Most families have chosen or been forced to stay home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and this has completely altered our day-to-day lives. While it is the safer and recommended thing to do, it does not come without risk to our health and well-being.
Many families are experiencing increased levels of stress from multiple causes: financial strain due to lost income; working from home while concurrently taking care of and trying to home-school their children; the lack of access to technology to support learning from home; complete disruption of their usual routines including participation sports, activities and social gatherings; the limited or nonexistent interactions with other family members and friends who typically provide a support network; and the inability to access community supports and various therapies.
Some of the effects of these stressors may be revealed as sleep disruption, anxiety, depression, weight gain and abuse. How do families try to remain healthy during this time of isolation and stress that is aimed at keeping families well?
It is extremely important for children, teens and adults to try and maintain a daily schedule. Maintain consistency in wake times, meal times and bedtimes. Even if school and work will be attended virtually, continue the same routine that would be done for in-person attendance, such as getting cleaned up and dressed before logging on. It may be helpful to set some goals for each day to provide structure and a sense of purpose. It is also important to ensure that older kids and teens have some “down time” where they do not have to interact. This is good for parents, as well.
Unfortunately, a side effect of virtual learning and meetings is that we are all getting more screen time than ever before. While it is important for kids to have some recreational screen time, it is still something that should be limited and monitored. A great site that can help with quality media and at-home learning opportunities is commonsensemedia.org.
More importantly, go outside, get some fresh air, move your body. There is evidence that being outside helps kids learn, encourages increased physical activity, and can reduce stress and depression. This could be in your own backyard, a local park or a nature trail. Just remember to maintain social distancing and wash hands when returning home. Prescriptiontrails.org is a website that can help you to easily find a nearby park, walking trail or wheelchair accessible rolling path.
It is important to talk to your kids about how you, and they, are feeling. Allowing them time to express their concerns can help them feel better and give you an opportunity to support them and address their concerns.
Staying in touch with friends and loved ones can help in times of stress. A video chat or even a phone call can give a sense of connection to others and provide an opportunity to talk about your feelings. Some families are experiencing extreme stress and abuse. The New Mexico Crisis and Access Line has a 24-hour crisis call line 855-662-7474, as well as a website with many community resources (nmcrisisline.com) and a phone app called NMConnect.
The city of Albuquerque website (cabq.gov) has community resources listed that can help families with food assistance, teaching kids at home, utility and internet information, unemployment, health and medical information, along with many other resources. Newmexicokids.org has a wealth of information and resources for families as well. PBS.org/parents is another site with free online books and resources that can help families with educating and entertaining their kids.
Finally, it is critical that children and teens continue to receive their immunizations and wellness visits on time. Not only are these visits a time to address crucial health care needs, but a time to protect our kids from vaccine-preventable diseases. Many doctors’ offices have restructured how they are seeing patients, seeing well visits in the morning and sick visits in the afternoon. Some providers are only seeing well patients in the office and providing telehealth visits for sick patients.
Health care providers are following guidelines to keep your families, and themselves, as safe and healthy as possible. If your child is sick, call your pediatrician. If your child is due for his or her checkup, call your pediatrician. If you have concerns about your child’s behavior or development, call your pediatrician. While how we provide care for your family during the pandemic may have changed, the goal of providing quality care that is accessible, has not.
Melissa Mason is a general pediatrician with Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. Please send your questions to her at email@example.com.