A pediatrician’s tips to help you and your family during the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus has certainly served to manifest our shared humanity and vulnerability.  As parents, many of us are facing substantial challenges in providing for our families, as we struggle to help our children with their schoolwork, all the while hoping we can return to some semblance of normalcy soon.  To continue to provide the security and love our children need in order to thrive in our homes, we must also commit to taking care of ourselves.  The following basic principles can help you and your family remain grounded amidst the often-stressful challenges of being confined to our homes during the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. Continue with a daily routine. Set firm bedtime and waking schedules for you and your children.  Children, especially the youngest, thrive when following a schedule, and kids of all ages feel more secure with a consistent routine. I also recommend school-aged children read for at least 30 minutes every day. Be creative with reading.  Read to your children, with your children and consider “read aloud” sessions or “story hour” in your home.  Make sure there are times in your daily routine for free-play and arts and crafts. Activities are limitless, with examples like playing musical instruments, coloring, building a fort, playing board games, or sculpting with clay or Play-Doh. Daily routines that include opportunities for creativity are critically important for skills development and will encourage your child’s imagination.

2. Even confined within the home environment, don’t forget to exercise. The YMCA has free videos with family activities that encourage physical activity. Dancing with your child, going for a walk (while maintaining social distancing), or playing a backyard game are all potential ways that you and your child can stay active.

3. Eat a healthy diet. Don’t forget to eat vegetables and fruits as part of a balanced diet. Try cooking homemade meals with your children helping out.  Share with them your most cherished family recipes or even more exciting, experiment together, and come up with a new one!  Have you ever considered starting a new vegetable garden with your child?  This is a wonderful time to teach your children how plants grow and where food comes from.  Learning and practicing a healthy diet can be an exciting educational opportunity for your little ones.

4. Spirituality. This is an important part of our culture, and we must never underestimate how important it is to continue growing in our faith by making time for prayer and meditation. Many churches, temples, and religious establishments are offering services via Facebook Live, Zoom, or other video-conferencing platforms. Listening to calming music, reading inspirational books, and taking the time to practice your faith is an important example for your children, and often helps parents and families stay focused on what matters most in our lives.

5. Limit exposure to electronics and social media. Having the news blasting in the background all day long could be a source of anxiety and uncertainty for your family. Stay informed, every day, but commit to turning off the TV and putting down your devices.  Many of us are adjusting to our children being required to engage in all their educational experiences through an electronic device within the home environment. This means that screen time has increased for many of our children by default. Now more than ever, spending quality, face-to-face time with your loved ones must be a daily priority.  Making time, like regular family mealtimes, to eliminate the powerful distractions of media and electronics can bring a sense of peace and continuity to your home.  Please never forget that your children need you the most.  Be present for and with them, while also finding times to replenish yourself like scheduling walks alone or blocking private times of planning and contemplation, without the noise of the daily grind.

Our physical and mental health is a priority. If you are feeling depressed or anxious and in need of help, please don’t forget to reach out to your medical provider.  Many physicians, therapists, and counselors are currently providing telehealth services, meaning that you can access their services and support from the comfort of your home.  Limit social media use for singular gratification yes, but please be sure to employ the technology to reach out for helpful medical and emotional support, and please be sure to stay in contact with the special people in your lives.  Don’t isolate yourself from your loved ones, and always stay in touch. You and your children are not alone in this time of challenge.  We can make it through together.

Johanna Vidal Phelan is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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