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The rise and spread of any new disease can be a cause of worry for parents. Children are prone to infections, including pneumonia and the flu. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this is because kids are still developing their central nervous system, immune system, reproductive system and digestive system. Because they are also restless and active, the exposure level of children to environmental risks is quite high too.

So, it must come as no surprise that with the global spread of the Sars-CoV-2 or COVID-19 infection, most parents are worried about the well-being of their young children. This novel strain of coronavirus originated in China and has now spread all over the world. Since this is a new disease, research regarding its trajectory and impact is yet limited. (Read more: COVID-19 and children)

This also means that apart from taking all the preventive measures and staying updated about the progression of COVID-19, there is not much anyone can do in the current scenario. This poses a big issue for parents because, in all affected countries, schools were the first places to shut down to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to safeguard children’s lives. 

With children now at home, and most severely affected cities across the world under lockdowns, parents have a tough job to handle. They have to explain the current scenario to children, keep them engaged as well as safe, teach them preventive measures, and continue to educate them despite schools being shut. This might seem like a very difficult prospect, but here are a few tips that will help parents.

  1. How are children at risk of COVID-19?
  2. Covid guide on how to talk to children about SARS-CoV-2
  3. Covid guide on precautions to protect children from COVID-19
  4. Covid guide on what to do if your child has symptoms of COVID-19
  5. Covid guidance to keep children healthy during COVID-19 pandemic
  6. Covid guide: Activities for children during COVID-19 outbreak
Doctors for Covid guide for parents of young children

According to the WHO and the Chinese government’s Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), people aged 18 years or under are at a comparatively low attack rate with just 2.6% of all reported cases in Wuhan, China - where the disease originated. Going by this data, it’s easy to assume that while children are at risk, they are at a comparatively lower scale compared to those who are aged or have underlying conditions like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, etc. 

Another epidemiological study published in the journal Pediatrics describes that infants, especially those below the age of one year, are at an increased risk of debilitating due to COVID-19 infection. Otherwise, most children are supposed to contract a less severe infection than adults, with only 5.9% of infected children getting critical. The rate among adults of both severe infection and turning critical is 18.5% according to the same study.

It is therefore evident that children are at risk, if not of turning critical due to severe infections then at least of becoming potent carriers of COVID-19. Hence, it's important to take every precaution necessary to avoid kids from getting the infection in any way.

That children need to be protected from contracting the COVID-19 infection at any cost is a given. Every precaution prescribed by the WHO as well as state health departments and healthcare professionals should be taken, including self-isolation and quarantine at home.

However, every parent knows that this is easier said than done. Children, especially young children, tend to be very active members of society and like to play and socialise naturally. The very idea of confining them indoors can be difficult, let alone actually exercising it for months. 

This difficult task can be made a little easier if the first thing you do is to explain everything to your child or children. Treating them as thinking and developing human beings is very important to instill a sense of responsibility in them. Here are a few tips on how to talk to children about COVID-19.

  • Explain what the disease is, what it does, how it spreads and what needs to be done in clear and concise language.
  • Reassure children that doctors, scientists and people across the world are coming together to research more about the virus to fight it and are trying to keep everyone safe.
  • Give children responsibility and tell them what their role should be in this scenario. Explain how they can stop the spread and do their part by washing their hands, sneezing and coughing into their elbows and tissues, maintaining personal hygiene, helping around the house to keep it clean and disinfected, studying, eating well, sleeping on time, etc.
  • Children often do not express stress and anxiety in words, and usually show signs of anxiety like being cranky, clingy, having trouble sleeping, or being distracted. Reassure them if you see these signs and stick to a routine they enjoy and are familiar with.
  • Keep children away from disturbing news updates, frightening images and misinformation on television, social media and other outlets. If your children are older, filter the information and give it to them properly to make sure it doesn’t disturb or stress them out.
  • Be a good role model. Your children learn most from you, so don’t be overly dramatic or spread any misinformation. This disease might have originated in China, but it differentiates between no one, so do not stigmatise or express racial hatred about any group of people in front of your children.

There is currently no vaccine or cure for COVID-19, which means the best you can do to protect your children and the rest of your family from COVID-19 is to take all the preventive measures recommended by the WHO and your state health departments. The following are some steps you should be teaching your kids to practice immediately.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly. You can also use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Use a tissue or your elbow to cover your face while coughing or sneezing. Dispose of the tissues immediately after use.
  • Avoid touching the face, especially the eyes, nose and mouth, to prevent the virus (or any foreign object, for that matter) from entering your body.
  • Reduce close contact with others by practicing social distancing. Maintain a distance of at least one metre from other people.
  • Stay away from people who are sick, and stay home if you feel unwell yourself.
  • Clean and disinfect all the surfaces you come in contact with frequently.
  • Follow all the local, state and global advisories on health and travel.

