Drawings from 4-year-olds during the pandemic show how much the danger traumatized them

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This 5-year-old child’s drawing from the pandemic shows two people battling the virus.

Courtesy of the Swedish Archive of Children’s Art,

Key takeaways

  • Children between ages four and six illustrated drawings during the pandemic that showed their awareness of the dangers of COVID-19. 
  • Researchers analyzed 91 drawings from the Swedish Archive of Children’s Art.
  • A researcher who analyzed the drawings says parents and educators shouldn’t underestimate young children’s awareness of sickness and death. 

Young children absorbed the fear, stress, and even hope, caused by the pandemic just like the rest of us. 

As part of an ongoing project, researchers in Sweden gathered primary accounts from children who expressed their emotions and understanding of the pandemic visually—by drawing. 

In an analysis of 91 drawings from four, five, and six year olds, researchers found that children understood the dangers the virus posed, including the reality of getting severely sick and dying. The understanding of death as “irreversible,” and that people cannot come back, typically begins between ages five and seven. But those as young as four grasped the fear of the public health crisis, and drawings specifically showcased children’s deep love and fear for their elderly relatives. One child drew their grandmother, who was surrounded by the virus, which was depicted as a monster. 

“People thought that preschool children’s lives weren’t as affected just because they kind of could carry on as they did, but, in fact, they really picked up on the seriousness of the situation,” Anna Sarkadi, researcher on the study and professor of public health at Uppsala University in Sweden, tells Fortune

Researchers outlined three major themes from the drawings as “illustrating the virus and embodying the danger,” showing how “life has changed for the worse,” and portraying that “the virus spreads across the world, affects people and infects their bodies.” 

The drawings were collected through the Swedish Archive of Children’s Art between April 2020 to February 2021. Children’s level of health literacy is higher than people may have thought, the researchers say. 

Children understood how the virus was spreading and the importance of washing hands. One child’s drawing showed the bacteria on someone’s hands when they don’t wash them properly. Another depicted the virus as red dots all over someone’s body.

Sarkadi hopes this encourages parents and educators to include children in conversations that explain health events like the pandemic. They will pick up information from a variety of sources whether on the news or at school, so it’s an opportunity to help answer their questions and distill the information, she says—especially because the drawings showcased the heavy emotional responses of young children. 

“Try to give adequate information even to young children because if they don’t get information that’s adequate to tailor to them, they still pick up stuff,” Sarkadi says, which, in turn, can lead to misinformation. 

While the drawings came from children in Sweden, Sarkadi says she suspects they would be even more profound in other countries that experienced severe lockdown measures. It raises more questions on what the lasting impact of the pandemic will have on the world’s youngest. 

“You can’t think that the youngest won’t be affected,” Sarkadi says.

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