Coronavirus coping mechanisms for parents of infants

How do we explain to our babies, who have not yet acquired language skills, why the world has flipped over?

A mother holding her child's hand (photo credit: NEEDPIX.COM)
A mother holding her child's hand
(photo credit: NEEDPIX.COM)
"Luckily, she doesn't understand yet," "What a relief he's not talking yet!" These are just some of the thoughts that cross the minds of parents of newborn babies in light of the coronavirus crisis. But is that really the case?
It turns out that our newborns understand a lot more than we think.
Research shows that infants identify the emotional states of their primary caregivers (i.e., us, the parents) already from several weeks of life.
The coronavirus crisis caught us parents without the words we need to explain to ourselves what is happening in the abnormal reality being forced upon us in these trying times. So how do we explain to our babies, who have not yet acquired language skills, why the world has flipped over?
Here are four basic strategies that can help us get through this crisis together with them:
1-Listen: A baby’s cry is one of the most jarring sounds in nature, but it is a blessing, because it is the basic way for babies to communicate with us when something bad is happening.
You have to listen to the text behind the wailing. Our babies are constantly talking – through stares, body language, smiles and cries. A break in routine is felt by them just like it is felt by us and is difficult for us. Allow the baby to express the difficulty he or she is experiencing. Embrace and contain it, do not dismiss it.
2-Play: Your baby understands you, your intonation, speech rhythm, facial expression and a lot more. Don't try to beam “business as usual," because they understand that business is currently out of the ordinary – they are home longer than usual and so are you. And they recognize when you are stressed.
So instead of hiding, you should make sense of the craziness: Tell them what's going on in the world right now in simple words and short sentences. You can say, for example, “The kindergarten is now closed because there is an emergency and we hope it will be over soon," and, "It is not easy that you cannot leave home for so long." When we explain to the child what is happening, we ourselves also process a little of the difficult experience.
3-Play: The way to reach the hearts of babies and children is through play. Playing allows us to express emotions and maintain an internal routine. You can, for example, have a "meeting" every morning with puppets as a temporary replacement for the kindergarten friends, and dance with them and eat with them around the table. During this period, and in general, any banal item around the home can turn into a game: empty drinking bottles and tin cans, laundry pegs and more. In short, go wild!
4- Be flexible: Being enclosed with a baby within four walls for an extended period is not an easy endeavor. It is time to say goodbye to the fantasy of becoming a professional toddler operator. Do not expect to provide 100% of your child's needs during this period (nor during any other time), nor should you expect to work from home at the same rate you worked in the office. 
Be flexible. If in your routine you decided on a particular diet, screen restrictions and the banning of finger painting at home – this is the time to let go of the internal restrictions and allow yourself and your baby to enjoy and make the curfew time more bearable.
When we will return to our regular routine, it will be time to get used to it all over again, and you will be surprised how quickly it will happen. Until then, let’s look after the health and sanity of us all.
The writer is a lecturer of developmental psychology at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Yaffo