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Managing Family Anxiety While Staying at Home

Talking About Coronavirus for Parents

We asked Dr. Ray for tips on managing health and wellness with young children.

Everything happening outside can be overwhelming for families right now. More states are adding stay-at-home measures across the nation and that's unnerving. But families with young children can also take this opportunity to take control of their immediate surroundings. Your home is your controlled environment. With a plan, you can create a calming, nurturing, and educational space that promotes health and wellness for everyone. Dr. Ray Fabius has some advice.

If you missed our last blog, be sure to learn more about how Dr. Ray is guiding our response to coronavirus. He’s the pediatrician and population health expert helping us do what’s right for our families. We asked Dr. Ray for advice on some hard questions that might be on parents’ minds right now. Above all, he says people must “remain kind and attentive to the needs and feelings of our family members and loved ones.”

Staying healthy

Q: Parents are worried for their children’s health 24/7, especially now. What should be at the top of their minds as they try to keep their children safe from COVID-19?

A: What’s most important is for families to maintain a comforting, nurturing environment for their children. This may be the only time in their children’s lives when they will have so much contact with their parents. Make the most of it. Learn together. Be safe together. Laugh together.

Q: How would you suggest parents monitor their children’s health during this time? Should they be checking temperatures daily?

A: Most parents can tell if their child is sick by the way they are acting. I would reserve taking temperatures for those situations only. 

Q: What should parents do if they fear they or their child have been exposed to the coronavirus?

A: Exposure should only make families more vigilant. Stay away from others, do everything to maintain health. Eat right, drink water, exercise, get adequate sleep.

Mindful wellness

Q: Is it safe to go to a park or playground? If not, what are some safe ways for kids to play and get exercise?

A: Parks and playgrounds are only safe if you can maintain physical distancing. That means not getting closer than 6 feet to other parents and children. You should be able to do that on a nature trail or in a field at a park.

It may be more difficult to control your child’s environment on a playground. If you feel you must, try early in the morning or late in the day when fewer parents and children are there. Carry hand sanitizer and wash your hands.

Alternatively, you can convert your home to a “fitness center.” For example, every stairwell is an exercise machine.  Try counting how many times you and your kids can walk up and down the stairs for at-home exercise.

Q: What activities would you suggest families do together to reduce stress or blow off steam?

A: Read books together. Tell stories. Do arts and crafts. Watch age-appropriate movies. Make a long list of loved ones and call everyone on the list over the next week. Clean up the home, one room at a time. Plant a garden in the back yard.

These activities should be done during a dedicated set period every day. Keeping to a schedule provides a sense of order for children.

It’s also important to look to the future. Plan activities together you will do once this is all over, like taking a family vacation or visiting relatives.

Q: How would you suggest parents set a healthy routine for their children at home all day? How do they balance learning breaks versus sticking with a school schedule?

A: A routine is comforting to children. I would suggest a good balance of household chores, learning sessions, fun family activities, mealtimes, and downtime—but set a daily schedule.

Q: How can parents, especially single parents, take care of themselves while the whole family is home?

A: Where there are two parents, some degree of taking turns with managing the children makes sense. If each parent can provide a break for the other parent to get work done or just have some down time that is ideal.

It is a greater challenge for a single parent. In this case, consider putting non-essential housework off for a while to reduce the burden and allow the parent to focus on nurturing their children. They need to balance the merits of full physical distancing while trying to allow for some periodic extra help to enter and exit their home.

Practically speaking, consideration should be given to having a healthy young adult relative or trusted friend (preferably under 40) “bunk” with the single parent family for the duration of the pandemic to share parental duties. That means living with the family rather than coming and going.

Social interactions

Q: How might parents explain quarantine (especially if it’s a family member) or shelter in place to their children if it happens to them?

A: Families should discuss this openly with honesty, truthfulness, empathy, and compassion. First, explain the situation in age-appropriate language. Pause frequently so that the children can ask questions. Express that you are sure this is hard to understand. Encourage more discussion.

End on a positive note: Doctors and scientists are certain that these quarantines are saving people from getting sick including them. Make it clear that this is not going to continue forever. Let them know that all of their friends and families are going through this with them. They are not alone. As always, express your love for them often.

Q: What are some safe ways families can be social with friends and family when they have to stay home? Are guests or playdates safe in times like these?

A: We are so fortunate to have technology that can allow for virtual playdates and visiting. These are the safest options. Act as if your loved ones, friends, and even neighbors live far away. Use video connections to see and talk to them.

Actual visits may be safe if the visitor is healthy and keeps a safe 6-foot distance from you and your family. This might be better conducted outdoors on a nice day. Perhaps you could meet at a park.

Q: For families or single parents who are essential workers, what are the best ways they can support their children’s health and safety while they work and when they come home?

A: First of all, we must thank the entire family for their service: the essential worker, the spouse, and the children. It goes without saying that the essential worker must do everything in their power to not catch COVID-19 and bring it home to their family.

As an essential worker, these parents are key to their community, so they must use the right measures to protect themselves and their family. If they do get sick, they must get tested. If they test positive for COVID-19, the safest thing for their family would be to quarantine themselves.

Otherwise, when returning home, essential workers need to be given a chance to wash up on re-entry. Perhaps it would be prudent to bathe and change clothes first to set a great example to the other family members on your commitment to keeping them safe.

Single parents who are essential workers should attempt to acquire help from a friend or family member to help care for their children. As mentioned above, healthy young relatives or friends should be approached to possibly “bunk” with them or take care of their child(ren) while they work—especially if essential child care services like KinderCare are not available. I admire the fact that KinderCare Learning Centers, Champions, and others are providing this service for the children of essential workers.

As this unfolds, look for more in-depth actionable advice on many of these topics—and uplifting encouragement!—from Dr. Ray for managing family anxiety, staying healthy, and making the most of this time together. He’ll be sharing many tips on our social media channels and website on how to support each other.