While parents are no longer new to having their children in virtual school, having children at home for extended periods brings up unique questions regarding social interactions and safety, including: How much screen time is OK? How do I keep my child occupied? Can my family exchange toys or books with our friends? Are public playgrounds safe?
We asked Dr. Michael Visker, a pediatrician at Alewife Brook Community Pediatrics (affiliated with Winchester Hospital), some common questions parents have about family, kids, and what you can do to pass the time without spreading COVID-19.
What are some tried and true ways to stop the spread of viruses in your home?
The best way to stop the spread of viruses in your own home includes all of the common-sense advice from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Wash your hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your face and nose as much as possible, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and avoiding others when you feel sick. Additionally, try to avoid sharing common household items like dishes, utensils and the like. With children at home, it is especially important to clean “high touch” surfaces every day. While these methods seem simple, they can be highly effective at helping to stem the spread of viruses.
Should you let your kids have a playdate? What about kids who are family but don’t live here, can they come over?
In line with all advice so far, I would not recommend any non-essential travel or gatherings outside of your household on weekends or after school, in an effort to help decrease the spread of the infection. There are many creative ways to entertain children of all ages at home, from reading to arts and crafts and even just using their imagination to create new and silly games at home. In the end, while it may require a little more effort to help foster these creative ways to spend their time at home, it is likely easier than caring for a sick child or other family members.
What is the protocol with sharing toys or books between families?
Any toy or book that comes into your home should be able to be thoroughly disinfected. Plastic and hard surfaces should be wiped with a recommended disinfectant and any soft materials should be washed with soap and water. I recommend thinking twice about bringing in any potential toys and/or books that cannot be thoroughly cleaned.
For parents working at home with their kids, is it OK to allow more screen time?
I think under these unusual circumstances that we are all living under, this is something that is likely to occur, especially now that many children are taking classes online. It is still important to try to limit the amount of time that children spend in front of a screen, but it is also equally important to ensure the quality, both of the content and the age-appropriateness, of the media that they are consuming. It is still important for parents to set limits and boundaries on how long and what they are viewing on these screens and it is equally important that parents serve as role models when it comes to screen time. Kids are always watching and want to imitate their parents.
Do things in your home need to be regularly disinfected if you aren’t going out much anyway?
Yes, all the “high touch” items in the house should be disinfected daily. Clean surfaces such as light switches, counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables often using regular household soap or detergent followed by a household disinfectant. COVID-19 can be spread by people days before they start showing symptoms and by those who remain entirely asymptomatic, so it is important to keep things clean in an effort to mitigate household spread. When cleaning, wear gloves as directed by cleaning products and allow for adequate ventilation when cleaning to avoid potentially dangerous fumes.
Are you getting any other questions from parents regarding keeping their kids at home, or how to protect their families?
These are some of the more common questions that families are asking. Many parents are still adapting to varying degrees of childcare assistance, schooling disruption, and other difficulties because of the ongoing pandemic.
Everyone is trying to balance work life, home life, taking care of children and keeping them safe. Despite the fact that this virus is seeming to cause either asymptomatic or mild illness in most healthy children, there can be serious illnesses, too. With more contagious variants circulating, safety is paramount.
If your children have returned to school in-person, try to keep up to date on State and CDC guidelines, and working with your school system to learn about their safety protocols. As always, it is common sense things that are going to make the biggest difference in keeping people safe; washing your hands, coughing into your sleeve, staying home when you feel ill and practicing physical distancing as much as possible, so discuss these measures with your children.