AAP offers tips to keep children occupied during COVID-19 pandemic
As families across the globe are asked to stay home to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, parents of children in all age groups are left with a lot of time each day that could be filled with structured activities.
The AAP published a list of 15 ways that parents can keep their children engaged without going out in public, including having offline experiences with their children, which can help families connect emotionally and heal.
Jill Cioffi, MD, FAAP, medical director of ambulatory primary care pediatrics at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, agreed with the AAP’s list and, as a parent, had some recommendations of her own.
“We have people who are cooking, gardening and cleaning and doing things in the house — just common-sense things that we no longer are teaching our kids,” Cioffi said. “I really felt that this was kind of an opportunity for the parents who are home, to now be able to kind of slow down their process and to really teach their kids how to do things.”
At the top of the list, the AAP recommended that parents make a plan with their children, talk to them about their daily structure and how they can deal with stress, and when they will “take breaks from telework or schoolwork to relax and connect with each other.”
“They need structure to their day. They've lost all sorts of structure because they don't have school anymore. They're gaining skillsets that they weren't going to learn in school,” Cioffi said.
The AAP also recommended that parents be selective about what children watch, limit their own technology use and create a space for family members to talk about their worries.
“Just have family time,” Cioffi said. “It'll make them less anxious. It'll help direct their time. It'll definitely strengthen their relationship with their parents. I think there's a whole vast amount of knowledge that individual parents have that they could share with their kids because this would be the perfect opportunity to do that.”
The AAP recommended that parents reach out to their children’s teachers regarding online and offline learning options and find outdoor, offline activities that can help families relax and communicate together.
“For my own kids, I am making them exercise 1 hour a day. My kids have the choice of doing it in a 1-hour block, or they could do it in two 30-minute blocks,” Cioffi said. “I think that you should just set minimums and remember that kids were participating in gym and recess and you should make up that time at home during the day.”
The 15 tips, as written by the AAP, are:
1. Make a plan. Talk with your kids about what your daily structure will be, how you will handle stress, and when you will take breaks from telework or schoolwork to relax and connect with each other.
2. Communicate with teachers about what educational online and offline activities your children can do. Schools districts may be able to help connect low-income families to free WiFi or devices.
3. For preschoolers, good options include PBS Kids, which is sending out a daily newsletter with show and activity ideas.
4. Use social media for good! Check in with neighbors, friends and loved ones. If schools are closed, find out if there are ways to help students who need meals or internet access for at-home learning.
5. Use media for social connection: Social distancing can be isolating. If kids are missing their school friends or other family, try video chats or social media to stay in touch.
6. Be selective about what your children watch. Use trusted sources to find positive content, such as Common Sense Media, which has been compiling lots of ideas for families hunkering down right now.
7. Use media together. This is a great opportunity to monitor what your older children are seeing online and follow what your children are learning. Even watching a family movie together can help everyone relax while you appreciate the storytelling and meaning that movies can bring.
8. Parents working from home may need to adjust expectations during this time. But it’s also a chance to show kids a part of their world. Encouraging imaginative “work” play may be a way to apply “take your child to work day” without ever leaving home!
9. Podcasts and audiobooks are great ways to keep children’s minds engaged while parents get things done.
10. Find offline activities that help family relax and communicate. Take walks outside, play board games, read together, have family dance parties. Know which activities spark your children’s interest (kicking the ball around? baking?) and make time for them.
11. Create the space for family members to talk about their worries.
12. Parents, notice your own technology use. When you’re getting too sucked into news or social media feeds and it’s stressing you out, children can notice. Take a break to protect your own mental health too.
13. Limits are still important. As the timeline of social distancing is uncertain, try to stick to routines. Make sure technology use does not take the place of sleep, physical activity, reading, reflective downtime, or family connection.
14. Make a plan about how much time kids can play video games online with friends, and where their devices will charge at night. Challenge children to practice “tech self-control” and turn off the TV, tablet, or video game themselves — rather than parents reminding them.
15. Consider what offline activities are enjoyable for your family. Help other families by sharing those ideas.
Cioffi made her own list of scheduled activities for children and provided a shared copy at this link. – by Ken Downey Jr.