Adapting to the personal and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic can prove challenging for anyone. These changes can be especially difficult for children, as many aspects of their physical, mental, and emotional health are heavily impacted by their daily routines.
Talking openly with your children can help them adjust without becoming overwhelmed by the health and safety behaviors they’re suddenly being asked to adhere to. Taking time to discuss the importance of handwashing, mask-wearing, and social distancing will help you keep your kids safe now while establishing life-long hygiene habits.
Even though handwashing isn’t a new behavior for your child, they are likely being asked to wash their hands much more frequently than they may be used to. While this may seem like a chore to some kids – especially the younger ones – practicing good hand hygiene is one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of viruses and other bacteria from one person to another.
It can be helpful to explain to your kids that the germs they’re washing away are invisible. So, even if their hands look clean, it’s still important to wash them thoroughly before eating or after coming into contact with other people. Encourage them to scrub with plenty of soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, or, for as long as it takes for them to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Making handwashing a family activity is a great way to set a good example for your kids while making the task feel like less of a chore.
Getting used to wearing a mask in public spaces can take some time, but incorporating masks into your everyday routines is a great place to start. Keeping masks by the door, in your car, or in other transitional spaces like the garage or the back hallway will ensure that your family has access to masks when they are most likely to need them. Having extras on-hand is never a bad idea, as masks can be easily misplaced or forgotten.
Like so many social behaviors, your child will inevitably look to you and the other adults in their life to set the tone for what is expected of them. In short, if you remember to wear a mask, your child is much more likely to do the same. Explaining the way masks help to prevent illness can also be beneficial, and might even help your child feel safer in public settings.
Social distancing can prove to be a particularly challenging concept for children. It can be a struggle for kids to recognize what a six-foot distance looks like, and some children may simply forget about this new rule when they are excited to see someone they know.
Helping children grasp these concepts may require a bit of patience and grace. If possible, utilizing gentle reminders rather than enforcing strict new rules can make social distancing less scary. It can also be helpful to identify the “safe” people in your child’s life – those that they don’t have to socially distance with – like parents, close relatives, or other caretakers that they interact with on a daily basis.
It’s important to remember that children are learning to adapt to these challenges just like the rest of us. Strive to have open conversations with your kids in a language that they understand, and be honest with your answers to their questions. You can always contact your child’s pediatrician for additional help, or to offer your child the opportunity to talk through these issues with another trustworthy adult.