AUTHOR: Joan B. Thode, MD
Social distancing, while extremely important in helping stop the spread of COVID-19, is presenting unique challenges for parents. With some understanding, creativity, and practical tips, families can get through the coronavirus outbreak—or any stressful situation—together.
Kids Crave Structure
Keep at least a loose schedule or routine. It’s best if written down. Although this doesn’t need to be strictly followed, it can give the comfort of structure and expectation for the day. It’s important to schedule times with and without screens.
Kids Need to Process Their Stress
While your five-year-old may not know the details about coronavirus and its effect on society, they easily pick up on their parents’ stress and what is shared on the news. Many kids process through open-ended play, which needs to be a part of every day’s agenda. Don’t be surprised, for example, if your child states that their Lego people or their doll has coronavirus. Allow for this free play and ask questions/interact to help differentiate normal awareness and perseverative fear (“getting stuck” on an idea), which may warrant a call to a therapist or pediatrician.
Kids Crave Your Affirmation
Unfortunately, especially when they become listless in the house and can be prone to frustration and mischief, it can feel tough to give affirmation. The best way to fulfill this need is to “catch your child being good” and give unsolicited verbal praise.
Kids Can Benefit from Boredom
Screens provide a lot of sensory stimulation, but also allow the brain to be more passive. Having intentional times with no screens forces children of all ages to find something to do with toys, books, or physical activity. This often leads to the creative play that their brains crave. Art projects of any type can be a great outlet, particularly if the project is ongoing for a few days or requires learning a new skill. Cardboard boxes can make train tracks. A box of blocks can suddenly become a city. A box full of empty containers and odds and ends is a goldmine for a child's active mind.
Humans Need Social Interaction
While keeping strict isolation is incredibly important, humans crave social connection. FaceTime/Skype with family members and friends can greatly help the feelings of isolation. While phones are helpful in facilitating conversations with others, it’s important for kids to feel socially connected to their parents and caregivers. The more direct attention a caregiver can provide, the stronger the child’s perception of that social connection. This means putting our phones not only down, but completely away from the area of play to provide even a short period of focused play.
Doing something to help others also provides a sense of community. Making a card, calling in to check on a neighbor, or making a gift to show gratitude to health-care workers, first responders, grocery clerks, and/or delivery/mail workers gives children a sense of belonging in a larger community context.
Kids Need to Feel Needed
Giving a child of any age a specific chore or job to do can provide a sense of accomplishment and control.
Kids Need Physical Exertion
If it’s safe to go outside, this is ideal for running around. Kids should have a minimum of 60 minutes of physical exertion daily. Going outside also allows for fresh air and vitamin D (If you’re planning on being out in the sun for more than 15 minutes, sunscreen on the face and exposed skin is important!). If safety concerns or weather keep you indoors, walking the stairs or learning dance moves can offer creative alternatives.