they’re also a reliable source of books and will give kids something to look forward to. I even help them pick out their books!
- If all else fails – you might be able to find bootleg read alouds on youtube of hard-to-find books. This should be a last resort, as they’re usually orchestrated by vlogger stage parents who have no regard for intellectual property. This screws over makers who deserve to get paid for their work. If you’re lucky, authors sometimes post their own read-alouds, and have posted the videos with permission.
Support the people who make the stuff you use because they are also impacted by the shut down. Buy gift cards from local indie bookstores while everyone is keeping to themselves. Donate to your local food pantry to help kids missing meals now that school is closed. Keep brainstorming ways to help your local community with your kiddos.
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Wash. Those. Hands.
Next up, I’ll share the collection of unschooling books we’ll be using to get kids excited about this sudden change in curriculum. After that, I’d like to dig a little deeper into how events like this impact multiply marginalized folks – and what we can do about it.
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