A pediatrician and mom shares 5 things parents shouldn’t do during the coronavirus outbreak and 10 things they should do

  • As the coronavirus continues to spread, officials are urging people to stay home as much as possible, and to limit social interactions. 
  • But many parents with young children say the guidelines aren't clear enough, and they aren't sure, for example, if it's still OK to have playdates or have a caregiver come to the home.
  • Dr. Kelly Fradin, a pediatrician and mother of two, breaks down what every parent needs to know about how to keep their family safe and how to support their children under difficult circumstances.
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The coronavirus is rapidly spreading, and the guidelines to help slow it down are crucial. 

But many parents say that guidance hasn't been clear enough. 

Some, for example, aren't sure if their children can have get-togethers with their friends or if they should still have a caregiver come to the home. 

As a pediatrician and mother of two young children, I've spent a considerable amount of time reading and analyzing those official recommendations. I've broken them down in a palatable way, so you can easily understand what you and your children can do and should avoid doing right now. 

Social distancing is the best method we have to prevent the coronavirus from spreading

Dr. Kelly Fradin, a pediatrician, shares what parents need to know about keeping their families and communities safe.
Justin Paget/Reuters

First off, take social distancing seriously. At this point, that means limiting gatherings to 10 people or less. 

Staying apart from one another is the best method we have to stem the spread of COVID-19, and we need to act quickly because we are at a real risk of overwhelming our healthcare system in just a few weeks.

This is particularly important when it comes to kids because about 90% of children have mild symptoms or are symptom-free. That's why we should act as though each child is potentially infectious.

But that's just the beginning of it. To keep you, your family, and your community safe during this pandemic, read through, and follow, these 14 recommendations.

Don't schedule playdates

With schools closed, and parents working from home, it would be nice for children to be able to hang out with their friends to help pass the time together. But that's just not an option right now. All socializing should be done over the phone or FaceTime. We simply can't risk children mingling and spreading the virus between families.

Don't go to the playground


While it's important for your children to get fresh air, they shouldn't go to playgrounds. The virus can live on swings, monkey bars, and other equipment for up to three days. It isn't feasible for an adult to adequately sanitize playground equipment and children can't be counted on to not touch their faces after touching the playground's surfaces, which is one way COVID-19 spreads. 

Instead, go outside to open areas

If you haven't been advised to stay in your home, take your children outdoors, but in a responsible way. Take advantage of your backyard or go to an open park or field, just keep a safe distance from others. 

Consider the risks before continuing to have your caregiver come to your home 

If you have a regular babysitter, you may be able to continue to use their services, but you should consider the risks first. 

If your caregiver is working with other families or lives with roommates, that increases the number of people you and your family are exposed to as well, which further ups your chance of developing COVID-19. 

On the flip side, you should think about whether you are putting your caregiver, or their loved ones at risk. If your babysitter lives with an elderly relative, has a pre-existing health condition — such as high blood pressure, or asthma — or resides with someone who does, you may want to offer your caregiver some time off, for now. 

If you have a caregiver, enforce strict hygiene practices

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If you are continuing to have your babysitter come to the home, have a serious conversation about hygiene practices, modes of travel, and social distancing. When your babysitter arrives in the morning, make sure they wash their hands, change clothes, and sanitize their phone. Emphasize that your babysitter shouldn't feel pressure to come to work if she's not feeling well. 

Connect with a "buddy" family

If you don't have a regular babysitter, or you've decided to give your caregiver time off, but still need an extra hand, consider finding a buddy family. That's when two families pair up for the duration of the epidemic to split childcare duties. 

This also means sharing risks of infection, though. So, ideally, both families should be at low risk for exposure, meaning they aren't healthcare workers or in another high-risk field. No one involved should have a chronic medical condition or live with an elderly relative, for example.

There also must be an implied level of trust, which means everyone is depending on the other to practice efficient hand hygiene and social distancing. 

If you are sick, call a doctor — but don't go to the hospital

Student in the window of the quarantine of educational premise of the St. Petersburg Medical Academy in St. Petersburg.

If you suspect that you or a family member has COVID-19, but only a mild case, call your doctor and await their guidance. Don't go to the hospital or an urgent care. Currently, there is no treatment for the coronavirus and going to an emergency room will raise the risk of spreading the disease to other high-risk individuals. The treatment protocol, at this point, for non-severe cases is recuperating in self-quarantine at home. 

However, if someone in the home has severe symptoms, which can include difficulty breathing, then you should call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Set a realistic schedule 

A parent homeschooling their child.

You can have a complex, color coded, up-to-the-minute schedule, or one that's more fluid. Having some sort of plan for the day can make these unscheduled days feel more manageable and can offer a sense of control in a chaotic environment. But that doesn't mean every hour has to be accounted for. Simply maintaining a regular bedtime, mealtime and nap schedule and general routine is helpful enough for children. 

Don't stress out about screentime


Under normal circumstances, it's advisable to set screentime limits— but this situation is far from normal. With parents facing enormous pressure to suddenly work from home, build a homeschool program, and manage anxiety around the pandemic, it's understandable that parents may need to rely on iPads, television and laptops to distract their children more than they usually would. 

There are plenty of ways to make the time in front of the screen worthwhile. Museums and zoos are offering virtual tours and many authors and celebrities are reading books aloud.

Avoid highly-trafficked surfaces

If you live in an apartment building, avoid surfaces and areas that many people use. For example, don't linger in the hallways and only use your elbow to press an elevator button.

Prioritize exercise


Kids who engage in a sufficient amount of physical activity have less tantrums, sleep more soundly, eat better, feel happier and even do perform better in school. While it's challenging under these restrictive circumstances to get your children moving, still make it a priority. While outside, play tag, jump rope, and do races. While home, use workout apps and online classes, so your kids can do yoga, basic stretches and other exercise.

Allow your children to be bored

You don't have to worry about filling your child's now open-ended schedule with constant activities. Up until this point, American children — mine included — have been overscheduled. Allowing your kids to be bored can actually inspire creativity, and give them some space for free play, reading, building, and coming up with their own projects.

Use this time to teach your children important skills

Shinya nakamura/Shutterstock

If you're now home with your children, set aside some time to teach them new skills. That could be anything from potty training, taking off the training wheels, learning to cook breakfast, fold laundry, or balance a checkbook. 

There are plenty of ways to make the time in front of the screen worthwhile. Museums and zoos are offering virtual tours and many authors and celebrities are reading books aloud. 

Take care of yourself to best of your ability

During this difficult time, it's especially important to sleep and eat well, exercise and reach out to friends and loved ones for support. This pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint and your children depend on you. If you are overwhelmed by the stress, your children will react to those feelings. Meditation, mindfulness, gratitude journaling, and any other coping mechanisms will be key to get through this.

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