Delaware is now past two months of stay-at-home COVID-19 restrictions, and as virtual learning and time adds up at home, an A.I. duPont Hospital for Children psychologist wants you go make sure you're checking in on your kids' health.
Dr. Roger Harrison, a clinical psychologist at Nemours/A.I. Hospital said that concern should be both physical, and mental.
"I use an acronym. Through this period, please attend to the N-E-W-S-S. The 'N' being nutrition, make sure your child has a diet that includes food with nutritional value, particularly as we're out of school and routine. The 'E' is for exercise. Make sure your child has a way to regularly engage in physical activity. That might be more difficult if you live in an area where distancing from other children is difficult, but you can also work inside. 'W' is water. Make sure children are staying property hydrated. The first 'S' is for sleep, many children are going off of their regular sleep cycle, and there's going to be some allowance that children are home all day, every day, but we really still want to emphasize the importance of sleep, and also sunlight, so that children are going outside and spend some time and get exposure to the sun. I find when those things are totally out of whack, when children are eating have moved to more junk than healthy food, they're not exercising, drinking water, or emphasizing the sun or sleep, you're likely to have more concerns in health, and mental health."
Dr. Harrison pointed out there are things you can monitor, and see if it's time to check to see if they may need more help.
"If I see my children having significant changes in their mood, that doesn't look like the child that you're used to, you should reach out to your pediatrician, if you don't have access to a mental health person, and tell them for the past couple of weeks, my children's mood doesn't seem to the the same as it has been. I know many children are bored, many are stressed, but look for changes in mood. Look for excessive withdraw. If you notice your child doesn't want to leave their bedroom space or another space where they seem to be isolating or withdrawing from the family. If you're seeing your child focus on morbid things in their home, or on their social media, although you probably don't have access to their Snapchat. If you're seeing any of that, my best advice is to reach out to your primary care provider, even if it's a virtual visit, it's better to run it by them. It's better to be safe and ask the question."
Those may not be the only important questions when it comes to children and COVID-19. Kids are naturally curious, and Dr. Harrison said one challenge for parents can be how to answer questions many of us have about coronavirus-related topics, including why stay-at-home orders were issued in the first place.
"I follow the basic rules that I follow for almost any topic that a parent might struggle to have a conversation with a child about. The first rule is think about where the child is in their development. The kind of conversation I would have with an 8-year-old might not be the kind of conversation I might have with a 16-year-old. And the kind of conversation I'd have with a 8-year-old might not be the same conversation I'd have with a 5-year-old."
Sometimes it's finding the right balance to keep them happy, without overwhelming them.
First, I'm going to consider how much information they need to feel better right now. A 5-year-old might need basic information as simple as there is a disease out there, and we can protect ourselves better by staying home, and I understand that it can be boring and that you miss your friend, but this is the best way we have right now to protect ourselves. The 16-year-old conversation might be different."
That plan of attack might even begin with a question of your own back to them.
"I'm going to start not by giving them a lot of information, but by asking what have you heard? What do you know? What have you seen on the TV? What are your friends talking about in Zoom classes or virtual play dates? I'm likely to start by just finding out what information children have, because children are listening to others talk or checking in the media, they might be getting bad information. If I started by asking what have you heard, it might be easier for me as a parent to correct misinformation with my child, or present information as far as I understand it, in a way that would be appropriate to my child's developmental stage."
Dr. Harrison appeared as part of a Town Hall by Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children on Friday night, you can watch the entire presentation at the link below.