Parenting Young Children During a Pandemic
By: Melanie Hamm, CPNP-PC
The first time I went to Target after the stay-at-home order was lifted, I came home with a star chore chart for my child, a straw hat, and a DIY herbs kit (all from the $1 area that grabs you the second you enter the store). Clearly, I was just excited to purchase a non-essential item. I remember feeling weird wearing a mask and seeing others in masks. I felt even more weird waiting in line to enter stores.
I thought, if I feel this weird, how does my child feel during a pandemic?
Children thrive off routine and consistency. Learning, eating, sleeping, and behavior are all improved when everything in their life is normal. So, how do we help them adapt during this time that is far from normal?
- Let them know it is okay to talk about the pandemic. Answer their questions honestly. It is okay to let them know that people can get sick, but handwashing and wearing masks can help keep us safe and healthy.
- Model how to manage feelings by voicing your own feelings, such as, “I’m a little nervous about school too,” or “I’m worried about Grandma since I can’t visit her,” etc.
- Look forward. Let them know that doctors and scientists are working hard to develop new medications and cures. Let them know that it will get better in time.
- Keep routines or develop new ones.
- Wake up, get dressed, and eat breakfast. Yes, mamas, I said it. Let’s get out of our pandemic athleisure wear and pajamas and get dressed. It just makes us feel better. Your kids will feel better as well.
- Schedule daily physical activity/exercise. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends at least one hour of physical activity/exercise per day.
- Buy or make a chore chart. Children work better with an incentive they can see. Plan age-appropriate chores and allow children to draw their own stars or apply stickers when they complete each chore. Once they have earned so many stars, they get the prize. Make up the rules together.
- Plan online social time with friends. This is especially important for older children.
- Read before bed. Think “Brush (teeth), Book, Bed” for little kids.
- Keep normal bedtimes. Children have more trouble with bedtime during any stressful period. So keeping it as normal as possible is very helpful. The AAP recommends 8-12 hours of sleep per night.
- Turn off electronic devices one hour before bed. Remember AAP guidelines for screen time. (Less than 18 months old – none; > 18 months – one hour per day) Very, very hard to do during a pandemic. I am with you, parents. I too have broken this recommended rule many, many times in the past six months. Forgive yourself and move on.
- As school resumes for your children, whether virtual, home school, or traditional setting, help prepare them. It is normal for them to feel scared or strange about wearing a mask. Talk about wearing masks. Practice putting on a mask and have them look at themselves in the mirror. Put a mask on a favorite doll or stuffed animal. Let them decorate their own mask. Show them pictures of other children wearing masks.
- Talk about germs with your children. Explain that your own germs are special to your body, some are good and some are bad. The bad ones cause sickness. Since we don’t always know the good from the bad, masks and social distancing help keep the bad ones away.
- And finally, parents, take a deep breath (behind your mask if you are in public). We’ve got this!
And if you are still wondering about my random Target finds, the straw hat did not make the cut. I am not a hat person. Glad I only wasted $5. The chore chart has been a major hit at my house. We have added chores, school work, bedtime, and eating dinner together as a family to ours, and it has worked wonders for our home. (Also works fairly well on husbands.) The DIY herb kit actually worked. I have a window full of fresh basil and rosemary. Now…what do I do with it?
Information on this page should be utilized as a guide, not medical advice. If you feel you need to speak with someone regarding yours or a loved one’s behavioral or mental health, please contact our office.
Connections serves as a regional resource center providing medical, educational, speech/language and dyslexia evaluation services for children and teenagers. Following diagnosis, we work with you and your child to determine the best course of treatment and therapy for them. If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call us at 601-261-5159.