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AAP: Finding Ways to Keep Children Occupied During These Challenging Times

3/17/2020

Families are doing their part to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus by keeping children at home, which means finding creative ways to keep everyone calm, healthy and engaged in constructive work and play.

Families will face an unprecedented challenge in the coming weeks as their children move schooling into their homes while parents juggle work and childcare responsibilities, and emotional and potential financial stresses.  Keeping children at home is an important part of containing the novel coronavirus so that the health care system does not get overwhelmed, but some families may have a particularly hard time. 

As families adjust to this situation, the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences, which help families connect emotionally, process difficult experiences, and heal. While limits are still important, under these stressful circumstances, kids’ screen media use will likely increase. Parents can take steps to ensure that this media use is positive and helps the family and community, according to the AAP.

The AAP offers the following tips, which may be used by media outlets with attribution:

  1. Make a plan. Talk with your kids about what your daily structure will be, how you will handle stress, and when you will take breaks from tele-work or schoolwork to relax and connect with each other.

  2. Communicate with teachers about what educational online and offline activities your children can do. Schools districts may be able to help connect low-income families to free Wi-Fi or devices.

  3. For preschoolers, good options include PBS Kids (https://www.pbs.org/parents), which is sending out a daily newsletter with show and activity ideas.   

  4. Use social media for good! Check in with neighbors, friends and loved ones. If schools are closed, find out if there are ways to help students who need meals or internet access for at-home learning.

  5. Use media for social connection: Social distancing can be isolating. If kids are missing their school friends or other family, try video chats or social media to stay in touch.

  6. Be selective about what your children watch. Use trusted sources to find positive content, such as Common Sense Media, which has been compiling lots of ideas for families hunkering down right now. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/what-to-watch-read-and-play-while-your-kids-are-stuck-indoors

  7. Use media together. This is a great opportunity to monitor what your older children are seeing online and follow what your children are learning. Even watching a family movie together can help everyone relax while you appreciate the storytelling and meaning that movies can bring.

  8. Parents working from home may need to adjust expectations during this time. But it’s also a chance to show kids a part of their world. Encouraging imaginative “work” play may be a way to apply “take your child to work day” without ever leaving home!

  9. Podcasts and audiobooks are great ways to keep children’s minds engaged while parents get things done. 

  10. Find offline activities that help family relax and communicate. Take walks outside, play board games, read together, have family dance parties. Know which activities spark your children’s interest (kicking the ball around? baking?) and make time for them.

  11. Create the space for family members to talk about their worries.

  12. Parents - notice your own technology use. When you’re getting too sucked into news or social media feeds and it’s stressing you out, children can notice. Take a break to protect your own mental health too.

  13. Limits are still important. As the timeline of social distancing is uncertain, try to stick to routines. Make sure technology use does not take the place of sleep, physical activity, reading, reflective downtime, or family connection.

  14. Make a plan about how much time kids can play video games online with friends, and where their devices will charge at night. Challenge children to practice “tech self-control” and turn off the TV, tablet, or video game themselves - rather than parents reminding them.

  15. Consider what offline activities are enjoyable for your family.  Help other families by sharing those ideas.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults.