In a recent publication on Frontiers in Psychiatry, we outlined specific actions that may help parents in scaffolding children's meaning making around the COVID-19 emergency. We referred to a specific theoretical approach - transactional analysis - to highlight the role of a peculiar children thought process, named "little professor". This is a cute expression that refers to the intuitive and creative—rather than logical—thought process that builds on the explorative attitude of young children and on their sensitivity to the surrounding environment. Of course, this meaning-making process is far from being a conclusive viewpoint on reality and it is critically affected by direct and indirect messages received from the adult caregivers, especially the parents.
While facing the COVID-19 emergency, we may wonder how children are using their "little professor" to develop a naïve theory of what is happening in the external world by incorporating different information sources. There is no need to highlight the key role that parents play in scaffolding children meaning making. As such, they are in a pivotal position to help their children cope with COVID-19 emergency, its uncertainty and challenges. In our paper, we highlighted four actions through which adults can support their children and engage in shared meaning making in times of crisis.
First, it is crucial for parents to be aware of their own emotions and feelings. Negative feelings - such as fear, anger and anxiety - should be validated and elaborated by adults to prevent the risk of transmitting them to children in non-mentalized ways. Second, careful listening should be in place: children are already creating meanings and this is the basis on which shared elaboration should be built. Third, the use of simple language, metaphors and feedback check on the ongoing meaning making should be considered. Fourth, symbolic play and enactments may further help the family to consolidate adaptive and usefull meaning making and mental representations.
In times of healthcare emergency, adults have the responsibility to take care and partner with children in producing integrated, coherent, and adequate meaning-making on the pandemic. In fact, young children create internal representations of their experiences of “being-with” the adult caregivers who support them to make sense about the surrounding environment. The cognitive
and emotional appraisal of subjective experiences by the Little Professor allow the development of adaptive reactions to the situation and peculiar and subjective survival strategies. For this reason, by helping the present generation of children in dealing with the Covid-19 emergency, we hope adults can successfully contribute in nurturing a new generation of human beings that
will share enhanced resiliency when faced with future unexpected and stressful events.
Full citation: Provenzi, L., Baroffio, E., Ligabue, S., & Borgatti, R. (2020). The Little Professor and the Virus: Scaffolding Children’s Meaning Making During the COVID-19 Emergency. Front. Psychiatry, 11, 817.