I'm So Confused About How To Parent In The Face Of Coronavirus

Where's the parenting manual on proper "social distancing" during a pandemic?
Wondering how to be the best parent for your kid during the coronavirus pandemic? Here are some things to keep in mind.
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images
Wondering how to be the best parent for your kid during the coronavirus pandemic? Here are some things to keep in mind.

When I first became a mom five years ago, I struggled to trust my parental instincts because I basically had none. I was supposed to be the expert on this strange baby? Why was his poop that color? Did he even like me?

I’ve since had another kid and learned to trust my gut. I haven’t felt that kind of paralyzing parental indecision for years — until the new coronavirus hit my home city of New York. Now I second-guess everything.

Yes, it’s a huge relief that healthy kids who get COVID-19 generally have milder symptoms. But we’re really in unchartered territory here. Do my usual instincts about what to do if they get sick still apply? What about the fact that my boys’ pediatrician readily admits that there’s so much experts simply don’t know?

Feeling equally confused and wondering how to be the best parent for your kid in spite of the chaos? Here are a few basics we know right now.

It’s time for social distancing.

It’s maddening to be a parent at this moment because the messaging feels so mixed. In New York, adults have been urged to work from home if possible and to avoid “crowded” subways (as if there’s any other kind). But ― as of right now ― my elder son’s public school is still open. So is my little one’s daycare. I know schools provide essential safety, stability and food for millions of American kids. But is it not basically magical thinking to hope I can help limit the virus’ spread by working remotely — while simultaneously sending my boys off every day?

Even if the schools in your area are open (which is really changing by the minute across the country), experts do say it’s most definitely time to practice some degree of social distancing. That’s pretty much what it sounds like: putting space between your family and other people.

“The key to slowing this pandemic down, as seen in Singapore and South Korea, is social distancing,” Dr. Peter Jung, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, told HuffPost. “The better we all practice this, the sooner we can gain a foothold on this pandemic.”

I’ve been reminding myself to think of other parents. I do not have medically complex children. Many moms and dads do. Social distancing is one thing we can all do to try and keep those kids safe.

That does NOT mean avoiding people altogether.

Yes, experts seem pretty conflicted about what social distancing actually means in practice. However, they generally agree it is NOT a form of self-quarantine.

“Any public place where large number of people gather and touch things is a sure breeding ground for COVID-19,” Jung said. “Ideally, these types of venues should be avoided until further notice from public health officials.”

That means places like amusement parks, playgrounds and museums (many of which are closing anyway) should probably be avoided. But does that mean my son’s three-person martial arts class is also a “no”? Or playdates?

“Realistically, we are social creatures so people are going to meet,” Jung said. “Should this happen, the smaller the group, the better.”

In King County, Washington, where there is a current outbreak, public health officials are reassuring residents that social distancing doesn’t mean people have to stay home. They’re saying now is the time for one-on-one hangs. So call up your kiddo’s BFF and let them play for a bit.

Don’t forget the basics.

Yes, social distancing can certainly help to “flatten the curve,” said Dr. Kristin Dean, medical director at Doctor On Demand, but hand-washing continues to be an absolute priority as well.

If you haven’t already, now is the time to really teach your kids the right way to wash their hands. Make sure they’re doing it for at least 20 seconds, and using soap and warm water. Though it’s a battle none of us will ever win, remind them not to touch their faces.

“Teaching your kids is really step number one before you start thinking about ‘Should I send them to karate class, or should I send them to school?’” Dean said.

Think about what you’ll do when one of them starts coughing.

Health experts say it’s not atypical for a kid to get up to 10 respiratory viruses during a standard cold and flu season. So, as ever, expect sniffles and coughs. Have a thermometer handy and don’t freak out.

“Just like any other cold or flu season, you want to keep your kids home if they’re exhibiting fevers,” Dean said.

Call your child’s pediatrician, and if you do go in for care, make sure the providers know why ahead of time. Keep in mind that COVID-19 testing is still pretty limited in the United States and that the CDC is generally calling for people who have mild symptoms to isolate at home, except when they need to seek out medical care.

Now’s also a good time to take stock of what you already have in your kitchen. I, for example, have an odd amount of jelly, and not enough whole grains or oats.

Prepping a bit — by making a loose plan for what I’ll do if my kids start coughing, and getting my home in order — has made me feel a bit less helpless. As this all unfolds, I’m also just trying to be gentle with myself and my kids.

For the past month, my husband and I have been re-sleep training our toddler after a monster sleep regression. But last night when he woke up and started to fuss, I broke every rule and rushed right in. I rocked him for a bit until his squishy little body went heavy in my arms — likely undoing weeks of work instantly. But for those few moments, I felt totally safe and totally at peace. And when I looked down, I saw he’d fallen asleep smiling. Turns out I might still have some parental instincts left after all.

Keep up with the latest updates on the coronavirus at our live blog.

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