With stay-at-home orders in place and families self-quarantining in their homes, many parents are faced with questions on how to properly communicate the severity of the coronavirus with their children, as well as what safety precautions to follow.
Carrie Baker, CPNP, of Maumee Bay Pediatrics (MBP), an affiliate of The Toledo Clinic, shared her best practices and advice.
What is a good way to explain the coronavirus to children?
Even during this pandemic, it is important to stick to the basics. Before answering their questions or bringing the subject up yourself, reflect on the conversational environment you are creating and follow these steps:
- Be calm. If parental figures come off as nervous, afraid, panicked, etcetera, then children will sense it. Kids are smart and can very easily sense emotion and tension. The tone of the conversation is crucial, and children may not feel safe to discuss their feelings with their parents if the tone is not conducive for open conversation.
- Be honest. Similar to how children can sense emotion, they can also sense whether they are being told the truth or not. It’s important that you are being open and honest with them.
- Be available and listen. Kids need an outlet! They need to be heard. Let them ask questions and feel comfortable talking to you. In many instances, by simply being available and listening to their worries, their fears may already be calmed before their questions are even answered.
As far as what to say, parents whose children do not have any underlying conditions should reassure their children that this virus is not life-threatening to them. However, children are very likely to spread coronavirus to those who are more at risk but are not likely to face symptoms that are more severe than a cold or mild flu.
If your child has an underlying health condition that puts them at a greater risk, it’s still important to follow the steps listed above, while reassuring them that you will keep them safe.
In any case, you should be aware of what information your child can handle. Children of younger ages may find it harder to process some information because they are not cognitively able to do so. If you are unsure of what information your child can handle, speak with your primary care provider.
What precautions should parents follow when taking their children to necessary public spaces?
Following social distancing and hand hygiene is key. Avoid coming within six feet of people who may be nearby. Wash and sanitize your children’s hands, especially before and after activity. Getting outside for some physical activity is still a great idea when these steps can be followed.
Many people wonder if their children should be wearing gloves and masks. These tools are only effective if strict PPE guidelines are followed, and children are not likely to do this. It’s hard for children to not touch a mask when wearing one. Touching your mask with potentially dirty hands defeats the purpose of wearing it.
Gloves are only meant to be worn if they are discarded immediately after contact. The general public, not just children, are advised to not wear gloves. Frequent hand washing and sanitizing will likely be more effective due to our habits of touching multiple surfaces and objects.
If you have a child with underlying conditions, your child should be staying home.
Are children less susceptible to COVID-19?
Studies from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) show that 90% of affected children will experience mild to moderate symptoms. Mild symptoms consist of a cough and/or runny nose. Moderate symptoms include flu-like symptoms. They are very unlikely to be subject to anything severe. It’s very important to understand that children spreading the virus is a greater concern than children becoming sick from it.
Again, follow social distancing and good hand hygiene. Use hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) frequently. Cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue and immediately wash your hands. Remind children not to go around people who are sick and sneezing. These are good practices for children to follow during all cold and flu seasons.
With doctors’ offices closed to appointments, how can parents make sure their children are up to date on vaccines?
If your primary care office is open, it is very important to continue going for regular checkups, appointments, and vaccinations. Doctors’ offices are safer than most public places. Health providers understand how to keep their facilities safe and properly sanitized. Going to doctors’ offices is an important step in building a child’s immune system. Putting your child’s regular checkups on hold is not a good idea, and it’s especially important to continue going to the doctor if a new concern develops.
If your primary care office is not open, Maumee Bay Pediatrics can provide care to any child, regardless if they are a regular patient or not. We will happily send any notes to their regular office once they reopen.
The Toledo Clinic’s Maumee Bay Pediatrics office is also working with the Toledo Health Department to provide vaccines while services like Shots 4 Tots are unavailable.
For parents who are healthcare and/or essential workers, what tips should they follow to keep their families safe?
Healthcare workers who are coming in direct contact with coronavirus patients certainly should be more careful when coming home and living with others, but there is less to worry about with essential workers who are not 100% coming into direct contact with infected individuals.
If you are coming into contact with people that are confirmed to be infected:
- When at work, follow all appropriate PPE guidelines.
- When returning home, (if possible) take off any clothing in a garage, immediately shower and wash your potentially contaminated clothes.
- Practice social distancing.
- Practice good hand hygiene.
- Wear a mask if you display any symptoms or are sick.
If you are not coming into contact with people who are not confirmed to be infected:
- When at work, follow your place of employment’s policy on PPE.
- Immediately wash hands when coming home from work.
- Practice social distancing if possible.
To learn more and access more health information resources, visit ToledoClinic.com.
To learn more about Carrie, Dr. Wexler or the team at Maumee Bay Pediatrics, visit MaumeeBayPediatrics.com.