Is your kid incorporating COVID-19 into play? A UNC child psychiatrist says you shouldn't worry

During the pandemic, many parents have reported that their children are play-acting COVID games.

Many are alarmed because the narrative is sometimes dark, surrounding people getting sick and dying.

A UNC child psychiatrist and mother to a 4-year-old cautions parents not to overreact.

"You don't want to shelter your kids so much from real life because you do want them to learn from hard experiences," said Dr. Riah Patterson.

She remembers playing cooties tag when she was a girl and always recalled it was innocent. But now she's rethinking that.

"Maybe that really was about germs and being afraid of others and how you can pass on disease or illness," she said.

Indeed, the Cooties box game and the traditional game of tag became more popular during the polio outbreak in the 1950s, according to historians.

Historians also say the Ring Around the Rosy rhyme was about carrying flowers to ward off disease during the Great Plague in the 1600s.

Today's version: play-acting coronavirus.

"It may sound kind of morbid if the kids are playing quarantine and someone is sick," Dr. Patterson said, noting that it's a perfectly healthy coping mechanism. "That's actually a way for them to work through things that are stressful."

Her son recently brought home a drawing of the now-familiar coronavirus ball with spikes.

"I do all this theoretical study, right? But then when it's right in front of you at home it's a little bit bizarre," she admitted.

And she felt the same emotion any parent would.

"It was just sadness that here we are in this world where my child is having to worry about, you know his safety and the safety of loved ones," Dr. Patterson said.

And she suggests that if your children are pandemic play-acting that you not overreact or inject yourself.

"You really want the child to be able to express themselves, kind of work out their own issues, own problems, and you want to be there to answer questions and to be honest but really to be permissive to that process," she advised.
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