If your child has symptoms of COVID-19, the first thing you need to do is to isolate him or her in a separate, well-ventilated room. Call your doctor or emergency health services immediately, and ask them if you can bring your child to the hospital. Professional healthcare providers are best placed to understand the risks involved and diagnose your child properly. Here are three things you might have to do after this stage:

  • If your child is COVID-19 negative, you’ll be told to take him or her back home and care for him or her until a full recovery is made. You’ll be told to isolate the child and avoid contact with anybody except a primary caregiver to minimise the risk of COVID-19 infection while he or she is sick.
  • If your child has tested positive for COVID-19, but has mild symptoms, you’ll be told to care for the child at home while maintaining all the precautions for quarantine until his or her recovery.
  • If your child has tested positive for COVID-19 and has severe symptoms or underlying conditions like asthma, respiratory infections, etc. he or she will be hospitalised immediately and cared for in an isolation ward.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), children are more likely to feel anxious, stressed and uncertain due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. This is because of school closures, cancelled events, restricted mobility at home and separation from friends. Children are going to need to feel loved and cared for more during a public health emergency like this, so you have to be proactive. You can use the following tips to care for your children during this time.

  • Set at least an hour aside every day to have one-on-one time with each of your children. Do this even if you are working from home and busy with housework.
  • Maintain a good daily routine with sleep, meal, exercise, study and play times well-designated. A routine usually has a calming effect on children.
  • Ask your child what they want to do with their free time. Giving them the ability to choose can instill self-confidence. If they choose an activity which compromises social distancing, explain patiently why it cannot be done.
  • Keep your own behaviour in check. If you’re angry, worried or being negative, your children will pick it up.
  • Praise your children regularly for following all the preventive measures properly. This will boost their confidence and resolve to follow rules.
  • Connect with other parents to have online playdates and get your children talking to their teachers and classmates online as well. This will make them feel connected to their friends and familiar faces while also avoiding cabin fever from setting in.
  • If your child misbehaves, don’t get too angry. Find out the reason behind the behaviour, because it could be simple frustration during a quarantine. Talk to them instead of punishing them harshly, and teach discipline by explaining what the consequences of bad behaviour would be. Follow through with the consequence if the behaviour continues.
  • Keep calm and manage stress properly without losing control in front of the children.
  • Update your children about COVID-19 to ensure that they don’t access misinformation or harm themselves or others.

Keeping your children busy and engaged indoors is the best you can do to avoid the COVID-19 infection’s spread. Keeping children restricted inside your home can be very difficult, but inventing activities to keep them interested, engaged and healthy is a good way to cope. Participating in these activities can also be refreshing for parents, so make sure you’re involved too. 

According to UNICEF, here are some activities you can engage in with your children during a lockdown or quarantine.

Covid guide: Activities for babies and toddlers

If you have an infant or a toddler at home, you must be extra cautious while handling them.

  • Sing songs and play music to dance together
  • Stack blocks and use soft toys to play
  • Copy facial expressions and sounds to entertain
  • Tell them stories, read a book together
  • Show picture books, colours, objects around the house

Covid guide: Activities for young children

  • Help with school work
  • Read books and look at pictures together
  • Watch cartoons or movies together. You can also introduce children to sitcoms from your childhood
  • Dance to music and sing songs together
  • Do household chores together, and make cleaning and cooking look fun
  • Walk around the home and exercise together

Covid guide: Activities for teenagers

  • Talk about topics they love, like sports, celebrities, friends, music, gossip, etc
  • Watch movies and sitcoms together. The same goes for music. Introduce them to experiences from your teenage years
  • Exercise together
  • Discuss the news and COVID-19 together if your teenager is old enough
Dr. Adarsh Bagali

Dr. Adarsh Bagali

5 Years of Experience

Dr Bishant Kumar

Dr Bishant Kumar

10 Years of Experience

Dr. Maitreye Datta

Dr. Maitreye Datta

10 Years of Experience

Dr. Indrajeet L Bahekar

Dr. Indrajeet L Bahekar

6 Years of Experience

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  1. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Healthy Parenting
  2. HealthyChildren.org [internet] American Academy of Pediatrics. Illinois, United States; 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
  3. United Nations Children Fund [Internet] United Nations Organization. New York. United States; 6 ways parents can support their kids through the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
  4. United Nations Children Fund [Internet] United Nations Organization. New York. United States; Tips for parenting during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
  5. National Association of School Psychologists [Internet]. Bethesda. Maryland. United States; Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource
  6. Dong Y, Mo X, Hu Y, et al. Epidemiological Characteristics of 2143 Pediatric Patients With 2019 Coronavirus Disease in China. Pediatrics. 2020
  7. Nemours Children’s Health System [Internet]. Jacksonville (FL): The Nemours Foundation; c2017. Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Children and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
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