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Beyond Handwashing: Promoting Child Wellness During COVID-19

These are challenging times for families. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that nearly half of parents of children under age 18 reported high stress levels related to COVID-19. One major source of concern is how to protect the health and wellbeing of young children. Teaching good hand hygiene and showing children how to thoroughly wash their hands is one key step. But there are many other simple things you can do to promote your child’s wellness. Here are four actions you can take every day to keep your child safe and encourage their healthy development.

Stay up to date with well-child visits

Preventive care, including screenings and vaccines, is vital for your child. A review of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention from 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019 confirms that fewer children are receiving recommended vaccines. Vaccines work with and strengthen a child’s immune system. We don’t have a vaccine yet for COVID-19, but we do have vaccines that protect infants and children from serious and dangerous diseases. Many healthcare offices have set up systems to see children safely during the pandemic. This may include scheduling well-child and sick visits at different times and locations, and limiting the number of families in a waiting area.

Lock away all cleaning materials

With everyone disinfecting their homes so often, and being very busy and distracted, it can be easy to forget to put products away. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that during the first six months of 2020, exposure to bleach increased by 39 percent, to disinfectants by 58 percent, and to hand sanitizers by 59 percent. Always store cleaning and other toxic products out of children’s reach. You can reach your local poison control center by calling the Poison Help hotline: 1-800-222-1222. To save the number in your mobile phone, text POISON to 797979.

Talk with Your Child about Their Feelings

These can be sad and confusing times for children. Give your child lots of opportunities to express how they are feeling. Your job isn’t to fix the situation, just to listen. It’s okay to say that sometimes you have the feelings they’re experiencing, too. Reassure children that you are doing everything you can to keep you and them healthy and safe. Answer questions in a developmentally appropriate manner but honestly, even if the answer is, “I don’t know.” Children who don’t get the information they are looking for often develop their own explanations that may be even scarier.

Take Care of Yourself

One of the very best things you can do is attend to your own feelings and health. Model wellness for your child, just as you show them how to wash their hands. Carve out time to do things that relax you, make you laugh, and give you joy. Share these things with your child. Don’t expect yourself to be perfect, cut yourself slack, and lower your expectations. Children notice when adults are stressed, so be patient with yourself as well as with your child. One piece of encouraging data from a follow-up APA survey is that while most parents (71 percent) report they are worried about the impact the pandemic has had on their children’s social development, more than 4 in 5 parents (82 percent) agree they are grateful for the additional time they’ve had with their children. This is a gift to celebrate during these uncertain times.

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