Advice for parents during COVID-19

Your children are at home. Are they running circles around your home office as you try to get work done? Are they telling you they’re “bored” after you’ve tried to entertain them all day? Alternatively, your children could be anxious, or showing signs of stress. Parents, you are not alone!

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused plenty of change and uncertainty in our communities. With new measures coming into place daily to encourage social and physical distancing, many of us find ourselves searching for the most up-to-date information. Many of us are working from home, and spending lots of time with our children who are no longer at school, or in daycare.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions and answers pertaining to children and COVID-19.

How do we keep children healthy during COVID-19?

Based on available evidence, children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults. While some children and infants have been sick with COVID-19, adults make up most of the known cases to date.

Clean hands often using soap and warm water for 20 seconds 

  • You can have them sing songs, such the ABC’s, while they are washing their hands to encourage the full 20 seconds.

Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily

  • Ensure to clean household common areas like tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks and toys.

Wash toys and other household items

  • Wash plush toys as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely. Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.

Here is some additional information on preventing COVID-19.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 in children?

The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults. However, children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms. Reported symptoms in children include cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. It’s not yet known whether some children may be at higher risk for severe illness (for example, children with underlying medical conditions and special healthcare needs). There is more to learn about how the disease impacts children.

Common question: Do children need to wear facemasks?

If your child is healthy, there is no need for them to wear a facemask. Only people who have symptoms of illness or who are providing care to those who are ill should wear masks.

How do we minimize the spread of COVID-19?

Limit social interactions

  • The key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 is to limit contact as much as possible. This means no play-dates and no team sports (even a game of soccer or tag with other children in your neighbourhood).

Practice physical distancing

  • This means staying home as much as possible and avoiding public places where close contact with others is likely.  For example, avoid parks as others may congregate there and use playground equipment. If you do go out for a walk or a bike ride in your neighbourhood, maintain distance from others (6 feet or 2 meters). Playing in the backyard, or on a balcony (with adult supervision for safety) are other ways of getting some fresh air.

Remember, if children meet in groups, it can put everyone at risk

  • Information about COVID-19 in children is somewhat limited, but current data suggests the majority of children with COVID-19 may only have mild symptoms. However, they can still pass the virus onto others who may be at higher risk, including older adults and people who have serious underlying medical conditions.

How do we help children continue learning?

Keep in touch with your child’s school

  • Many schools are or will be offering lessons online (virtual learning). Review assignments from the school, and help your child establish a reasonable pace for completing the work. You may need to assist your child with turning on devices, reading instructions, and typing answers.
  • Communicate challenges to your school. If you face technology or connectivity issues, or if your child is having a hard time completing assignments, let the school know.

Create a schedule and routine for learning at home, but remain flexible

  • Have consistent bedtimes and get up at the same time, Monday through Friday.
  • Structure the day for learning, free time, healthy meals and snacks, and physical activity. Have children involved in setting their schedule. Keep in mind that children thrive on routines. Routines convey a sense of normalcy and safety, something that is very desirable at this time.
  • Allow flexibility in the schedule – it is okay to adapt based on your day.
  • Here’s more information on how to make a daily routine for your child.

Consider the needs and adjustment required for your child’s age group

  • The transition to being at home will be different for preschoolers, K-5, middle school students, and high school students. Talk to your child about expectations and how they are adjusting to being at home versus at school.
  • Consider ways your child can stay connected with their friends without spending time in person.

Look for ways to make learning fun

  • Have hands-on activities at the ready, like puzzles, painting, drawing, and making things.
  • Rotate activities/toys/crafts to avoid boredom.
  • Create your own jeopardy game using a template or play some of the ready-to-use ones here.
  • Independent play can also be used in place of structured learning. Encourage children to build a fort from pillows and sheets or practice counting by stacking blocks.
  • Practice handwriting and grammar by writing letters to family members (take a picture of letters and email to family to avoid a trip to the post office). This is a great way to connect and limit face-to-face contact. Consider writing emails to residents of a nursing home near you.
  • Start a journal with your child to document this time and discuss the shared experience.
  • Use learn at home resources such as this one.
  • Use audiobooks or see if your local library is hosting virtual or live-streamed reading events.

How do we keep children emotionally well?

Watch for signs of stress

  • Some common changes to watch for include excessive worry or sadness. In some cases, stress may show up as recurring tummy aches or headaches, change in appetite, difficulty falling or staying asleep, and difficulty with attention and concentration. Establish routines and structure and incorporate relaxation strategies such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.

Pay attention to your own feelings of stress or anxiety

  • Children are observant and able to sense when we are stressed. Practice continued self-care strategies, including eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising, and finding time to take breaks. Keep in mind that by doing so, you are role-modeling positive behaviours for your children to learn. If you find yourself overwhelmed by negative thoughts, find ways to reframe your thinking. A great website with resources for both youth and adults is anxiety Canada.

Acknowledge and support children in processing their full range of emotions

  • Do this while offering calm and reassurance. Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is okay if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Consider how children will react at different ages and identify appropriate ways to respond. Find ways for children to express their feelings through conversation, music, art, dance, writing, or other activities. Tune into how they’re feeling throughout the day, and offer quiet time or breaks as needed.

Provide age appropriate information and accurate answers about the news

Share with children what you’re doing to keep them safe

  • Help children learn about and practice proactive strategies, such as frequent hand-washing, to stay healthy. In addition to promoting healthy practices, this can help them feel a greater sense of control. Fred Rogers, the beloved children’s TV host, famously passed on this advice from his mother:

When something scary is happening, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

So take the opportunity to share with your children that there are so many people who are helping such as doctors and nurses, and that children too are helping by staying at home and washing their hands.

Help your child stay active

  • As previously mentioned, walks and bike rides in your neighbourhood while physically distancing from others is acceptable.
  • Check out online games/dances/movement activities.  These games are designed to tire kids out and are fun for the whole family to join. Kids are usually panting by the time they’re done playing.
  • Use indoor activity breaks (e.g., stretch breaks, dance breaks) throughout the day to help your child stay healthy and focused.

Help your child stay socially connected

  • Reach out to friends and family via phone or video chats.
  • Write cards or letters or emails to family members they may not be able to visit. To avoid the trip to the post office, take a photo of the letter/card and email it to them.

Promote relaxation

  • Consider yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation.

It’s important to remember…

That we must limit time with older adults, relatives, and people with serious underlying medical conditions. It is not easy to keep our children away from their grandparents, but it is imperative that we, as parents, do everything we can to limit exposure to COVID-19. Together, we can stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our families remain happy and healthy.

Additional resources

Resources for coping with stress and anxiety

Coping skills for children

Mindfulness for teens

Emotional safety plan

Resources for activities at home

Scholastic learn at home 

My kids’ school is closed so now what

Harvard: Caring for preschoolers

Grade-based toolkits