Unfortunately, I have no crystal ball to know when and how this current COVID19 crisis will end. Nor do I have any wisdom beyond what the amazing people at the CDC tell us all. These shortcomings aside, I do know how very difficult this is for all of us, and especially for children and adolescents. Here are some of thoughts/tips to provide insight and comfort:
A three-year-old has an attention span of 3-8 minutes. They are very concrete thinkers: hot stove can burn, mushrooms taste bad, Daddy is funny. They make judgements quickly and frequently and they stick with them. These developmental characteristics make social distancing with a preschooler incredibly difficult. It is too abstract of a concept; hidden dangers are not real to them yet. So, we get creative, we move from one activity to the next, and we hope for sunny days to play outside. This is the challenge of being a parent to young children right now. The good news is that there are highly unlikely to be any long-term negative effects of this stressful time for them. In fact, having less of a schedule, and more parental attention will most likely improve their free play and imagination skills which is very good for long term cognitive and emotional health.
School age children ages 5-12 are going to take their cues from their parents. Developmentally they can understand that there is danger, and certainly they feel intense sadness about missing things they look forward to. They are programmed to look to the adults in their life for the appropriate response. For their sake, parents need to find balance during this incredibly unbalanced time. Know thyself. Know thy child. Speak openly and honestly about your fears but always provide hope. Give them things they can do such as facetiming with friends, outdoor activities, and new projects at home. Empower them with things they can control such as choosing which movie the family watches, finding the perfect cookie to bake, or creating a scavenger hunt for a sibling.
Teens are the ones I worry about the most right now. Developmentally they feel invincible and might resent efforts to control viral spread as too constricting and even a violation of their rights. They also are very susceptible to anxiety and may not have the resilience they need to fight that in a productive way. Yet most teens today are also very connected to the world and understand better than any generation what a ripple effect our behaviors can have. Be flexible where you can; allow them to social distance but still interact. Engaging in safe ways such as bike rides, distanced interactions, age appropriate video games, and face timing is critical for this population. Give them a forum to express grievances, to mourn losses such as sports, prom, and performances. Remember that there are likely a few more adults besides you that have meaningful relationships with your child, so encourage them to reach out to teachers, coaches etc. during this time. I know from speaking to many of these professionals that they miss your children as much as they miss them.
Special needs children and their parents may be the ones who truly suffer the most emotionally from this epidemic. If you have a special needs child in your life please consider asking therapists, teachers, pediatricians, and anyone else who is part of his/her support system for ideas on specific ways to help your child. If you are friends with a family who has a child with ADHD, Autism, Down’s Syndrome, or any other diagnosis that thrives in routine, support and connectedness please consider reaching out to them. Merely knowing that people are thinking of them may help make things a little easier. Taking it one step further and offering to do things such as make a meal or to do a virtual music class with their child, or any idea that gives them a break would be truly heroic.
A few medical reminders:
· The CDC is recommending that children under the age of two continue to have their well check ups and immunizations. The last thing we want is a measles or whooping cough outbreak related to this pause. Most providers have worked out times and office divisions to bring kids in for these appointments safely.
· Telehealth has become a great tool for many pediatricians, things like pink eye, headaches, and mental health problems can be discussed and often treated this way.
· Most pediatricians are open for things that should not wait such as ear infections, strep throat, and abdominal pain. And of course, a pediatrician can advise you on any/all concerns about coronavirus and your children.
· It is advised that any asthma preventive measures, or sick day plans be followed during this increased risk. If you need refills your healthcare provider should be able to provide them over the phone.
· The buds are on the trees which means spring allergies will soon be in full bloom. If your child takes allergy medicine now is the time to start giving them regularly.
· Hand sanitizer contains a high volume of alcohol and can lead to poisoning if ingested. Please be mindful of large bottles being accessible to young children.
· Connectedness has been shown to be greatest tool towards the preservation of emotional health. Quarantine, and social distancing are obviously not conducive with connectedness, but coming together for the preservation of health is. Make sure that you and your children are staying linked in with friends, family, and supports such as schools.
The Lancaster community is built on a foundation of creativity, resilience, and hard work… I have no doubt we will emerge from this stronger than ever. While I am certainly biased, I think our medical community has talent, innovation, and dedication unmatched by any other community our size, so I am certain we are all in good hands. To quote my inspiring neighbor with the sign in his yard: “We are all apart… but still together”. Stay Safe and Connected.