By: Dr. Karen Calabrese, Family Medicine Physician, Jefferson Health New Jersey
If the COVID-19 pandemic has caused you to self-isolate at home with your kids, you may be wondering – how do teachers do it? From getting them to focus on their schoolwork, to coming up with new and exciting forms of entertainment, keeping them on the right track physically, mentally, and emotionally, it can be incredibly difficult.
Even though these are stressful and unusual times, you cannot let health take the back burner. While it does not have to be strict, the most important thing you can do is keep kids on a schedule like what they are used to, especially now as the school year comes to a close.
Below are some helpful tips on how to do so:
It is generally recommended that kids ages 3-12 get at least 10 hours of sleep at night for healthy physical and mental growth. Given the current circumstances, it is okay to stay up and sleep in a little later than usual, by about a half hour. However, if they deviate too much, once school starts back up, they will have trouble falling asleep and waking up, and they may become sleep deprived.
Around an hour of physical activity per day is recommended, but you do not have to get hung up on this exact number. There are many ways to fit exercise into the day. If you have time to supervise your kids outdoors, and there is no risk of dangerous contact with strangers, you should do so. However, it is just as beneficial to play indoors. You can have a family dance party with younger children, and you can even fit in some physical activity playing board games with older children. There are also many safe videos online of dances and exercises that kids can follow along with.
It is also important to stick to normal mealtimes, so your kids don’t try to skip meals or pick on junk food instead. Snacking while doing schoolwork is discouraged, as it can distract them from learning and cause decreased appetite when it comes time for a healthy meal. At night, when you start craving snacks as well, remember to set a good example by having proper portions. Your kids will be more willing to do this if you do it too.
Additionally, staying home with your kids provides a great opportunity to eat healthier together! Make cooking a family activity; everyone can get creative and learn new things. There are tons of recipes and videos available online.
For kids assigned schoolwork, you can help them focus by ensuring their work area is free of distractions (i.e., toys, snacks, TV, and phones) and as school-like as possible. It helps if the environment they work in is not one that they are going to be relaxing or playing in later. It must be separate from other activities.
For additional learning opportunities, it is beneficial to have them read, draw, listen to music, and pitch in with daily household tasks. If you do not have books at home, you can find free versions online, or reach out to your local library (many institutions are offering special programs during the pandemic). There are also museums currently offering free virtual tours.
In support of social distancing, many parents, including myself, have to become more lenient with screen-time. Technology is a wonderful asset keeping us connected with relatives and friends in distressful times. It is important to the emotional well-being of kids and adults alike to take advantage of what we have and continue to socialize. For younger kids, parents can set up and supervise virtual playdates, or video chats.
At the end of the day, set aside some time to ask your kids how their day was and how they are feeling. If they are worried about what is happening in the world, you do not have to lie to them and say everything is perfect. What you can do is reassure them that they are safe and loved. Depending on their age, you can discuss with them the importance of slowing the spread of the virus and the responsibility they hold in helping others by not going to school or hanging out with friends. Above all else, remind them that this is temporary, and we will return to our normal day-to-day lives.
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