Child using laptop
Child using laptop
Child using laptop

Coronavirus: What to Do If Your Kids Stay Home

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Updated on April 29, 2020

In many parts of the U.S. and around the world, children are staying home from school to help reduce the spread of the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the illness it causes. While this is a critical way to practice physical distancing, it can be disruptive to daily life, especially for children. And, if you’re a parent or caregiver with a child home from school, there’s an added challenge of keeping your son or daughter calm — and occupied — during the unexpected break.

Pranita Tamma, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, and Patrick Mularoni, M.D., medical director of the pediatric sports medicine program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, share some practical tips to help keep you and your kids healthy and active during your time together at home.

How can you talk to your child about the pandemic and why they have to stay home?

“It’s OK to let your children know that there are some new germs in the environment and that we all need to do our part to reduce their spread,” says Tamma. “You can tell them that we are all still learning about it, but that you are doing everything possible to make sure they stay safe and healthy.”

Tamma encourages adults to let children know they can play a role and help. Remind them to cough or sneeze into their elbow or a tissue, and to throw the tissue away. When teaching them proper hand-washing, make it a fun process by using song to ensure they wash their hands for 20 seconds.

“Focusing on what they can do to help slow the spread of the coronavirus can help them feel like they have some control in an uncertain time,” says Tamma.

It’s also important to teach your children to be kind to others, Tamma notes. “Let them know that anyone can become sick from viruses, and that they should not make assumptions about people based on their race or ethnicity.”

What can you do if your child’s school is closed?

With schools closed and families at home, it’s easy to slip into the summer vacation or snow day mindset. As tempting as it may be to sit in front of the television for movie marathons or series binges, it's important to keep kids engaged in a healthy way while school’s out.

  • Stick to a schedule. Children and teens benefit from structure. Stick to their regular routines as much as possible, especially on weekdays. If they have schoolwork to do, create blocks of time for focused work, with breaks in between for a healthy snack or for playtime for the younger ones. You can also make a schedule for chores.
  • Keep their brains busy. Older kids and teens can use this break from school to dive into interests they may otherwise not have time for. Encourage them to learn something new, like a piece of interesting trivia, or cultivate a hobby or skill.
  • Dedicate time for play. Playtime is a valuable way to maintain a sense of normalcy for your kids as well as to promote emotional well-being. If possible, spend some time outdoors by playing in the backyard or taking a walk around the block. Be mindful, however, of keeping a healthy distance from others. If your family is spending time outdoors, Tamma also suggests having a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, containing at least 60% alcohol, at the entrance of your home so everyone reduces the amount of germs entering your home environment.
  • Make time for conversation. Children and teens may be feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Check in with them to see how they’re feeling and to address any concerns they have. If you often have the news on the TV, it is a good idea to reduce the amount of screen time that focuses on COVID-19 to help lesson anxiety. For older children, you might need to monitor their social media use. “Children are always picking up cues from their parents’ conversations and behavior,” Tamma notes. “As much as possible, try to remain calm and in control to help prevent your children from becoming anxious.” 

Can children who are physical distancing have play dates?

Schools are closed to help promote physical distancing and reduce face-to-face interaction, but this won’t be effective if the practice isn’t continued at home.

Although smaller groups are better than large ones, it’s best to minimize contact as much as possible, says Tamma. “Avoid birthday parties and other social gatherings with your children’s friends, even with just one or two friends,” she says, Consider alternative ways for kids to connect with their peers, such as video chatting.

How do you keep a sports routine going for a child athlete?

With sports on hiatus because of the COVID-19 crisis, athletes are challenged in how to maintain fitness with limited training options. Pediatric sports medicine expert Patrick Mularoni, M.D., provides parents and students with tips about getting back into the sports routine:

  • Talk about what is going on and come up with a plan to keep your athlete conditioned and motivated.
  • Think outside the box and get inventive with what’s around you. Kicking or throwing a ball against a wall might be an option. If your children can’t play their specific sports, they could choose other activities to cross train or that may develop similar skills.
  • Come together as a family and train together. Find a workout on the internet or on demand on your TV. Make training a family activity.
  • Encourage your athlete to play with you or a sibling. The little brother might not throw or kick the best pass but that could be a good way to practice catching, fielding or trapping the ball.

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How can parents maintain balance when combining work and child care at home?

If you’re teleworking, setting expectations about your needs can help maintain a balance between work and home.

  • Set clear boundaries. Let your family know that, during certain hours, you need to focus on your work. Visual cues like a closed door can signal you are working and to not interrupt.
  • Create designated “quiet zones.” A common area like the living room or kitchen table can be a quiet zone during work or school hours. Not only is it helpful for you, but it can provide a space for your child to engage in activities such as reading, writing or drawing. “For older children, this is a great way to encourage them to read a book while you are catching up on your work,” says Tamma. “You can spend time working together.”
  • Coordinate care. If your partner, an older child or another relative is home, develop a shift schedule to help manage care of younger children so caregivers can avoid burnout and attend to other household or work needs — or catch a quick nap.
  • Move together. If you are usually in the habit of going to the gym, consider finding online exercise videos so you can maintain an exercise routine while at home. “You can even find online exercise videos that encourage your children to exercise with you,” says Tamma.

What if your child’s school or day care remain open?

Some schools and day care facilities are staying open until directed otherwise — especially for children with caretakers who can’t stay home from work. If yours is still open, check to see what procedures or precautions they have in place regarding hand-washing, hygiene and physical distancing. Talk about it with your child to be sure they understand.

If you are uncomfortable keeping your child in school, contact the teacher or administrator about protocols they may have for remote learning, particularly if you or another caretaker can spend time with your child at home.

“This is a new situation for all of us,” Tamma says. “We need to work together to do our part in keeping our environment clean and limiting the spread of infection, especially to protect our friends and neighbors who may be especially vulnerable to viral infections.”

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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What you need to know from Johns Hopkins Medicine.