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Stuck Home With the Kids: Tips from a Pediatrician

White Plains Hospital

March 23, 2020

Stuck Home With the Kids: Tips from a Pediatrician

These unprecedented times call for some new parenting rules around the house.

For your kids, that initial gleeful freedom of no school has quickly progressed to crankiness, boredom and anxiety as it sinks in that sports, activities, and friends are also canceled or off-limits. Add to that the burden of trying to get kids to sit and focus on e-learning a few hours a day, all while you are now trying to manage a full-time job from the kitchen table. “These are challenging times for everyone, but it’s important not to promote complacency and view this like a snow day,” notes Dr. Samantha Lowe, a pediatrician with White Plains Hospital Medical & Wellness in Armonk.

Dr. Lowe offers this sanity-saving advice for you and your family while riding out the time at home:

Bend the Rules on Social Media

In New York and other places with higher risk of infection, social distancing is in full effect and it is strongly advised that children avoid all playdates, especially when inside. “Kids crave social interaction and this is going to take its toll on them in terms of emotional health as well as other routines,” says Dr. Lowe, adding that some children may become more withdrawn, while others could end up hyperactive.

In a reversal of advice, many experts are now encouraging use of social media more than ever. Dr. Lowe suggests allowing kids to engage in phone calls, video chats, virtual house parties and even social media throughout the day – but make it clear this is only temporary and continue to monitor their activities. “You can even set up a virtual playdate,” she says. “Whatever they are doing, building Legos or playing dress-up, they can do side-by-side on their iPads.”

This type of interaction is preferred to passively watching YouTube videos or playing games, she adds, but limit each session to 45 minutes to an hour, keeping in mind the additional time they are also on their computer for e-learning.

(Looking for good educational sites online? See links to resources below.)

Stick to a Schedule

Dr. Lowe stresses the importance of structure, by creating a daily schedule that you clearly communicate the day before. This is important to keep children within their “productivity range.” “A body of any age craves some sort of productivity, from a baby all the way up through adulthood,” notes Dr. Lowe. “If we lose that sense of structure, it decreases motivation levels. It’s super important that we keep that up as best we can.” There will naturally be a hit to motivation under the circumstances, but helping kids feel like they’ve accomplished something every day will improve their mood, anxiety levels, and feelings of success, she says.

Get More Sleep

If there’s anything good to come of this, it’s the break from normally chaotic schedules and the ability to catch up on much needed ZZZs. Just don’t let your kids go too far off track. If a normal school day demands a 6:30 a.m. wake-up, it’s fine to let them tack on an extra hour or so. Sleeping any later may make falling asleep at night more difficult.

Eat Healthy

As of this moment, groceries are not in short supply. Fresh produce and meats are still ample, and being home is a great opportunity to try new recipes and make healthy eating even more of a priority. “You’ll get a lot more minerals, vitamins and nutrients from fresh foods than from processed, frozen foods,” says Dr. Lowe. “These help to support immune system, and fight off infections and viruses like coronavirus.”

Go Outside as Much as Possible

Fresh air does wonders for your body and mind. Make sure daily exercise is a part of any schedule you create for your child, to improve their mood, focus and give the immune system a boost. Rediscover your backyard by kicking a ball or inventing new games, and there’s currently no rule against taking a walk to a local park (as long as you observe social distance rules of avoiding groups and staying 6 feet apart). As tempting as the local playground may seem, Dr. Lowe says this something you should definitely skip for now, as it’s not known how long the virus stays active on surfaces like monkey bars and slides.

Check out these educational resources:

Scholastic Learn at Home

NASA’s Kids’ Club

TED Talks

PBS Learning Media

PBS Kids

National Geographic Kids