How can I talk to my young child about the pandemic so she understands the importance of measures such as social distancing, and not being able to see her friends?
With OC public schools continuing distance learning this fall, I’ve had plenty of discussions with fellow parents lately about the challenges ahead. Kids are frustrated because they want to go back and see their friends, and parents are looking for answers about how to explain this fluid situation to their children.
There are so many unknowns, and scenarios change often. Some schools are 100 percent online, others are hoping to offer in-person classes and many after-school programs are facilitating distance learning. Remaining cautious is vitally important for all of us. Is it fun? Not at all. Is it getting old? Some may say so. But with COVID-19 still circulating, we must be the safety nets for ourselves and our kids. That means keeping our distance, masking up and lots of handwashing.
As a parent of two elementary-aged kids, I began teaching them about COVID-19 and viruses early on. I invited their friends to join us and soon I was teaching a weekly Zoom class to a dozen or so kids from our Orange County neighborhood who called me “Monty Uncle.” Here are a few things I explained to them that could be helpful when discussing COVID-19 and how to stay safe with your kids:
- Explain the pandemic in terms they can understand. Imagine all of Doc McStuffins’ animals suddenly got really sick and she didn’t know why. She’d want to keep all animals separate from each other until she could figure out a way to make them better. The doctors are trying to find out ways to keep us safe, and until then, it’s best to learn from home or in a setting where we’re at least six feet apart so we don’t pass the virus to one another.
- Remind them (in the most entertaining ways possible) to handwash as if they were a doctor. Try using paint to show just how easy it is to spread germs from one place to the next!
- Remind them to wear their masks just like the heroes on the frontlines do. Sometimes, we can’t stay six feet apart, like when we are in the grocery store, so masks help us protect ourselves and others. Make or purchase a mask with a fun design or let your child decorate their own mask so they have ownership of the process. Remember, children under age 2 should not wear cloth face coverings.
- Lead by example. Practice handwashing, mask wearing and social distancing yourself. Share that by taking these precautions, we are not only protecting ourselves, but those around us, like our grandparents and friends.
Certainly, online interactions do not replace human connection, but they serve important purposes. In my oncology practice at City of Hope Newport Beach, I treat immunocompromised patients who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and other infections. Fortunately, we are experts when it comes to taking care of vulnerable patients and we make good use of telemedicine. Technology is on our side as parents, too. Remember, even if your kids are back to school online, they will still get to see their friends and reconnect. It will also offer a much-needed consistent weekday routine, even if it’s just for a few hours.
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Sumanta “Monty” Pal, M.D., is an internationally recognized leader in the area of genitourinary cancers including bladder, kidney and prostate cancer at City of Hope Orange County.
(Opening photo courtesy of Rusty Watson/Unsplash)