As the world focuses its collective attention on the COVID19 pandemic, as parents we are faced with the additionally daunting challenge of keeping our children and families safe in the face of uncertainty. While there’s a lot we don’t yet know about this particular coronavirus and it’s understandable to feel anxious or stressed, one of the most important things you can do – for yourself and your children – is to focus on what we do know about what works, and on the many things you can do to outsmart the virus and keep your family healthy and safe.
Take social distancing seriously. Regardless of where you live or what you are (or aren’t) required to do when it comes to “sheltering in place” or “social distancing,” the fact of the matter is that limiting who you and your children come in contact with is extremely important – both to slow the spread of the virus in general and, more specifically, to decrease the chances that you or your children become infected. While this definitely means avoiding hugging and handshaking for the time being, it’s also important to maintain a recommended six foot distance between you and those not living in your home. Anything less and virus-containing respiratory droplets that are coughed, sneezed, or otherwise make their way into the air can reach you. Unfortunately, there are no exceptions to this six foot separation – not at parks, parties or playdates.
Avoid touchy situations (and surfaces). Just like many other viruses, this new coronavirus has the ability to remain on surfaces for as long as one to three days. That means that in addition to avoiding other people, you’ll want to think about and disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, keypads, countertops, etc. Doing this at home is a good idea, especially if you or anyone in the family is going out of and returning to the house. It’s all the more important when you are out in public areas such as the grocery store or at the gas station. Do note that cleaning is not the same thing as disinfecting, and that to effectively “kill” coronavirus (and other germs), you’ll need to use disinfecting products (eg wipes, sprays)
Handy habits. As a parent, a pediatrician, the former owner of a childcare center and a former spokesperson for the CDC’s “Wash your hands, cover your cough” campaign, I am the first to acknowledge just how challenging it can be to get children (not to mention adults) to make washing their hands a matter of routine. That said, there has never been a better time to commit as a family to doing so. The motivation? While hand sanitizer works, soap and water is considered even more effective.
Make it a matter of routine(s). While it may be tempting to focus all of your attention on combatting the coronavirus, as parents we have the very real opportunity to give our children a critically important and reassuring sense of security that extends beyond covering their coughs, washing their hands, and foregoing playdates. As we all potentially face many more weeks of time at home with our children, the more you can do to give your children a sense of routine, the better – both established routines such as books at bedtime, and any fun new routines you can think of (think games, gardening, cooking, using social media to connect with friends and loved ones). This also applies to day-to-day routines like preparing and eating healthy meals together, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Also remember that you have the ability to limit and filter the amount of information your child hears. While the pandemic is unpredictable and daily newscasts all too often frightening, especially for younger children, you have the ability to control the message(s) they hear.
Take care of yourself. As we are all faced with the added challenge of social distancing, “sheltering-in-place” and trying to keep our children, families and loved ones safe, it’s especially important that you also take care of yourself. These are trying times, and for some, they may understandably invoke feelings of fatigue, frustration, stress, anxiety or depression. These feelings are normal and it’s important that you make time to reach out and get the support you need – whether that’s from friends, family members, or health professionals. Parenting on a good day can be challenging. Parenting during a pandemic is all the more so. While this pandemic represents unknown territory for all of us, what we do know is that there are many things you can do to protect your family, reassure yourself, and give your children a reassuring sense of love and security.
Dr. Laura Jana is a pediatrician, health communicator, and award-winning parenting and children’s book author with a faculty appointment at Penn State’s Prevention Research Center.