The battle against the spread of COVID-19 requires social distancing or confinement that radically changes the way we live with our children and adolescents.
As physical and health education (PHE) teachers responsible for the health education courses offered at l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) for future teachers, we have some advice for families living in confinement to help parents and children lead the healthiest and most active lives possible.
First of all, always keep this formula in mind: move, eat well, sleep, relax, manage screen time, play.
Continue to be active
Adopting or maintaining physical activity is essential, even in a confined space. Children and adolescents should be active for a minimum of 60 minutes a day as recommended by the World Health Organization.
These can be intense moments of activity such as simple games — playing hide and seek, making a fort in the basement, inventing a route in the alley, throwing a basketball, kicking a soccer ball, playing ball hockey in the street, dancing, biking or skateboarding.
You can also ask your child to explain the latest game they learned at recess or in their health and physical education class and try it out with them. The possibilities are endless!
Take active breaks
As well, you can alternate with fine motor activities such as writing, painting, drawing, modelling, sewing or crafts. These activities should be interspersed with breaks and ideally be done in several short periods of five to 15 minutes rather than in one long 60-minute period. What is important is that the activities are diversified and regular.
Other options exist for getting young people moving, such as walking and household chores. Additional strategies can be found online, such as active breaks with GoNoodle, Wixx (in French) and H2GO, for example.
Be careful to choose your breaks carefully. Some of them are more useful or even more fun. Finally, free play outside, in a backyard, garden or in the street, without contact with others, is another possibility.
Healthy, balanced eating
Boredom and withdrawal can easily lead to complacency in a confinement situation. This is an excellent opportunity to cook as a family and to learn how to eat healthily with our children by offering them recipes adapted to their abilities and needs. A balanced menu can be planned ahead of time by including the necessary groceries according to your budget.
Canada’s Food Guide can be an excellent home reference tool for children. It is also possible to introduce children to new foods, our own cultural specialties, and other foods through well-known sites such as Ricardo.
For parents who like to experiment, this is the opportunity to try out new recipes or to dust off the old recipe books that are lying around in your library. It’s also an opportunity to make your children aware of the importance of gardening, food waste, recycling and composting.
As the food guide indicates, we must encourage diversity, reasonable portions, meals in good company and the pleasure of enjoying our food. In this time of confinement and upheaval of routine, the temptation to lose good habits can be great.
Get a good night’s sleep
The current crisis requires a major change of pace. For the well-being of all (parents and children alike), it is important to get enough sleep.
A tired child is under stress and will be more irritable, which can have an impact on the whole family.
It is best to keep the usual bedtime and wake-up times, with a preference for quiet activities (without screens) just before bedtime.
READ MORE: Resources to help kids learn from home
Reduce sources of stress
Isolation is a difficult time because we need to exchange with others. It is important to find other ways to do this, such as organizing a meal for friends via Skype, FaceTime or Messenger, calling or writing messages to family and friends.
There may also be times when your children experience stress, boredom or mental exhaustion related to the confinement situation. It is important to give them periods of rest, alone and quiet.
Pay attention to the well-being of all family members. Organize breaks during the day when you find that motivation is no longer there. It’s good to change tasks after 30 or 45 minutes or when you think that the screen time has lasted long enough. Read something other than the news and allow everyone to quietly retreat to a room in the house when necessary.
Manage screen time well
Exposure of young people to screens has the potential to change their behaviour and can have a negative effect on sleep.
In this regard, studies show that the more time spent in front of the screen, the greater the risk of suffering from depressive symptoms, anxiety and obesity in the longer term.
For good TV management, educator Philippe Meirieu suggests adopting the following formula: choose in advance, watch with, talk after (French).
We must change our children’s relationship with screens. First, help them choose screen content and formats, watch videos or play games with them and then discuss what has been viewed.
This accompaniment allows children to distance themselves from the content they consume, to criticize it and to reflect on it. Finally, we must manage what Meirieu called the “available brain time” for learning so that children can continue to learn and not just be entertained.
Learn by playing
Young people learn first and foremost through play. This can be free play outside, board games or directed play under parental supervision. Above all they must keep their motivation and confidence.
A multitude of games and activities help consolidate what has been learned at school. Cooking, arts and crafts and physical activity are extraordinary opportunities for children to confront problems, look for ways to solve them and apply their knowledge.
This is a good time to develop children’s curiosity and independence, which will enable them to enjoy classes even more when school starts again. The most important thing is that children grow up playing and being active.
If the situation becomes difficult, or your days seem long and complicated or you find that your children need special support, don’t stay isolated. Check out blogs or chat virtually with people in similar situations. A wide range of resources are available to support the physical and mental well-being of your family unit during this time of crisis.
Tegwen Gadais is a professor, in the département des sciences de l’activité physique at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Maud Deschênes is a visiting professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).