Be positive with children, but also be honest with them about what is taking place.

MAYWOOD, IL – The COVID-19 pandemic is creating unprecedented challenges for children and parents. However, Bridget Boyd, MD, a Loyola Medicine pediatrician, says there are ways that parents can communicate, and actions that they can take, to protect children and help them to better understand, adapt to and recover from this experience.

In the new Loyola Medicine video, “COVID-19: What Parents Need to Know about Protecting Their Kids,” Dr. Boyd offers the following tips for parents and caregivers:

• Be positive. “I think it’s really important to be positive with your children, but also to be truthful and honest with them” about what is going on with the COVID-19 virus, and how it is impacting the daily routines of children and parents.

• Encourage children to protect themselves from COVID-19. “Children should wash their hands, at least for 20 seconds (for younger kids, it might help to explain that the Happy Birthday song takes about 20 seconds to sing), making sure that they cover all surfaces equally,” says Dr. Boyd. “They should also wash their hands before eating any meals or snacks, and any time they are coming in from outside.”

Hand sanitizer can also keep hands clean, but it is not as effective as soap and water.

Also, encourage older children to keep their hands away from their face, says Dr. Boyd. While “it’s nearly impossible” to keep a toddler from placing hands in their mouths or on their face, older children should avoid touching their face, and understand why it’s so important to do so.

• Keep allergies under control. It’s important to take allergy medicine to manage seasonal allergies and asthma. “Kids with allergies will be touching their face more to itch their eyes and nose,” says Dr. Boyd. “Also, sneezing can spread infection. Be sure to wash their hair before bedtime if playing outside as pollen can be in the hair. Wash pillow cases weekly.”

• Stick to routines. “Routines are very important, especially for children,” says Dr. Boyd, “as they like to be able to predict what’s coming next.”

“While it’s nice to let the children sleep in when they can, keeping the same routine in terms of getting up, getting dressed, brushing your teeth and eating breakfast,” is comforting to a child.

• Exercise regularly. Make sure to schedule some exercise in between school work.

“A kindergartener is not going to be able to sit down for three straight hours and focus on school work,” says Dr. Boyd. “Instead, let them work for 20 minutes, followed by five or 10 minutes of break time.”

Children should play outside whenever possible, says Dr. Boyd, although not at public parks or playgrounds. “Even though there may not be a lot of people at the park, there are still a lot of surfaces they can touch.”

• Minimize exposure to the news. “Having the news on all day can be a bit depressing for people and also can create anxiety for children, especially if they are constantly hearing about deaths, or more complications, or people running out of supplies,” says Dr. Boyd.

• Focus on and create “happy moments.” Whenever possible, try to bring fun, joy and new experiences into daily living. Some ideas may include:

Teaching kids to cook and/or help in the kitchen.

Reading daily to grandparents or family members via FaceTime.

Playing battleship with friends via Zoom.

Limit screen time. “We still recommend limiting screen time to two hours per day. A little bit of wiggle room is fine,” says Dr. Boyd. “What we don’t want is kids in front of electronics all day.”

• Eat healthy. Make sure you’re getting your healthy fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Boyd said that the COVID-19 pandemic is a “very stressful time for many families,” especially with parents working from home and children attending school remotely. In addition to helping to minimize stress for their children, it’s important that parents also take care of themselves by exercising or meditating and eating a healthy diet.

“As parents, we are constantly modeling behavior for our children,” says Dr. Boyd. “The COVID-19 pandemic, while extremely difficult, can provide learning opportunities and a foundation for our children for handling future life challenges.”