Coronavirus School Closures: Here’s Advice for Parents

Finally, some people who aren’t having their nannies, babysitters, or other types of childcare workers take care of their kids right now are still paying them. If this is in your budget, please consider doing so.

Look into resources for replacing school meals if you need them.

My kindergartener’s school district is allowing families to pick up food for carryout, and Dr. Boonstra explains that these types of services seem to be ramping up. “I’ve seen institutions as well as individuals come up with plans to provide necessities,” Dr. Boonstra says. “It makes me hopeful, but I worry about underserved areas.”

Many states and other localities are starting to create and share websites with information about food services. Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, for example, has announced that the Maryland State Department of Education will be providing three daily meals and a snack to kids via 138 distribution centers throughout the state. To find this kind of information for your own family, check with your children’s school directly; your state’s department of education site; local news websites; Facebook or Nextdoor groups for your neighborhood, school system, or place of worship; and Twitter hashtags for your city or town. You can also ask other local parents you know who may have the same question.

Tell your kids about COVID-19 in an age-appropriate way.

First up: Be honest. “Kids know when adults are not telling the whole story,” Dr. Boonstra says, “and might be more scared than if they are given the facts along with reassurance—as long as it is done in an age-appropriate manner.” This may mean explaining the potential consequences of ignoring social distancing a bit more with a teenager who wants to still attend gatherings at a friend’s house, while just letting your preschooler know that they won’t be able to play with their friends for a while because of germs without going into all the details.

So, what do you say? Osofsky is part of a team that provided guidance leading to the creation of a comic book for kids all about the new coronavirus. For starters, she suggests explaining to children why things are different right now. They need to understand why they can’t go to school or visit their friends—and also that this situation will eventually end.

Osofsky also recommends telling your children about the kinds of things that they can do to stay safe, like washing their hands and not putting their hands on their faces, especially their eyes, nose, and mouth. (This can be even more important for kids who are immunocompromised and thus more vulnerable to infectious diseases.) “It’s important to emphasize the way they can be in control to be safe,” Osofsky says. Dr. Boonstra agrees. “I think it helps them feel empowered to know that they are not likely to be hurt by COVID-19, but they can do their part to help others,” he says.

Additionally, Osofsky notes that it’s important to give your children time to share their worries and make sure to listen when they do. It’s essential that these conversations happen in an age-appropriate way to avoid unnecessarily scaring your child or, alternatively, not giving them enough useful information. Think of how much detail you’ve given your kids about other tough situations and what has and hasn’t worked in those instances, and go from there.

Dr. Boonstra adds that the American Academy of Pediatrics has some good guidelines for talking to kids about COVID-19 as well as other disasters. The CDC has a similar resource. The organizations’ suggestions include things like avoiding perpetuating stigma about or blaming people of Asian descent, reassuring your children that they’re safe, and trying to stick to a routine as much as possible. “It is important for parents to set up a new routine for children,” Osofsky says, which would ideally include time for schoolwork, for play, and for family bonding.

Try to help your children relax.

“[It’s] important in these circumstances for parents to find ways to control their own anxiety to then be able to support their children,” Osofsky says. Try not to project your (understandable) fears onto your kids. Remember, it’s all about reassuring them that they’ll be safe and that this isn’t going to last forever.

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