Health Matters: Caring for Children in the COVID-19 Era

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The Public Health order that requires us to stay home is a minor nuisance for some families and a terrible burden for others. As parents worry about health, finances, and how to balance work and personal pressures, children in the home often absorb all that stress.

In an effort to make everyone healthier and a little calmer, here are some tips.

Is it Allergies or Covid-19?

This has been an especially bad spring for seasonal allergies, so some people who’ve never had allergies are experiencing wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and a dry cough dry—symptoms that happen to be shared with Covid-19. To figure out whether you have allergies or something else, ask yourself this question: do you have a fever? Allergies fortunately do not cause fever. Consult your medical provider if you have any of these symptoms with fever.

Use Trusted Resources (healthychildren.org)

Whether you’re looking for age-appropriate activities to fill your children’s days or advice on how to manage a child who is struggling, be they toddler or teen, it’s important to use trusted sources of information. I recommend visiting healthychildren.org. It includes information about how to protect your family from Covid-19, how to talk to your children about it, and how to recognize whether your children need extra support.

Keep a Routine with Healthy Habits

As this shelter-in-place order extends into the foreseeable future, it’s important to create a routine, especially for children. Set consistent wake times and bedtimes. Sit down together for healthy meals at the same time every day. Create a quiet space for academic and/or creative pursuits. Make sure kids get outside safely and move every single day.

Limit Exposure to Bad News

One of the healthiest things you can do for your children is to limit their exposure to TV and internet news concerning Covid-19. Young children shouldn’t watch the news at all, and teens should watch a limited amount. Media channels tend to focus on fear and what is sensational—that’s what sells. To learn the latest about what’s happening in Mendocino County, visit mendocinocounty.org/community/novel-coronavirus.

Manage Your Feelings First

During these stressful times, the incidence of child and domestic abuse have increased in Mendocino County. Even though it can be hard when we are all cooped up together, creating space for alone time may be vital to everyone’s physical and mental health. If your young child’s behavior feels frustrating to the point of overwhelming, there’s help: visit mendochildren.org/family-support/triple-p-mendocino to learn more about positive parenting. If you have adolescent children, it’s okay to let them know you’re too angry to deal with the situation at that moment and that you need to take some time away from them to calm down. Children pick up on their parents’ emotions. If you can calm your fears and frustrations, you’ll be helping everyone in the home feel better.    

Help Children Manage Their Feelings

By communicating well and sharing your feelings, you’re modeling good coping skills for your children. Ask them how they’re feeling. If they’re stressed, angry, confused, or irritable, let them know you understand and that their feelings are normal. Answer their questions honestly with a level of detail appropriate for their age and stage of development.

Focus on the Positive

Although there are plenty of challenges right now, there are also plenty of positive things to focus on. This time together can bring you closer with the people you love. Schedule family game night. Do puzzles together. Play cards. Bake cookies. Do scavenger hunts. Work with your children’s teacher to use this time to enrich your child’s academics.

While it may feel like this isolation will never end, we know it will. When problems feel too big, break them down into smaller, more manageable steps. As the old saying goes, “How do you climb a mountain? One step at a time.”

P.S. Even though COVID is out and around, be sure to have your children under age two vaccinated for the other diseases we can prevent.

Dr. Martin-Ko is a pediatrician at MCHC Health Centers—a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.

Next: MCHC Health Centers Supports Community Dentists to Reduce the Spread of Coronavirus →