Annie Keeling: The new normal… for now
With the news of viruses and restrictions changing rapidly, parents may be lured into watching the news while the family is gathered. In general, there has never been another generation with so much consuming of “adult” content taking place right in front of the children. This has been shown to cause our children worry and stress.
Technology is ever present. It has allowed parents to work from home which has certain advantages of the parent’s presence. One distinct disadvantage, though, is that the children observe their parents with a lot of screen time. And now, with a county quarantine and recommendations to stay home, children might be potentially exposed to more.
I have seen many small children in public pacified by their parent’s phone. Even if it’s not “on,” the child has an early fascination with her parents’ fixation on this object. Have you ever watched small children, still in the first year of life, swivel their head to see what is in the hand of the nearest adult? They must wonder what that small black thing is that everyone is staring at. They might think that this is essential to human existence — I must find out how that relates to me!
Once it gets turned on for them, it’s hard to look away from the bright images. The child then has many “wants” in relation to these devices. It goes from “I want to play with your phone,” to “I want my own gadget” and then the plea for an upgrade: “Everyone has the newest _____ device and I want THAT.”
I suggest that you limit your screen time, especially when small children are in the room. When do you absolutely need to be on a device and when is it a habit? If it’s necessary, can more of that screen time be done while the child is in another room or sleeping? Is it possible for the parent who works at home to have a home office or separate workspace?
For older children, it is essential to place filters and limits on home computers when possible. Troubling violent and pornographic images are sometimes too easy to stumble upon and once seen, can’t be erased.
How to talk about the tough stuff
“Mommy, why aren’t we going to school?” “Daddy, what’s the coronavirus?” “I heard that Leah’s grandpa is really sick. Is he going to die of that virus?”
It’s inevitable that kids will hear rumors, talk to one another, check things out online, and even try to sort out this pandemic on their own.
Mr. Rogers had a good idea: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.”
So, instead of avoidance or minimizing, what does a child-friendly conversation look like regarding the current virus? Here are three tips.
Ask your child what they’ve heard and what they are feeling. Correct any misinformation, sharing age-appropriate facts. Keep your explanations simple. For example: “When you have a cold or flu, sometimes you have a fever and a cough. This is kind of like that. Most people who catch this will stay home, rest and get better. We have great doctors and nurses who can help those who need it.”
Reassure your children that they are safe which is the most important message your kids can hear from you. Your tone is important, too. Reassurance is best given calmly and with a piece of back-up evidence. “Right now, lots of grown-ups are working hard to keep people healthy. Luckily, we already know a lot about how to keep as healthy as we can. You don’t need to worry.”
Give kids something tangible to do. Feeling helpless or passive can be distressing. Help your children follow these simple precautionary steps (which are the same habits that keep us healthy all year long).
Wash your hands. You can’t hear it enough. Do it when you come home from being out or in contact with others who don’t live in your home. Make it a habit before every snack or meal. In Curious George, the Man with the Yellow Hat has a cold. He teaches George how germs can move from person to person and that it’s important to wash your hands and avoid sharing utensils or drinking cups.
Model how to use soap, rub your hands together, and rinse. For a timer, try slowly singing the ABCs together, two rounds of Happy Birthday, or three verses of Wheels on the Bus while you scrub. One family I know says three gratefuls while they wash their hands.
Catch that cough. Cough and sneeze into your elbow. Practice makes perfect. “Pretend” you have a cough or sneeze and try to catch it. Make it a game. “Yay. You caught it! That’s what germ busters do!” If the child accidentally forgets and catches it in his hands, he can simply wash with soap and water and start the game again.
Practice healthy habits. Give reminders that sleep, exercise and eating healthy foods are good, everyday ways to strengthen our bodies. Sugar is known to lower the immune system. There is a tendency for kids to eat white starchy foods instead of healthy fats and vegetables. Parents can include the latter into foods like smoothies, pancakes or brownies. (Brownies made with dates are still sweet but much better for the immune system than processed sugar.)
With many amazing health practitioners in our area, there is a lot of great advice to be sought. The immune system is strongly influenced by the intake of nutrients. Our local health food store has a whole section of vitamins, herbs, and homeopathic remedies to assist our immune system. Keeping our mental health strong also positively affects our immune systems.
Connect without sharing germs
Even though you and your family may all appear to be healthy, we need to be careful of sharing our germs with others. Stay connected through phone, video, and other social media.
According to Asaf Bitton, MD, MPH, of Harvard University in his article, “Social Distancing: This is Not a Snow Day” (Ariadne Labs, March 14, 2020), going outside will be important during this new normal. Go outside every day if you are able, but best to maintain at least six feet between you and non-family members. For now, try not to use public facilities like playground structures, as viruses can live on plastic and metal for up to nine days.
We will all get sick sometimes, but we can be responsible when we practice distance, handwashing, cough-catching, resting, and basic healthy living.
Annie Keeling, MFA, is the Parenting Specialist for Nevada County Superintendent of Schools. She teaches parenting classes throughout the year. Contact Annie to find the next class near you or to learn about local referrals: firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-268-5086.
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