COVID-19: As Schools Shut, How Do You Keep Children Calm & Safe?

Should you sent your kids to school, playdates, birthday parties? Parenting in the time of coronavirus.

5 min read
Parenting in the time of coronavirus.

"You just don't want me to have fun!" was the response I received when I informed my 10-year-old that I won't be sending her to school anymore. I was in a quandary - should I scold her for losing her cool or compliment her for saying school is 'fun.' As coronavirus cases in India go up, I have oscillated between rubbishing school closures to accepting them as a necessary evil.

As a health editor, with access to reports/data/studies from across the world, I am still not sure what the actions of schools should be. Officially, where we live, the UP government has finally asked for school closures. So have the nearby states of Delhi and Haryana. Now Karnataka and Odisha have joined the list.

In my conversation with Dr Sumit Ray, critical care specialist and advisor to QuintFIT, the doctor said something that finally nudged me to make a decision.

We've known that the novel coronavirus is somehow being kind to kids with very few cases among children below 9. In fact, even in those diagnosed, the symptoms are mild.

So do school closures serve any purpose?

Dr Ray says, "Well kids have better immunity, and with that stronger immune system, they have somehow reacted mildly to this virus. But even mild cases remain carriers of the disease, disease they can then transfer to the more vulnerable, the elderly grandparents and friends with weak respiratory systems."

We live in a house with a very sick grandparent who needs ICU-level home care. Some cases of coronavirus have come to light in the city we live in. We interact with friends who have traveled until recently to countries where cases of coronavirus have been reported. We live in a society where folks regularly travel and some may have come in contact with a patient who has tested positive. Given what we know, should we still be sending the kids to school? And if we do close schools, what about sports, music classes, theatre and park time and the rest of the schedule we put the kids on to keep them occupied (alright, on a leash). What about playdates? (Okay, I won't go to school if you let me have a playdate!)

Let me try and answer these questions for you.

School Closures

If you live in cities where cases of COVID-19 have been reported, and there is confirmed 'community-wide' transmission, the district administrations will access the situation and call for school closures anyway. India currently doesn't seem to have community-wide transmission that has been reported. The health ministry clarified on March 12th that India has reported only 'local transmission' of cases. Meaning, most cases are imported, and others have been traced to these imported cases. In short, there are no cases where contact tracing has been unsuccessful.

If your district administration has not asked for school closures, chances are they don't believe there is a real threat of community-wide spread. If there are no cases in your city, your district, schools can remain open.


Theatre, Music, Sports Classes

When the theatre class my child was a part of decided to close for two weeks out of 'abundance of caution,' there was a scene created in the house that matched the Shakespearian theatrics the kids were preparing for, for their local production. The classes were pushed since some of the children studied in the same school where a parent had tested positive.

In such a scenario, 'abundance of caution' is valid and cancelling classes for two weeks should not be seen as 'end of the world.'

We have explained in detail what 'flattening the coronavirus' curve means here. It essentially says that taking strict restrictive actions now in the short term, will help delay the spread and give health systems of a country enough time to prepare for it.

But again, if you live in cities that have had no cases reported, there is no reason for cancelling classes as of now.


Cinema Halls, Malls

Maintaining one meter distance and social isolation are two main pillars of keeping coronavirus at bay. Cinema halls and malls by their very nature involve large gatherings in packed spaces. That's the reason cinema halls have been shut in various cities in India.

If you have positive cases in your city, and cinema halls have not been ordered shut, practice personal hygiene, carry sanitisers, sanitise the seats and arm rests with anti-bacterial wipes. Avoid large gatherings in any case for a time being.


Birthday Parties

Many birthday parties have been cancelled recently, adding to my children's list of complaints against me (yes, your kids will blame you personally for every single thing that goes wrong with the world, accept it).

Some of these parties were scheduled to take place in playrooms that have cropped up all over cities.

It's a wise decision.

Some have chosen to hold personal parties with small number of kids at homes. I have sent my younger child to one. These are smaller gatherings where you know the people, know their history and are assured of hygiene.

If you are in cities where cases have been reported, avoid big birthday parties in public spaces.


Park time

The greatest joy of every stay-at-home, work-from-home parent occurs at around 5 pm when kids exit the house to play in the park with their friends. I have not restricted my kids from this joy yet. But many parents have chosen to keep children at home during park time. And that's okay. Swing sets and slides are just the kind of surfaces where viruses spread. If you do plan to send your kids to the park, arm them with anti bacterial wipes and sanitisers. Chances are, they won't use them at all. But when they come home, filthy, make sure they wash their hands vigourously, wishing every family member a very happy birthday while at it.


Keep them informed, Don't make them anxious

As an over-informed parent (work hazard) I have been talking a lot to my kids about coronavirus. I have tired to be responsible in my sharing of information, but often as parents, we don't realise when we pass on our anxiety to our children. I realised my daughter was avoiding going near her grandparent till she told me that she was afraid she'll pass on the infection to him. It was a wise decision on her part. She's worried as of now. I want to make sure it doesn't become a cause of anxiety. Now that the schools are closed, it's going to be a tough balancing act for parents and children. Most parents will continue to go to work and step out of the house, while asking their kids to not do the same.

Let them have some extra reading time, extra computer time, introduce them to board games and joys of doing nothing. And keep them safe.

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