If you’re homeschooling during COVID-19, you’re not alone. Social distancing has become the new normal for families, and you may have questions on how to let ‘kids be kids’ while keeping everyone safe—and sane.
How should I prepare to adjust my child's daily routine?
Being inside, away from friends and displaced from routine can be difficult. However, there are ways to minimize impact and anxiety. First, try to establish a new routine as much as possible. Make a new schedule for activities during the day, and let your child know in advance what to expect. Try to keep normal sleep and wake times, as well as meal times as much as possible. Listen to your child’s questions and complaints. They may be expressing some anxiety about all the changes and concerns about the situation. Try to address those rationally and calmly as much as able. Make time for web-based communications, such as Skype and Facetime, with loved ones. As a parent, you may also need to be flexible sometimes with your rules about screen time limits, what constitutes a meal (cereal for dinner), etc., for everyone’s sanity.
I know "kids are kids," but should I stress about my child constantly putting his hands in his mouth?
As parents, you cannot monitor your child continuously, and as such you have to expect they are going to continue being themselves. One key is to practice good hand hygiene and be sure to disinfect all high-touch surfaces (i.e. toys, iPads).
Is it safe for children to play with neighbors or friends?
Parents need to do an honest risk assessment and evaluation about their own level of comfort with risk. The risk for children to have severe disease seems to be low for COVID-19. However, what is unclear is whether asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic children can spread the disease to adults. If your kids have a lot of contact with people who are at high risk for severe disease (parents, caregivers, grandparents over 60, who have underlying heart or lung conditions, have weakened immune systems, etc.) then playing with neighbors or friends may not be a risk you want to take. Even if the neighbor kids are asymptomatic, there is a risk of spread of the infection. That said, if these are neighbors that you know well, have been in close contact, have a reasonably thorough understanding of their patterns of behavior and activities, AND you have an idea of and are comfortable with your neighbors’ level of risk, then playing with those neighbors may be okay. As always, emphasize hand hygiene and disinfecting high-touch surfaces. Be honest about whether you or your neighbors think kids have symptoms.
Is it safe to visit parks and other public spaces where children can play?
Generally speaking, public spaces are relatively low risk if appropriate social distancing can be achieved. For example, if you and your child are isolated in the park, out walking the dog or riding a bike, and you can maintain separation (6 feet) from other people, then the risk of infection is relatively low from droplet spread. That said, environmental surfaces (slides and playground equipment) could potentially be contaminated. Parents could bring disinfectant wipes with them to public spaces and wipe down and let air dry high-touch surfaces. Of course, frequent use of hand sanitizer is important, too. It is not necessary to stay indoors, but adhering to social distancing recommendations is still very important to try and minimize risk of disease spread. Again, each family needs to undergo a risk assessment for their individual situation.
Answers provided by Michael L. Chang, MD
Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialists, Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital
Assistant Professor, Pediatric Infectious Diseases, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth