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My 3 year-old has been with his maternal grand-parents for a week, as was planned for a long while.

His mom and I were supposed to pick him up today, but we both tested positive for Covid this morning. To make sure my son and his grand-parents are all right, we opted to isolate at home for 10 days, as mandated by French health autorities.

My son will spend a few more days with my wife's parents, and then will go to mine's, and spend Christmas there.

I am wondering if and how I should explain the change of plans to him? His notion of time is still developing (yesterday - now - tomorrow, but no real sense of how far in the past or future), so he did not anticipate that we would come today.

I am afraid that by telling something, I am going to make him realize something he did not before: he's not coming home for an other week, but telling nothing and going with the flow feels weird as well...

How would you handle communication on this matter?

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5 Answers 5

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Just be straightforward.

Tell him what will happen and why in whatever way you feel makes sense to him. Then ask open ended questions to check in on whether he understands (or not) and what his emotional reactions are.

Many kids are very comfortable with grandparents. There is a good chance that he'll be totally fine with with, "Mommy and Daddy are sick. You will stay a few days with Grandma A, and then with Grandpa B, and then come home".

If that upsets him in some way, you will need to talk it through. Figure out why he is upset and then figure out together what can alleviate his concerns. You may get to a point where you just have to go with "I understand that you don't like it, but that's what needs to happen". Most three-year olds are perfectly fine with that approach.

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    One potential consideration is managing the 3yo's imagination of what "mommy being sick" means. Thankfully most 3yo's won't have much experience with "sickness" leading to severe illness (or death) and think that everyone who gets sick must always get better. but especailly if they know someone or a pet that has died following illness you might want to emphasis that "we'll see you soon" - to avoid their imagination scaring them.
    – James K
    Dec 19, 2021 at 1:22
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    Maybe offer a daily videocallas a "deal" if he is somewhat reluctant
    – Hobbamok
    Dec 20, 2021 at 10:13
  • Also (@JamesK) with time sense being only partially developed at that age, but what I'll call event sequence sense being a little stronger "until we're feeling better" or "until we're well enough to play with you properly" says a few of things: (1) you will get better, (2) when you do, you'll be with them again, and potentially (3) they'll have more fun with the grandparents. There's also "and you get to see both sets"
    – Chris H
    Dec 20, 2021 at 16:22
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    @Hobbamok I wouldn't promise "daily". I'd offer videocalls of course, but a promise of daily can soon turn into something to dread if the video calls make the separation more acute (which I've seen at only slightly older).
    – Chris H
    Dec 20, 2021 at 16:23
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    "Many kids are very comfortable with grandparents." -- If any one of my 2, 5, or 8-year-old nephews was told they'd be staying an extra week with their grandparents (my parents) for any reason, they would be Out. Of. Their. Minds. with excitement,😂.
    – Jason C
    Dec 20, 2021 at 19:03
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I do not understand why so many people seem to think such problems ought to be hidden from their own children. 3-year-olds are certainly old enough to grasp basic concepts like love and good and bad, and basic feelings, and basic cause and effect. If they do not know what "sick" means, say:

Daddy and mommy got sick. It means that something is making us feel bad every day. If we go near other people, they also get sick. So we must stay away from you and grandma for some days. But we love you very much, and will come to pick you up after that.

If you cannot do this via video-conferencing, you should probably ask grandma to help you convey this simple message.

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    "I do not understand why so many people seem to think such problems ought to be hidden from their own children." - at three years of age, my children definitely had a much better understanding of what "being sick" means (and possibly even, what consequences it might have) than of "how many days ahead is 'Thursday'". With that in mind, isn't it a very valid question whether it is worth the trouble to actively cause additional distress to the child, by 1) making them aware that they were supposed to get back to mommy and daddy now, but have to wait for some more days, and 2) letting them ... Dec 19, 2021 at 23:20
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    ... know that mommy and daddy are not healthy right now? Dec 19, 2021 at 23:20
  • @O.R.Mapper: It may not be a pleasant thing to think about, but one has to keep in mind the non-zero possibility of something other than merely falling sick and recovering, in which case it seems to me much worse if the parents did not talk to their child just because they didn't want to remind them that they were supposed to pick them up already. Telling the truth may incur some emotional cost, but I personally think that deliberately hiding from one's own children is far worse.
    – user21820
    Dec 20, 2021 at 19:15
  • "If we go near other people, they also get sick" sounds a bit abstract to me for a 3yo but I'm not the one with a 3yo so idk. I would imagine "You'll get sick if you come home" or something like that
    – user253751
    Dec 20, 2021 at 21:35
  • @user253751: I don't think it is more abstract for 3-year-olds than your version. Also, note that yours doesn't actually represent the truth, because it ties getting sick with "home" and so does not explain why the parents cannot go to grandma's place to visit/stay!
    – user21820
    Dec 21, 2021 at 7:59
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My children were (and are) always delighted to be with their grandparents, bonus happiness if parents are not around.

We had a similar case like yours and the kids knew we would be coming "tomorrow" so we had to tell them that we were sick. We did not want to scare them, so we just added "... like you were, you remember?" (and a few more details).

This way they understood why we would not be coming, and they were comfortable with us being sick "because it is like they were".

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At that age, kids take their emotional cues from the adults (and at times other kids) around them. So all you have to do is be honest, truthful, and a bit upbeat and your child won't really care. When they start to care (say bedtime, or bath time, etc.) they tend to care more about the disrupted pattern than anything else. So make sure the grandparents know what the normal pattern and things to do are. For example if it were my son at that age, I would do something like:

Hey, good news, You're going to get to spend some more time with your Grandma. You will get to back cookies, and play games, and have a great time. Me, I'll be fine, I don't feel very good, so I have to focus on getting better. You will get to 'do a favorite thing here'. We will see you in a few days, make sure to 'do lots of other favorite things'.

The important part is to make sure that you and the other adults frame it as positively as you can. You may feel sad about it, but your child doesn't know to be sad about it yet. If they start to miss you or feel sad, then a quick video call should do the trick. Certianly you want to show that you care, but not by teaching that this is a sad thing and everyone should be dramatic and mopey about it.

Focus on the positives:

  • I love you
  • I will see you soon
  • You will have fund with Grandparents
  • You will get to do a lot of fun things

Stay away (as much as you can) from the negatives:

  • I miss you (becomes I miss you too but I will see you soon)
  • I wish you were here (becomes, I wish I was there having fun with you)
  • I want to come home (becomes, soon you will be able to come home, but right now you can play with the pigs (or whatever unique fun thing your grandparents have))

The main idea being if you stay positive then so will your child. Also when they do get to come home, make it special somehow. From a celebration to movie night, to whatever you do. Make sure to show that your happy their home.

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My 3 year-old has been with his maternal grand-parents for a week

How did you make your 3 year old understand and accept this in the first place? Could you "rinse & repeat"?

His mom and I were supposed to pick him up today

I assume this is where your concern arises. Your child was anticipating being picked up so now you have to inform them otherwise?


My 3 and 4 year-olds understand the concept of sickness quite well so I think you should lead with that. Make him understand that the sickness is a big "boo-boo" and that he'll be safe with grandma and grandpa.

Make sure to video chat with your child daily to keep up the feeling of normalcy and interaction with you. This will help to re-assure them that you in no way have forgotten about him. Kids get very antsy when they think they're being ignored or forgotten.

Unrelated post but it re-enforces my closing sentence: https://bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/81601/29627

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