By Dr. Marshneil Chavan, a CHOC pediatrician
After several months under stay at home orders caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that the normal way of life we knew a few months ago is not returning anytime soon.
As a pediatrician I am constantly having to deal with uncertainties at work and adapt to changes brought about by this pandemic. For example, our office has made changes to support physical distancing and implemented other measures to keep our patients, their parents and our staff safe.
As a parent of two young children, I realize that on most days the challenges I face at home far exceed those at work.
With very little time to prepare, we as parents have had to face challenges related to childcare, distance learning, explaining to kids why we cannot go to the park or see their friends, explaining COVID-19 to kids, and helping them make sense of the changing world around them. As we prepare for the coming months, I want to share how my family and I are dealing with this crisis, hoping this helps you to take care of yours.
Create structure where you can
Children thrive on structure and predictability. My family has tried to maintain a reasonable daily schedule for the kids that includes time for schoolwork, educational activities and free play; and we attempt to limit screen time. Ensuring children get a chance to go outside for exercise every day is also important for their physical and emotional well-being. These outdoor breaks could include walks, jogs, bike riding or walking the dog. Here’s more tips on creating structure and routine for kids during COVID-19.
Plan something to look forward to
Planning ahead for special activities with kids during your free time gives them something to look forward to, and they will enjoy the feeling of spending quality time with Mom or Dad. My family has had fun with backyard picnics, singing and dancing together, painting, baking, family movie nights and evening car rides.
Our children have also enjoyed virtual playdates with friends, connecting with cousins over via phone calls and video chats, and celebrating virtual birthday parties. Since children are spending a lot more time at home than before, this is also a good time to engage them in additional age appropriate household chores. Here’s more activity ideas for kids during COVID-19.
How I’m protecting my family
All parents want to do their best to keep their family safe and healthy during this time. In addition to balanced nutritious meals (here’s some recipe ideas!) and exercise, sleep is a great immunity booster. Set reasonable hours for bedtime and waking up to make sure children get at least 9-10 hours of sleep every night. Minimizing outings in public places unless necessary, following face covering guidelines, good handwashing and sanitizing methods and maintaining social distancing in public are all key to ensure we play our part in continuing to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.
Maintaining well checks
Under the current stay at home orders, it can be tempting to skip your child’s well check if they’re feeling healthy. However, maintaining well child checks and staying up to date on vaccines is essential during this time. I have taken my children to their well check visits to make sure they are growing and developing well and are up to date on their vaccinations. When flu season comes around, I will also make sure our family gets our flu vaccines on time.
Be mindful of mental health
When speaking to children about COVID-19, ask them what they know since they have very likely already absorbed some information from news, elders or social media. It is important to provide reassurance and offer specific directions on what you are doing to keep them safe and what they can do themselves.
As a physician I cannot truly predict how this pandemic will evolve over the next several months. And, hence, there are no straight answers to my children’s questions of, “When can we go to Disneyland again? When can we fly to see Grandpa? When can I have a ”rea”’ birthday party?” If you’re getting the same questions from your kids, be honest and open to discuss possibilities as these can be great opportunities for kids to learn to live with uncertainty and build flexibility and resilience.
CHOC experts have created a variety of guides for parents on how to support their children during the pandemic A few are below, but you can find more resources here.
- 7 ways to help kids cope with COVID-19 anxiety
- How to help kids who are afraid of masks during COVID-19
- How to help your teen cope with COVID-19 cancellations
- How cognitive behavior therapy can help reduce COVID-19 stress
Meeting all these additional demands on our energies and attention for the foreseeable future is only possible if we maintain our physical, emotional and mental stability. Do not forget to take some time for self-care, which includes proper sleep, nutrition and exercise. Here’s more tips on self-care from a CHOC psychologist.
In my family, we avoid spending too much time watching or discussing COVID-related news, especially in front of the children. Amidst constant news of sickness, financial challenges and social upheaval I rely on my daily Heartfulness meditation practice to give me perspective and keep me going. Consciously practicing gratitude is also a great way to boost our self-esteem during these trying times. Personally, taking 5 minutes to list things I am grateful for every day as part of my bedtime routine has worked wonders to bring more optimism and joy to my day. Here’s more tips on practicing mindfulness and meditation.
Eventually, it is important to remember to accept the uncertainty, pat yourself on the back, pick your battles, stay connected and stay positive.
Everything parents need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine for children and teens from the pediatric experts at CHOC