A: One of the most important things I do as a physician is listen to my patients’ concerns and offer them support and guidance as they battle cancer. Right now, as we navigate our new public health reality, it also includes answering questions and providing resources so my patients and their families can protect themselves against coronavirus (COVID-19). As a parent of three children, the role I play is not all that different. Like parents around the world, I am answering my children’s questions, comforting them and doing everything I can to keep them safe.
As schools and workplaces close and daily activities look very different, it’s critical that we take time to have honest, yet reassuring, conversations with our children while taking care of our own physical and emotional health.
One of the best things you can do, with all the information swirling around, is to be ready to talk with your children. Consider yourself on call to listen and answer questions as best you can. Ask your children how they are feeling and if they have questions. Children can sense anxiety and stress. Share how you are feeling. Taking turns sharing will make both of you feel calmer.
Help your children navigate these uncertain times with the following tips:
- Explain what’s happening in simple terms. Remind them that children without underlying illness are not at high risk. One way to explain COVID-19 is: This virus is like a cold or flu and everyone is working to prevent people with weaker bodies from getting it.
- Establish a routine. School-aged children need it. Make a schedule that allows time for school work, play, chores and keep their sleep routine the same.
- Plan fun family activities. Have games or movie night. Include children in planning or cooking a meal together or creating new family traditions. Take a virtual tour of a museum or the zoo together. The zoo may be closed but the webcams are on.
- Allow your children screen time. Children use screen time to connect with their friends and distract themselves from stress.
- Avoid letting children watch TV news. They may not understand it and may become frightened or worried. If your children do hear information on the TV or radio, interpret by using child-friendly language and help them understand their emotions are normal. Always keep your information simple and consistent.
- Reinforce daily actions to reduce the spread of germs. Remind your kids about the importance of social distance, especially when it comes to people exhibiting signs of any kind of cold, flu or illness, such as coughing, sneezing. Get children in the habit of sneezing or coughing into a tissue and throwing that tissue away and washing their hands. Teach them the 20-second hand-washing rule, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing their noses. Make sure the whole family thoroughly washes up before handling food or eating meals.
- A note about hand sanitizer … If hand-washing isn’t available, hand sanitizer (containing at least 60 percent alcohol) will do in a pinch. Just take extra care using it with younger children to help them avoid ingesting it.
Be Physically Active
In our altered version of daily life, staying healthy requires a little more effort. Being alert and vigilant about hygiene and keeping your distance is vital. Yet so are staying active and positive. Try to get your family outside as often as possible. Encourage your child to go for a bike ride or go on a family walk or hike. Exercise is vital — just remember to keep your distance from other people.
Finally, practice self-care. Schedule time for yourself every day to do something relaxing and stay connected to friends through apps, group chats and social media. Take care of your body by eating well, exercising and getting plenty of sleep.
Each day will be a new challenge, but by looking out for our families and each other, we will get through this.
Dr. Misagh Karimi, MD, is an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope Orange County. He practices out of City of Hope’s new Newport Beach location, the first phase of City of Hope’s plans to invest $1 billion to develop and operate a regional cancer care network and cancer campus of the future in Orange County.
Top Photo: Jonathan Borba