Advertisement

Home for coronavirus: What to do with your kids during the outbreak

Click to play video 'What do school closures mean for students?' What do school closures mean for students?
ABOVE: Kevin Wu from ‘OneClass’ explains what the extended march break means for students, teachers, and parents – Mar 13, 2020

As the number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Canada continues to rise, federal and provincial public health officials are urging caution.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recommends Canadians practise social distancing, defined as remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining distance (approximately six feet or two metres) from others when possible.

Meanwhile, both governments in Ontario and Quebec announced closures of all publicly funded schools.

READ MORE: How to practise social distancing during coronavirus outbreak

That means millions of kids will be stuck at home — but with public settings like museums, science centres and community centres on the list of places to avoid, how else can parents fill the time?

Story continues below advertisement

There are a few things to consider, according to Jennifer Kolari, parenting expert and founder of Connected Parenting.

“There’s a lot of heightened anxiety with everybody right now, and it’s tough enough to parent these days,” Kolari told Global News.

Click to play video 'Local filmmaker tackles xenophobia in a new film about COVID-19' Local filmmaker tackles xenophobia in a new film about COVID-19
Local filmmaker tackles xenophobia in a new film about COVID-19 – Mar 8, 2020

“Kids are sassy and they’re feisty and they’re spicy and they know a lot. They’re pushing boundaries in ways we didn’t even comprehend as children.”

These two ingredients — anxiety over the coronavirus outbreak and audacious children — can make it tough to stay sane when school and other activities are cancelled.

The first thing you should do is avoid talking about the virus in “panicky ways.”

READ MORE: How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

Story continues below advertisement

“Panicked kids are misbehaving kids,” Kolari said.

“Panic shows up two ways in children: either inward, so that they don’t want to do anything and they’re afraid of everything … or outward, into controlling and prickly behaviour.”

She recommends watching the news alone, on your phone. Even having panicked images of people in masks running in the background can affect your children subconsciously.

“The calmer everyone is, the healthier they are,” she said.

That’s why structure is key.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Maintain structure

“If these days at home don’t have structure or texture, your kids are going to get pyjama fever,” Kolari said.

“As much as possible, you need to keep the structure looking very much like school.”

Just because your children are home from school doesn’t mean they should be allowed to sleep for as long as they want or watch TV all day. This will, said Kolari, result in chaos.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau announces $1 billion CDN national response fund' Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau announces $1 billion CDN national response fund
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau announces $1 billion CDN national response fund – Mar 11, 2020

“Wake up at the same time every day and go through a similar routine where you’re getting dressed, you’re getting ready, you’re having your breakfast and then you begin the day,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

She also advises going out and buying a large piece of paper, like stock paper or bristol board. Use this to plan your day visually, so your children can follow along.

“Put your wake-up time, activity number one … activity number two, and then lunch,” she said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus can spread on public transit. Here’s what commuters need to know

For activities, she recommends age- and grade-appropriate workbooks or other school-oriented items that you can print off from the internet.

You can also make one of the activities online, but she wouldn’t recommend allowing your kids to go rogue with tablet or computer use.

After lunch, activities can move into alone time.

“Kids have to work on entertaining themselves a bit, too,” she said. “It’s a very lost skill in childhood today.”

Get outside

As long as no one in your house has COVID-19 and has been quarantined, outdoor play is a powerful way to keep your kids stimulated.

“Any time kids can be around trees, water and birds is a very good thing,” Kolari said.

Story continues below advertisement

She recommends employing a tool she calls “adventure story time.”

Click to play video 'Is Canada’s health-care system ready for COVID-19?' Is Canada’s health-care system ready for COVID-19?
Is Canada’s health-care system ready for COVID-19? – Mar 10, 2020

“Let’s say you’re going for a walk, and the minute you step off the porch, you’re explorers in fairyland,” she said.

Have some fun with it, said Kolari, and make it a story that you’re living.

Then the day ends at 3:30 or whenever the day typically ends for you and your children, and the evening should remain exactly as it does on normal weekdays.

Novel props are key

Kolari believes equipping yourself with some new and novel toys or games can be really helpful in passing the time.

“Getting some new board games, craft stuff, magnetic sand… have a few little things in a zipper that you keep in a very special box or cupboard,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

“Keep them novel and use them only during school hours.”

READ MORE: What to know about the 1st confirmed Canadian 'community case' of COVID-19

You can also try to include other activities that can be both fun and educational, like baking.

Measuring out ingredients, for example, can teach kids how to follow instructions.

Offer help to other parents

As long as the other family doesn’t have anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, said parenting expert Alyson Schafer, playdates are a great way to help other parents.

“Parents get exhausted,” she said.

“Give another mother a break by saying, ‘Go to the grocery store and do your house-cleaning. Drop your kids here for the morning if they don’t have symptoms.'”

READ MORE: Officials urge Canadians to ‘avoid all cruise ship travel’ over COVID-19 risk

Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

— With files from Global News’ Laura Hensley & Maryam Shah

Story continues below advertisement

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca