As we move into a state of emergency for the state of Alabama, many parents find themselves grappling with the question: what should I do with my kids? This seemingly simple question has a rather complicated answer, but, with a few simple tips, you can hopefully help these few weeks at home to be both educational and rewarding.
Keep them home. If possible, your kids should stay home or with a relative. Social distancing means staying 6-10 feet away from people in our community and that is not possible in schools, daycares, or restaurants. Although kids themselves are unlikely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, they can be “silent carriers” throughout the community, increasing the spread of illness and the potential overburdening of our health care system.
Create a routine. The atmosphere surrounding this pandemic is anxiety-producing, even for adults. One of the ways to reduce anxiety in children is by having them follow a routine. Routines can also help you keep check on their screen time. Some ideas for a daily routine include:
• Academic Time – If your child was sent home with a packet from school, this would be a good time to work on it. But, academic time does not have to involve sitting at a desk all day. For school-age kids, I recommend that they choose a project they would like to complete over the break and work on it daily. For example, they may want to learn how to bake a cake, play the guitar, build a birdhouse, etc. Learning isn’t always about doing math worksheets. Let’s make it fun!
• Reading time – Reading is always good for kids. A break is a great opportunity to finish a book series that they have been wanting to read without the stress of having to read an “assigned” book or meet an AR goal. Reading TOGETHER, if you are able, further strengthens your bond with your children and provides another source of calm during otherwise stressful times.
• Creative time – Give kids a chance to express themselves through painting, playing with clay, or building blocks. This would also be a good time for drawing or writing without an educational purpose in mind. Research has shown that writing improves a child’s reading skills.
• Chores – Helping with daily household tasks gives kids a sense of responsibility and teaches them how to contribute. Kids as young as 4 can help set the table, put away their toys, and put their dirty clothes in the hamper. Older kids can also help fold/put away clothes, wash dishes, and sweep floors.
• Free time – Unstructured (or loosely structured) playtime is important for a child’s development – and, for older kids, just good for sanity! While routines are very important, do not feel the need to schedule every single minute of the day.
• Random Acts of Kindness – This time of social distancing is unprecedented. It is likely to create feelings of fear, helplessness, and isolation in all of us – and kids are not excluded. One way to help kids deal with their fear is to say to kids, as Mr. Rogers' mom said to him when he was young, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” An even more effective strategy is to encourage your kids to BE the helpers! Pick a regular project to “help” the community – ask an elderly friend/neighbor if you can do chores or run to the grocery for them. Write cards or letters to friends that we may not get to see for a while. Draw pictures or make a gift basket to drop off for first responders, nursing home caregivers, or hospital staff. These activities can help ease your child’s fear and make them feel like part of a community.
Provide reassurance. All of the media and social media coverage about the COVID-19 outbreak can be overwhelming. Limit your child’s exposure to the media so that you can filter the messages that they receive. Provide reassurance that doctors and scientists are working to take the necessary steps to keep everyone safe. Remind them that they are in control of their health by washing their hands, eating their vegetables, getting enough sleep, and covering their cough or sneeze. Finally, remember that parents set the tone. If you find yourself becoming anxious about the news, limit your exposure, do something fun with your family, and reach out to your support system.
While the next few months will be challenging for our country, you have all of the resources already in your home to make this experience rewarding as well.
For additional information, we recommend the following HealthyChildren.org articles:
• 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
• How to Reinforce Your Child’s Learning
• 10 No-Cost, Screen-Free Activities to Play with Your Preschooler
• Young Children Learn A Lot When They Play
Written By: Nola Jean Ernest, MD, FAAP