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Coronavirus and kids: Keep children thriving while social distancing | COMMENTARY

Play dates are out because of coronavirus, but there are activities parents can organize to make sure their children continue to thrive and mom and dad stay sane.
Play dates are out because of coronavirus, but there are activities parents can organize to make sure their children continue to thrive and mom and dad stay sane.(Getty Images)

As an adult, I have found the last few weeks to be excruciatingly frustrating, confusing and completely unpredictable. Typically, physicians pride themselves on remaining calm under pressure, however in unprecedented situations, we need to become innovative.

Specifically, pediatricians often emphasize the importance of preventing illness and the necessity of education. Unfortunately, schools across Maryland are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the public and flatten the infamous curve.

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If we as adults are angry, imagine what a child must feel. We must ensure they do not feel that being restricted is a punishment, or that education is strictly meant for the classroom. Nor can we abandon the parents. In fact, we should reclaim our self-quarantined time to empower children by turning COVID-19 into an opportunity for them to create, organize, validate, imagine and dance.

Children do not need to forego their daily routine now that they are home from school. This is the perfect time to incorporate creativity into your child’s schedule and allow them to express themselves artistically.

They can help you cook a new exciting meal, design a new world with blocks or write a story about current events and their understanding of the pandemic. Art can provide soothing sensory input and an outlet for children when words do not suffice. An activity as simple as mixing corn starch and water, or conditioner with flour, can provide hours of calming play and appease an anxious child.

If you are going to be home for a minimum of two weeks, then this gives you and your child the opportunity to organize their environment. Clean out school bags, re-label binders, put colored pencils into rainbow order. Help them learn how to clean their room, fold laundry and properly put clothes away.

This gives children control over their room, a safe space, while designing a foundation that emphasizes organization and self-responsibility. Despite appearing as if to enjoy chaos, children thrive most when their life is structured and they are given expectations of performance.

Despite our best efforts, children will at times become infuriated with being cooped up in the house. Let them. Use this time to validate their feelings and encourage them to talk about what they are experiencing internally.

At early stages of development, a child is focused strictly on instant gratification and self-admiration as their brain matures. Parents can provide an explanation of how each of us are sacrificing for the betterment of society. This lays the groundwork for understanding how to become selfless citizens of the world with humility.

Allow children to imagine their future and use their imagination to make passing time more enjoyable. Make their bookshelf a library and teach them how to be a librarian. Show them how to act out their favorite scene from a story or movie. Design a boat that can take them overseas or an airplane that can fly them to an enchanted forest.

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Even within four walls, the mind can expand a child’s universe beyond the tangible. Do not underestimate the ability of a child to see a castle where our concrete minds may only see a cardboard box.

Lastly, do not forget to dance. Some of my fondest memories as a child are of me and my father dancing in our living room. Music and movement can be as cathartic to a child’s soul as crying. Musicality and culture are just as equally important to education as fractions and great literature.

Exercise the mind and body. If children are going to use an electronic device, use it for song and dance. There are great books on tape as well as nursery rhymes that can be found for free on the internet. Mother goose understood that alliteration and rhythm would shower a child in language, encourage speech, an interest in reading, and that a little bit of folly and nonsense were a healthy distraction to the seriousness of reality.

Whenever I was sick as a child, my mother would read to me the book “Bunnies’ Get Well Soup” by Joan Elizabeth Goodman, a story of how the entire community comes together, gathering turnips, carrots and broth for a family in need to make a healing soup for their baby bunny.

While living through the COVID-19 pandemic, let us try to be resilient for our children. Let us show them strength instead of fear. We have the opportunity right now to teach our children hope, kindness and compassion, the very ingredients required to be a human of the world, and I can assure you that the recipe cannot be found in any textbook in school.

Dr. Allyson Impallomeni (aimpallo@lifebridgehealth.org)is a pediatrician at Sinai Hospital and Lifebridge Health in Baltimore.

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