Life will never be the same for children who grew up in the COVID-19 era — and that’s challenging. But parents can help their children understand and adjust to the new normal.
That will demand creativity and clear explanations of the virus, our times, and why it’s vital to stay healthy. While prom, graduation, and parties may have been postponed or canceled to ensure social distancing, the loss can be turned into a win.
“I encourage families to be creative about what they can do in lieu of prom and birthday or graduation parties and ask for your kids’ input,” says Memorial Hermann-affiliated pediatrician Peter Jung, MD, co-founder of Blue Fish Pediatrics at Memorial City.
Ways to be socially distant yet stay close as a family
Milestones still can be celebrated without large gatherings. In lieu of milestone celebrations in the social-distancing era, brainstorms have led to teens driving by a birthday girl’s house at an appointed time, each stopping to chat with her while maintaining distance. Another family staged their own prom. Their son dressed up and took their festively attired dog as his date, captured on TikTok.
Take advantage of the pause in modern life to reflect on what truly matters.
“Something like this puts not only this year, but whole lives, in perspective,” says Dr. Jung. “Children will have a greater appreciation for friendship and the little freedoms of daily life.”
Compensate for the suspension of team sports by playing hoops in your driveway, hiking, bike riding, and scouting for birds and butterflies.
“It’s mentally helpful to be outdoors,” he says. “Just maintain social distance, and bring hand sanitizer and soap wherever you go so you can wash your hands regularly.”
You need to wash your hands any time you come in contact with areas others might have touched — that includes handrails and playground equipment.
How to help your kids understand how life has changed
Be age-appropriate. Most children middle school and older can understand the concepts more easily and at an adult level. With younger children, “you can be a filter and help them understand at their level,” says Dr. Jung.
Manage stress and fear. “You need to talk about COVID-19 in a factual, calm way so they can understand what’s going on around them,” Dr. Jung says. “The more details children understand, the better they’ll cope with what’s being asked of them.”
This helps them understand why they need to keep cleaning their hands, why they’re not seeing friends in person, and why they should be socially distant.
Let them know they’ll help others. They’re keeping not only themselves healthy but are also helping protect the frail, elderly, or others at risk. “Once children understand the science behind COVID-19, they’ll be more motivated to follow public health mandates, regardless of what others are doing,” says Dr. Jung.
Simplify complex terms
Define isolation, quarantining and social distancing.
Isolation: You know you’re sick or have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. You definitely need to stay home at least seven days after you begin feeling sick and must be three days fever-free (without over-the-counter fever reducers) and have no upper-respiratory symptoms.
Quarantining: You are healthy, but you've come in contact with someone who’s infected. You have to be monitored to see if you develop symptoms. You don’t want to expose other people to you.
Social distancing: People who appear to be healthy may be passing germs person to person. So you stay at least six feet from anyone outside your immediate family.
Give a realistic timeline
Rules for social distancing may be eased, then reinforced from time to time to limit disease spreading. Keep up to date on safety guidelines by visiting memorialhermann.org/coronavirus or coronavirus.gov.
Be good role models, and children will follow the leader
Ignoring signs or symptoms of any kind of illness can be dangerous. Delaying or avoiding seeking medical advice and care out of fear of contracting COVID-19 is strongly discouraged. Use virtual care options when available, and seek out safe healthcare environments that follow strict sterilization guidelines, including safeguards such as mask-wearing and screening stations.
However, if you and your family members are not experiencing symptoms of illness, it is still important to follow social-distancing guidelines and stay at home when possible.
“One day, your children will have fond memories,” says Dr. Jung. “After all, this may be one of the only times in your children’s lives they got to spend so much sustained quality time with their family.”
For more COVID-19 updates and information about subspecialty services at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, visit childrens.memorialhermann.org.