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The latest news on the spread and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is sobering, especially for caretakers of the young or elderly. Although the uncertainty surrounding the virus is a source of anxiety for everyone, it is particularly important for parents to remain calm and help their children understand the steps they need to take to stay safe. 

While scientists around the world are learning more about the virus every day, a few clear trends have already emerged: 

Infectious disease experts have outlined several non-medical precautions we can all take — like social distancing — that are essential to slowing down the pace of the outbreak. Although children appear to be only mildly affected by the illness in the vast majority of cases, keeping your children safe and healthy is paramount to moving past this crisis. Here are some steps you can take to protect your children and your home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Protect Your Kids

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while some children and infants have contracted COVID-19, children do not have a greater risk of infection compared to adults or the elderly. And the vast majority of COVID-19 patients to date have been adults. 

Thanks to the global school closures and the explosion of information about coronavirus across social media, most school-aged children already have an idea about what the coronavirus is and why our daily lives have changed. Many are scared. They need your guidance to make sense of the sometimes conflicting information they may be hearing, and to reassure them that we will come out on the other side of this crisis. As a parent, it is important for you to help your children understand the magnitude of what is happening, how to stay safe, and how they can help.  

How much should they know?

Before you decide to talk to your children about the coronavirus, consider what your children may already know and what type of information might be helpful to them. Some children may only be able to understand that something serious is happening that is causing us to live by new rules, while older children may want specific details about how the virus spreads, and what our government is doing to stem the pandemic.

Katie Ziskind, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the owner of Wisdom Within Counseling in Connecticut, says, “When talking to children about a virus, it’s really important to use age-appropriate terms. You don’t want to cause a child to have more anxiety or more fear.” Try to answer all of your kids’ questions to the best of your ability. If you don’t know an answer, tell them you will find out if possible, or that the experts are working on an answer right now. Several resources for children are already available.

On the topic of how to find the right words to discuss such a complex topic, Global Chief Academic Officer at Kïdo Schools, Thasin Rahim, notes, “There’s no need to use technical words like ‘pandemic,’ ‘epidemiology,’ etc. On the contrary, we should use a language (and resources) that children are able to understand easily, including drawings, stories, videos, etc.” 

Parents should also remember that many children won’t know how to ask the right questions to help them understand what’s happening. Rahim says, “The idea is to explain it to them according to their capabilities, giving them the fundamental guidelines for taking care of themselves (and others), using a vocabulary that is easy for them to understand.” 

The words you use to frame the pandemic can significantly impact how your kids feel about it. As an important final note, Rahim adds, “We should consider not highlighting that the virus comes from China, or that it is associated with certain types of people, and places, because we could end up with a confusing, potentially racist, wrong message about the matter.”

Lead by example 

Children can often pick up on the anxieties or fears of their parents, so try your best to maintain a calm attitude about the virus — at least when you’re around the kids. Projecting confidence and optimism can go a long way to help quell your children’s fears regarding the uncertainty of the situation. 

It is also important for parents to demonstrate for their children how to follow the CDC guidelines to stay safe during the pandemic. Make sure both you and your children regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your face, and practice social distancing to avoid spreading the illness. Lead by example. 

Children should also be advised to specifically avoid coming into contact with anyone who is ill or elderly. Experts think some of the explosion in coronavirus cases in Italy amongst the elderly was due in part to the frequent contact between children and senior citizens within the country. By encouraging your children to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously and follow the necessary precautions, you are helping them do what they can to control the spread of the virus.

Of the children who have become infected, the majority of cases have been mild and include cold-like symptoms, such as coughing, sniffling, and fever. Some sick children also reported experiencing vomiting and diarrhea. 

If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms, begin self-quarantining your family immediately. Seek medical attention only if they are in an emergency situation. Then contact your doctor for further guidance and information about how to take a COVID-19 test.

Protect Your Property 

The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst public health outbreak to strike the world since the last flu pandemic of 1918. With little preparation, the world’s government officials and health care systems are responding in real time to the health and economic consequences of the virus. While the global pandemic situation evolves daily, there are already several steps you can take to protect your property during the outbreak. Pay special attention to safeguarding the property or services you will be relying most heavily on during the pandemic.  

Equipment to work from home

Millions of Americans are now working from home as shelter-in-place and social distancing orders are being put in place across the United States. If you have been asked to begin working from home instead of the office, it’s important to set up a remote office space in a spare room or corner, if you have the luxury of one. Having a dedicated space to put on your “work hat” will make it infinitely easier to get things done.

If you are considered an essential worker and unable to work from home, prepare your children by providing them with your emergency contact information in case they urgently need to reach you. In some states, like Minnesota and Vermont, essential workers are entitled to some benefits like free child care. Find out what services you may qualify for by looking into your state’s specific “Essential Persons List.” Using a trusted and healthy friend or family member as a resource may be another child care option for working parents in need. 

Necessary services and coverage for your home and family

Test your internet router and other equipment to make sure it can handle the additional traffic that of multiple people staying or working at home, and update your system if needed. You may want to look at your homeowners insurance to see if it covers an upgraded system, or repairs if an overtaxed system has a problem. You also may want to consider adding home business coverage to your policy.

If you don’t currently have dependable internet access, contact one of the major internet providers in your area. Several U.S. internet companies, like AT&T and Xfinity, are offering 60 days of free internet service to families with children who now need the internet to attend school. Even more internet providers have agreed to temporarily suspend data caps to facilitate communication during this period. 

Depending on the ages of your children, you may also want to see if your homeowners insurance policy covers minor liability issues for your family like vandalism, trespassing, dog bites, pool injuries, theft, and other issues that could arise in this unique situation. While children should avoid congregating to respect social distancing precautions, stir-crazy kids can sometimes get into trouble when finally able to get outside on their own. With so many businesses closing so quickly, updating your insurance policy now to include comprehensive coverage will protect you if the insurance industry is put on a freeze.

As a homeowner, the likelihood of getting sued by someone who may have contracted the coronavirus after visiting your home is low. Liability law requires the victim to be able to prove that the defendant caused injury or death, and it is difficult to pinpoint the source of a contagious virus to any one person’s negligence. Exceptions may occur, however, in fatal cases when the source of the virus is extremely clear. 

Auto insurance coverage and protection

During any national crisis, rates of vandalism and theft can rise quickly. Parents living in urban areas: Think about how you will be able to protect your vehicle (and investment) during this uncertain period. 

Consider where you regularly park your car and if you should move it to a safer location. Review your car insurance policy to make sure it covers theft and vandalism. If you will be using your vehicle significantly less now due to social distancing, consider reducing your amount of coverage.

Sanitize and Stay Safe 

The most important thing the average American family can do right now to stay safe and help one another is to follow the CDC guidelines. Everyone in your family needs to regularly wash their hands and avoid coming into physical contact with ill, elderly,  or immunocompromised individuals. When possible, all family members need to respect social distancing requirements that call for everyone to stay at least six feet apart. Because of how infectious this virus has proven to be, the CDC asks everyone in a household to quarantine if a single family member is suspected of having the COVID-19 virus.

Deep clean your home

Now is the time to work out your anxiety through some deep cleaning. Once again, the COVID-19 virus is highly contagious. According to a recent Scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) study (published on March 17, 2020) on how the virus works , the novel coronavirus can survive on hard surfaces for up to three days and in the air for several hours. On cardboard, it was found to survive for about 24 hours. An even newer CDC study (published on March 23, 2020) examining the infection on cruise ships found that the virus survived in the vacated cabins of the Diamond Princess for up to 17 days after passengers had been evacuated.

Grab your disinfectant spray or soap and clean any commonly used areas or objects. In lieu of a disinfecting soap, the CDC recommends cleaning your home surfaces with a bleach and water mix or a 70% alcohol solution.

Don’t forget to include the following spaces and items in your deep clean:

  • Doorknobs and banisters
  • Floors
  • Countertops
  • Blankets and toys
  • Light switches and remotes
  • Toilets, sinks, and faucets 

Fun indoor activities 

Parents around the world are doing their best to keep their kids occupied while stuck inside all day. Because even playing with other neighborhood children would go against the CDC’s social distancing guidelines, parents must do their best to dissuade their children from playing with their neighbors. 

If you have access to a secluded outdoor area where your children can play independently, take advantage of your extended quarantine space. You can also consider visiting a national park as a household — the Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt recently announced that all national parks have waived their admission fees for the time being. 

For kids, everything can be turned into a game. Think about how you can help your children have as much fun as possible while carrying out their daily tasks during the outbreak. Set up a new routine to make sure they can keep up with their studies, which will now most likely be done online, and make sure this routine also includes some indoor playtime. Consider doing some of the following activities with your children while the world is on coronavirus lockdown:

  • Play board games, card games, and puzzles
  • Have virtual story time and sleepovers
  • Complete involved arts and crafts projects
  • Write and produce a mini play or film
  • Begin studying a foreign language
  • Build a pillow fort or tree house

Best practices

Hand sanitizer is just one of the many cleaning products that has disappeared from the shelves since the COVID-19 virus has spread across the world. Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and similar items that can be used on the spot are essential to stemming the spread of the virus and keeping us healthy. Luckily, it’s relatively simple to make your own hand sanitizer (if you can get your hands on the ingredients!). 

Ingredients

  • Isopropyl or rubbing alcohol (99% alcohol volume)
  • Aloe vera gel
  • Essential oil of your choice (optional) 

Steps to make your own hand sanitizer

  1. Choose a container to mix and store your hand sanitizer. 
  2. Prepare two-parts alcohol for every one-part aloe vera gel. For example, if you have two cups of rubbing alcohol, add it to one cup of aloe vera gel. 
  3. Add an essential oil of your choice, such as tea tree oil for added antibacterial qualities or lavender for its soothing abilities. 
  4. Combine all three ingredients in your container and shake well. 
  5. Voilà! You have your own DIY hand sanitizer.

The Bottom Line

We often hear “it will get worse before it gets better,” but what does that really mean? Should we prepare for more empty shelves in the stores and longer periods on lockdown, or will this be over before we know it? 

Not even experts know for sure. There’s little doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on most of us, however, including our children. Although the elderly are the most susceptible to dying from the virus, children appear to be just as likely as adults to contract the virus and suffer some level of infection as a result. Following the CDC guidelines for best hygienic practices, along with respecting social distancing requirements, will go a long way to stem the outbreak — and is within everyone’s power to do. As a parent, it is your job to help your child understand the importance of these new rules and the best ways they can respect them. As more and more cases are reported and the world’s response to the outbreak evolves, it is important to stay updated on the latest CDC recommendations. The CDC has issued a preparation checklist for parents to help you respond to the coronavirus and publishes regular updates via its website. Now more than ever, staying informed about new developments with the virus and the world’s reaction is essential to protecting your family.