Now that Dallas County has issued a shelter-in-place order effective at 11:59pm on March 23, there’s going to be way more questions from kids, Googling of “things to do at home,” and feelings of uncertainty and worry from the majority of those impacted.
Dr. Jihan Woods is a board-certified psychiatrist practicing in Dallas and trained in child and adolescent psychiatry.
She is currently quarantined with her twin 5-year-old boys and shared her thoughts on what families need to know about the novel coronavirus, school shutdowns, quarantine and mental health.
If you’re anything like me, you didn’t immediately appreciate the impact COVID-19 has had on the world, communities and our kids. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 33,404 cases of COVID-19 and 400 related deaths in the United States as of March 23, 2020.
As the virus keeps spreading we’re seeing it take direct effects on how we live our day-to-day lives. Our favorite local restaurants, malls and barbershops are closing. And yes, our kids’ schools are closed too. Some schools are closed for a few weeks and are playing it day-by-day, while others (like Dallas Independent School District) have closed indefinitely.
With schools closed, there have been waves of angst among parents who need to go to work to make ends meet, college students nearing graduation feeling the anti-climactic end to their academic career and grade school kids not quite understanding why they’re stuck in the house.
Kids are curious and may not understand what all is happening here. It’s important for parents and caregivers to help lessen the fear and worry kids have about what is going on.
WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT COVID-19
Check out DFWChild’s article How to Talk to Your Kids About Coronavirus.
We are learning about COVID-19 daily, so it is important that caregivers have the facts.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) is an illness caused by a novel (or new) coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome-associated coronavirus-2).
According to CDC, it is thought to spread from person-to-person when people are in close contact (hence, staying at least 6 feet away from people) by way of respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby or be inhaled into the lungs.
Illness ranges from very mild (or even without symptoms) to severe up to, and including, organ failure and death. Symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath may appear 2–14 days after exposure.
The CDC offers an interactive tool to help you make decisions if you think you may have been exposed.
If you develop emergency warning signs of COVID-19 such as trouble breathing, persistent pain/pressure in the chest, altered mental status or bluish lips or face, seek medical attention immediately.
How can we stop the spread?
According to the CDC, some of the best ways to prevent COVID-19 are to clean your hands often with soap and water (or hand sanitizer), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, cover your coughs and sneezes, disinfect frequently touched surfaces and stay home except to get medical care.
The CDC states that the risk of being exposed to the virus is low for most Americans but this will increase as the outbreak expands.
People with increased risk of exposure include healthcare workers, people in communities where ongoing spread has been reported, travelers from affected international locations and those in close contact with anyone who has COVID-19.
Elderly and people with chronic medical conditions (such as lung disease or heart disease) are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 if exposed.
WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SCHOOL SHUTDOWNS
For younger kids, you can explain school shutdowns like this:
“Your school is closed for a while so that more people don’t get sick. If everybody goes to school, more people could get sick and have to go to the doctor. I don’t know when you are going to back to school, so I’ll make sure you still get to learn at home.”
For older kids, tell them what you know. Be honest about postponed or canceled proms and graduations. Reassure them that you can celebrate at home or later when COVID-19 passes.
The CDC has developed a decision-making algorithm to help schools determine the need for school closures and subsequently, prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Depending on your area, schools and school districts have already made the decision to close indefinitely. Check with your school’s website and local news about how your children will be affected.
Want to know how your kid’s school makes the decision to close? Check out the CDC’s school decision tree. This may help you understand the thought process behind closures.
WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT QUARANTINE
Many schools have transitioned to “distance” or online learning. This means different things depending on your specific school.
Go to your school district’s website. Many of them have web pages dedicated solely to COVID-19 and will have instructions on how to get assignments for students, how to get access to WIFI and computers and how to get meals to families.
If your school district has not yet started planning, here are some options for in-home learning:
- Do an online search for learning materials, such as “worksheets for first graders.” In particular, worksheetfun.com has worked for my family.
- Create your own worksheets. There’s nothing like getting back to the basics with a pen and paper and writing out math problems.
- Take advantage of free or discounted educational programs:
- Check out apps on the App Store and Google Play by doing a simple search such as “learning games for kids.” So many apps are available and many of them are free. Check out DFWChild’s article 10 Educational Apps Your Kids Should Try for more ideas.
Remember: Learning does not require three-hour lectures. Make it fun and use different types of media.
It can be hard managing one—or multiple—kids at home, especially if you’re used to being outside of the home on a daily basis. Many of us are stressed about money, job security, food, etc.
During this season, keep in mind that now more than ever kids need to feel supported, loved and have some sense of consistency. Here are a few ways to take care of our kids (and ourselves):
- Try sticking to a flexible routine. One way to do this is to get up around the same time each day.
- Watch a movie in your pajamas, eat cookies for breakfast, listen to music, watch free concerts online, go outside for a walk (weather permitting and if there aren’t any curfew or government restrictions), play a board game and give lots of hugs and reassurance.
- Stay in touch (by phone, of course) with your long distance loved ones.
- Stay informed. The Center for Disease Control is a reputable starting point.
- Consider limiting media exposure. We’re all interested in the impact of COVID-19, but limit it for a brief time and then shut it off.
WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH
As we sit in quarantine, kids will ask a lot of questions. Are we going to school tomorrow? Can we go to the park? Can I have a snack? They are trying to make sense of it all.
Talk it out. Allow them to express their feelings and emotions. They may not have control of the situation, but they are trying to understand it.
Some kids may be more worried or anxious than others with the uncertainty and inconsistency during a pandemic. This may present itself as constant worry, irritability, sadness, tantrums, sleep changes or returning to behaviors they outgrew.
Younger kids may require more attention and patience. For older kids, ask questions and share what you know. Try to understand that this is a change for them, too.
If you are concerned about the mental health of your child or your child’s behavior, call your child’s pediatrician, primary care provider or mental health provider.
If you are concerned about your child and need immediate assistance, contact:
- National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
- Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
- Crisis Textline: Text TALK to 741741
- For emergencies, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
And if you are dealing with stress and anxiety, check out DFWChild’s article Managing Stress + Anxiety Amid Coronavirus and see what tele-counseling options are available.
This is new territory for all of us. We are learning new information, making decisions and in some cases having life-altering circumstances thrown at us.
Adding kids to the mix doesn’t have to be an added stress. Remind yourself and your kids that you’re in this together and you’ll get through this together.
Let’s do this!
Image courtesy of iStock.