Stuck at home: 6 ways to keep kids happy and healthy

Due to the spread of COVID-19, school and daycare closures are keeping families around the world stuck at home together in unprecedented numbers. You, along with millions of other parents, are now left wondering: How will I manage it all?

“Schools have been cancelled, children are home with their parents, and parents are trying to structure their day to get work done and care for their children,” Tiffany Munzer, M.D., said. “Families are under a lot of stress right now, to say the very least.”

Munzer, a pediatrician who specializes in behavioral development, suggests parents acknowledge the pressure and cut themselves some slack.

“Allow yourself some grace and breaks throughout the day,” Munzer said. “Everybody is facing unprecedented uncertainty, so as much as you are able to, focus on things you’re able to control.”

When it comes to parenting, she has several ideas that can help children and parents alike stay safe, healthy and productive during this time:

1. Create a routine. With the rapid changes happening around the world, kids can really thrive under, and benefit from, a structured routine, Munzer explained. Depending on your child’s age, sit down each evening and try to plan out a rough schedule for the next day. It can help to create a visual schedule.

“The more children can anticipate, the safer and more secure they will feel,” she said.

If possible, replicate some elements of your kid’s typical school or daycare schedule. For example, encourage your children to change out of pajamas in the morning, brush their teeth, eat breakfast, etc.

Another note: “Often it makes sense to structure the day so that harder tasks are accomplished first when children are likely to be well rested,” Munzer said. “After schoolwork or chores are complete, you can follow with easier tasks (including screen time) as the day wears on, as a reward for accomplishing the harder tasks.”

2. Consider chores. Giving children a task or a job to do can help them feel empowered. This could be as simple as cleaning and rinsing off their dishes, wiping off countertops or putting away their clothes, Munzer said.

3. Take breaks. Munzer suggests short breaks for parents and kids alike throughout the day. Call friends or family, listen to music, go outside or read something uplifting. The calmer you are, the calmer your children will be, Munzer said. 

“We are living in this great time where we can reach out to others virtually without putting anybody at risk of contracting COVID,” Munzer says. “Use your social networks to reach out while keeping a safe distance.”

4. Go outside. If it’s safe in your neighborhood and the CDC continues to support outdoor time in response to the pandemic, it can help the whole family feel better.

5. Use screens as needed. During this time, there’s nothing wrong with screen time together as a family. 

“Think of it as a reward for getting through the day and as an activity to do together,” she said. Just be sure to keep content appropriate, and limit your child’s exposure to the news, as that can be anxiety provoking.

6. Think of daily themes. One idea to keep things fun: Pick a theme for each day.

“Your family could spend one day learning about something fun like pirates, then the next day, learn about different types of jungle animals,” Munzer said. “Having something that feels a little special to do during this time can help everybody look forward to something.”

If you’re interested in creating or using educational resources, Munzer suggests Twinkl.com and Education.com for free worksheets and other ideas. CommonSenseMedia.org has suggestions for what to watch, read and play when your kids are stuck indoors, as well as recommendations for free educational apps.

From Michigan Health

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