Pediatrics | Published April 3, 2020 | Written by Kristie Kaufman, MD, pediatrics, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Keeping younger kids healthy and busy during social distancing

Kristie Kaufman, MD, Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics

We are living in a new reality, with reports and updates about the spread of COVID-19 bombarding us multiple times each day. For parents of small children, anxiety about the virus can be compounded by concerns about keeping their children safe, healthy and reassured during this period of social distancing.

Have you ever experienced turbulence while flying in an airplane? A flight attendant who seems terrified may make you think it’s time to worry. On the other hand, if a flight attendant calmly offers you a beverage with a smile, you’ll be reassured that the bumps and windy weather will pass soon.

It’s the same when talking with young children about the virus. The most important thing parents can do is to model calmness because their children will look to them to see how afraid they should be.

Here are some things for parents to keep in mind:

Reassure. Kids will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others. Reassure kids they are safe.

Be available to listen and to talk. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions. Stay informed so you can give kids information that’s truthful and appropriate for their age and developmental levels.

Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio or online. Be aware of the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety—for adults and kids alike.

Stay connected through technology. Make time to connect with family and friends during social distancing. Kids will enjoy video chatting with friends they’re not seeing at school, and virtual visits or story times with relatives can be a great way to stay in touch.

Stay connected in real life. It’s still possible to connect—at distances of at least six feet! Some neighborhoods are doing different activities to remind everyone that we’re still community. Whether it’s putting a teddy bear in the window, hanging paper hearts to support medical staff, or doing an art project on the driveway or sidewalk, kids will enjoy participating and feel reassured by the gestures of neighbors.

Remember: It’s spring! Take advantage of spring weather. Kids can take social distancing walks, ride bikes and look for signs of spring. How about an across-the-street game of charades with neighbors? One local mom is rediscovering the fun in simple things: “The girls had a blast one day digging in the dirt with me, finding bugs while I was gardening.”

Learn in new ways. Small children who are home from kindergarten or preschool can learn all sorts of things at home. Following a recipe becomes a science lesson. Telling time and measuring things around the house help kids learn math. It’s a great opportunity to listen to music and sing along. And what better time to master tying shoes?

Chores can be fun. Incorporate young children into household chores. One mom discovered that when she asks her child to be “Mommy's big helper,” a chore suddenly turns into a game—whether it’s baking, cleaning, or doing yard work together.

Social distancing isn’t easy. The hope is that, when we look back on this extraordinary period, our children will remember it as a time when families and communities pulled together to help others and had some fun along the way.

Mount Nittany Health is committed to the health, safety and wellbeing of its patients, staff and community. We are prepared for potential infectious disease outbreaks, whether its measles, flu or new viruses like coronavirus as part of our commitment to prevent disease and ensure a healthy community for all. We rigorously follow the guidance from the CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health for screening and testing of patients for COVID-19; ensuring all levels of protection for our patients, staff and community.

As the situation continues to evolve, we have taken steps to prepare and protect our community, including limiting visitors in our facilities at Mount Nittany Health, except for special circumstances and rescheduling elective and non-essential services and screenings. We continue to evaluate and will announce further measures as needed with the focus on our community’s health and wellbeing.

A dedicated coronavirus information phone line is available seven days a week from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm at 814.231.7111. For more information on ways to stay safe and ways Mount Nittany Health is responding to coronavirus, please visit mountnittany.org/coronavirus.

Kristie Kaufman, MD, Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics, has been practicing for more than 20 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for Mount Nittany Health and as the chair of the Mount Nittany Medical Center board of trustees.

This article originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times.