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

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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.

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?

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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.

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“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.”

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“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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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.

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

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“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.

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

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.'”

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

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