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Parents Ask Pediatricians: How Can My Family Cope with the Pandemic?

A pediatrician’s trade is a child’s health, but it’s an open secret that physicians are often called to offer parenting help, too. To ensure kids and families isolating themselves at home get the support they need, we gathered resources from the AAP, from working parents, and more, so physicians can help families stay healthy, find coping strategies for every situation, and most importantly, stay safe.

From the AAP/Healthy Children

Check here for the latest on COVID-19 guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

HealthyChildren.org, the parenting advice website powered by the AAP, offers parents and pediatricians great information as they adjust to life at home. HealthyChildren gives parents practical guidance to work and play from home, including wearing your baby and setting up your toddler as a mini-coworker. They also address some common questions, including topics such as screen time, distance learning, and addressing feelings.

We asked parents at PCC how they and their families are doing at home. Here are some common questions they asked, and how you can respond to similar questions from your families:

My kid interrupts me while I work. How can I distract him?

Laura Markham, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today that interruption is a natural result of kids losing their usual structure and routine. Parents can cope with interrupting kids by engaging in periods of regular play and making sure they have plenty of options to keep busy with toys, video calling with family members, and coaching them to engage in longer and longer periods of independent play.

PCC’s Kate Taylor learned from her pediatrician that while her kids, 3 and 5, don’t respond well to “time-outs,” they do respond well to “time-ins,” or 1-5 minutes of individualized attention that addresses their needs and feelings. Meanwhile, another PCC’er reported that “virtual babysitters” -- video conference calls with family members -- are effective in helping a child get individual attention for school work, music lessons, and allows the whole family to connect with loved ones.

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Pictured: PCCer Erin Auer’s family spends time outside, practicing safe distancing with well-deserved treats. 

How can I make sure my child gets the most out of remote learning?

Distance learning is a work in progress for many families and educators. HealthyChildren recommends keeping a routine, as well as a schedule, for parents and children to keep them focused on school. They also recommend independent workspaces where possible, so everyone can do their best. Younger kids may benefit from shorter lessons followed by activity breaks, while older kids can study for longer periods.

Remote education is not the ideal for every student. While some students excel in planning their own schedules, others are overwhelmed. For kids that are struggling, pediatricians can work with therapists, educators, and parents to design a study system that works for their needs.

How can I educate my child about COVID-19 without scaring them?

This is perhaps one of the most common questions a pediatrician will face from anxious parents. While parents know their children best, it’s worth bearing in mind that a child’s age will help inform what information they learn about and how it can be framed.

The CDC has this advice to offer for parents and caregivers guiding a child through emergencies: a parent’s responses should be as calm as possible; safety precautions should be explained as a way to keep the family and others safe; a child’s emotions may guide a parent to provide reassurance and answer questions. 

My child is missing important events. How can I help?

Important events such as graduation, birthday parties, and spring/summer celebrations are being cancelled across the country, and kids are justifiably disappointed. According to experts in this New York Times Parenting piece, it’s important for parents to validate a child’s emotions, check your own emotions, and recognize that their responses might be unpredictable.

PCC’s Lewis Holcroft is part of the Technical Solutions Team and has teenagers who are now learning from home. While prom is cancelled and graduation plans are unclear, the loss of the spring Drama Club show has proven the most disappointing for the elder, while the younger can’t wait for the end of distance learning. PCCer Jen Perren’s two sons have likewise missed baseball season, and the younger has missed celebrations to mark the end of middle school.

While it is difficult to answer the question of when events and celebrations can resume as normal, there are still ways to cope. Kate Taylor celebrated her son’s birthday with a rainbow scavenger hunt, and this Texas family imagined their own version of a trip to Disney. While parents can create fun for their kids, older kids and teens may enjoy choosing their own ways to participate in their own makeshift or virtual celebrations, birthdays, and events.

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Pictured: PCC’s Kate Taylor goes on nature walks with her family, where they collect rainbow-colored souvenirs.

How should I navigate custody? What should I do if my child’s guardians have different household rules on schoolwork/safety?

Parents know that their child’s health should come first, but can and should they navigate safe transit to and life in different households? While an attorney speaking to The Atlantic says that there is no clear-cut answer to custodial conflicts during the pandemic, ultimately, parents may have to take on more or less time with their children as they normally would or have agreed to. Parents may choose to keep their children moving between households if they can transport them safely, or keep them home if a child or parent is sick. For younger kids, their emotional state should be minded, while older kids may opt for more of a say.

For parents with different rules in their homes, communication and compromise may help in the short term, while long term, parents can help kids understand the rules by explaining how they keep the family safe, according to a developmental psychologist and head of content for Sesame Street.

How can I keep my family emotionally and physically healthy? What can I do to help family members that have a mental illness or a disability?

The CDC’s advice includes familiar points on this question: keep up a routine as much as possible, take breaks, make time to exercise, eat well, and safely venture outside. Listen to kid’s emotions and offer facts and ways to cope with emotions. The CDC also recommends limiting exposure to too much news coverage or social media about the pandemic, as children may become frightened by events, reactions, and rhetoric they don’t understand.

PCCer Jen Perren says her two sons are staying active by spending time together outside, while she herself is spreading positivity by participating in some local dance-offs.

Family members with mental illness or disability will benefit from a strong support system and flexibility during this time. Pediatricians can help kids best with individual support for their health and emotional needs. As Dr. Jeanne Marconi described in a previous “Positivity in Pediatrics” story, telemedicine can mean pediatricians can visit patients in their homes to discuss their emotional needs as well as their physical health.

Finally, parents are not the only ones with questions. Finally, a question many kids may be pondering lately: 

Are mom and dad okay? How can I help?

Self care for parents is important. Grover of Sesame Street fame describes how kids can protect others by washing their hands and wearing a mask, and help mom and dad by keeping their room clean. This New York Times Parenting article describes how a mom takes small moments for herself, from crying in the car to purchasing pedicure supplies.

More Resources

Parents in need of support services can consult both emergency resources for mental health, as well as consult with their health insurance provider for mental health services that may be available via telehealth. PCCer Scarlett Stone recommends this podcast for parents that focuses on emotional health and selfcare.

Whether you’re feeling burnt out from remote learning, working from home with a toddler, or need to balance going back to work without formal childcare, there are plenty of resources for parents and pediatricians to exchange with one another.

Pediatricians who use pre-screening tools can help their appointments go smoothly and help parents be prepared for any telehealth or in-person visit. Check out Chip Hart’s interview with Dr. Barbara Howard of CHADIS here!

Spending more time at home with pre-teen or adolescent girls may result in some unexpected and difficult conversations -- help parents and girls talk about menstrual health, nutrition, mental health, and more with Girlology, founded by two physician-moms.

For more resources for pediatric practices, be sure to check out the PMI Business Impact forum for weekly webinars. Want help coding, billing, and practicing telemedicine? Be sure to visit PCC’s COVID-19 resource page for the information you need to get started, improve, get paid, and see patients.

PCC's Latest COVID-19 Resources

Allie Squires

Allie Squires is PCC's Marketing Content Writer and a transplant from upstate New York. She holds a master's in Professional Writing from NYU.