It’s been almost an entire year since the abrupt closing of the United States signaled the beginning of the pandemic and our collective spiral into an uncertain future. The unknown is always a frightening place to be but for parents it holds a new level of awful. Kids always have questions, “Why is the sky blue?”, “What are eyelashes for?”, “How come its called cheese?”, most of which parents can turn to Google. What do we do now that the questions become, “Am I going to get sick?”, “When will I get to play with my friends again?”, “Is it safe for me to go to school?”. We are left as parents wondering ourselves, “What do I do next?”
Are kids getting COVID?
There has been conflicting rumors going around about if kids really are transmitting the virus. To answer this question I’m going to share with you the most recent data coming out of the CDC as of January 2021 and from Harvard and the Mayo Clinic in December 2020. Right now the current infection rate for kids bounces around 12% of all cases depending on the state. It has been argued that these numbers are far off base since typically children frequently aren’t showing symptoms has severely or even at all, falling under the umbrella of asymptomatic carriers. For most that do manifest symptoms, it appears similar to a cold, strep throat, or allergies. The primary signs being elevated temperature and cough and could but not always include:
- nasal congestion and runny nose
- sore throat
- nausea and stomachache
- muscle aches
- poor appetite
- new loss of smell or taste
Do kids react as severely as adults?
The risk of complications and hospitalizations is still very real, especially those with underlying medical conditions and babies. Kids hospitalizations result in intensive care treatment just as frequently as it does for adults. This is because of a complication called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children or MIS-C for short. Basically what happens is the child’s organs become severely inflamed, mostly like as an immune system response to COVID. The list of symptoms is extensive and include:
- fever lasting longer than 24 hours
- pain in the stomach
- skin rash
- fast heartbeat
- rapid breathing
- red eyes
- redness of swelling of any body part
- feeling unusually tired
- headache, dizziness, or lightheartedness
- enlarged lymph nodes
- inability to stay awake
- difficulty breathing
- new confusion
Some of these are similar to regular COVID symptoms so be vigilant and monitor the severity and duration of symptoms. If you become concerned, seek medical advice immediately. The CDC doesn’t have any answers yet on what causes MIS-C or which kids will develop it. It should be noted that, while there have been some deaths, doctors have had success with treatments and most treated children do recover.
Are kids spreading COVID?
This one is harder to answer because there have been several different studies that show different results. It has been found that kids can have a large amount of the virus in their system but no symptoms. More virus doesn’t mean more sickness, but it does mean more contagion. The problem with that is that transmission from a mild cases can still cause severe illness. Its like transmission Russian roulette. There is agreement that kids do transmit the virus, the only question left for debate is really how frequently. This is one of the main points being weighed in the discussion of reopening schools and the safety of doing so.
What about the vaccine?
The recent release of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID 19 vaccine is a source of great debate regarding its safety and efficiency. When it comes to our kids though, it is not even a question. It is not approved for use in kids under the age of 16. While there are ongoing trails for kids as young as 12 years old, these things do take time. Given the current review of the quick vaccine approval for adults, it could be awhile.
What about the affect on mental health?
An article published in the journal of Psychiatric Research in November 2020 did a comparative review of studies completed on the affects that the time at home in quarantine as had on children and adolescences. Overall, kids of all ages have been experiencing increased inattention, irritability, and parental dependence. In a studied that surveyed parents via questionnaire, it was revealed that children are experiencing uncertainty, fearfulness, and disturbed sleep including nightmares. Certain populations, such as kids with special needs and the economically disadvantaged, have developed more pronounced issues such as increased behavioral disruptions. Children of front line workers who regularly face separation due to guardian quarantine show increased anxiety and fear of parental loss.
What do I do next?
As I mentioned at the beginning, many parents are questioning what comes next. As this pandemic marches on, there is a lot of indecisiveness happening among leaders and we are left wondering what we should do. Fortunately, despite all the negativity, there have been several consistent recommendations from the medical community that can provide us with parental direction and how to keep our kids physically and mental safe.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 6 ft has been the rule for how far we should stay from each other. For reference, that is the height of the average fully grown male, so its helpful to tell kids that Dad/Grandpa/ Uncle should be able to lay down between them and whoever they are near.
Wear a mask.
I know this one is a controversial topic so I will simply say that it is a recommendation from every medical source I researched in composing this that we should be wearing a mask when in public.
Wash your hands.
This one is nothing new and honestly should have been happening prior to the pandemic but I’ll stick it here just in case you need the reminder again.
Almost all kids learning by doing and seeing so its important that as a parent you are not only do these for your own health but for your kids as well. Teach them how to use these preventative measures and do them regularly to establish their importance.
Beyond preventative measure, its also important that parents model healthy coping techniques for dealing with the stress of quarantine and the pandemic. If you deal best by talking on the phone to your friends, then encourage your kids to do the same. If you use art or sports, then get your kids involved with the same things. Not only will it enable with tools to handle stress that can last long after the pandemic ends, it also offers meaningful connection for you and your kids which is always a good thing. If you need ideas of where to start, I wrote a post on self care that can be done with kids.
Provide a consistent routine.
If you can remember back before the shut down, everyone had a pretty well established routine and we all knew what time we needed to wake up/ go to bed and more or less how our day would progress. Routines are important for kids and can help prevent some developing behavioral issues by providing stability in uncertain times. Develop a schedule as a family and do your best to stick to it.
When we are all stuck together in our homes,the idea of increasing independence may seem difficult to impossible. Good news is that it can be as simple as encouraging your kids to partake in age appropriate chores and holding them accountable for it or creating a system by which they are able to get their own snack, drink, or even get themselves dressed for the day. For young kids, more self reliance often translates to more self esteem and a sense of pride.
Limit internet usage.
While I know that we are all dependent on the internet for work, social, and social interactions, encourage your kids to unplug. Sometimes too much information is a bad thing, especially in young children, so set time limits for electronic usage and enforce it (even for you, remember modeling). Denote one night a week as family game night and break out board games. At some point mankind existed without the internet, so it is possible. It might just help your kids develop a sense of gratitude… once the complaining stops.
While we can’t know what tomorrow holds and protect our children from everything, we can provide them with a secure family environment. We can be their constant and their rock in these scary times. At the end of the day, if we continue to give compassion, consideration, support, and unconditional love to our kids then we will come through these trying times as family that is a little wiser, and little closer, and maybe even a little stronger.
COVID-19 in Children and Teens. (2020, December 18). Retrieved February 01, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/children/symptoms.html
How COVID-19 (coronavirus) affects babies and children. (2020, December 19). Retrieved February 01, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/coronavirus-in-babies-and-children/art-20484405
Coronavirus outbreak and kids. (2021, January 28). Retrieved February 01, 2021, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-outbreak-and-kids
Singh, S., Roy, D., Sinha, K., Sharma, G., & Joshj, G. (2020). Impact of COVID 19 and lockdown on mental health of children and adolescents. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 293. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113429