Mother exercising with two young children

Staying home with kids during this pandemic when the stay-at-home order has closed schools, daycares and playgrounds is not easy.

Parents need to know how talk to their kids about coronavirus as well as find ways to keep them busy and safe from the virus.

We all need to figure out how to stay well while staying in. The pediatric experts at University of Maryland Children's Hospital offer these tips specifically for parents:

Homeschooling During the Pandemic

"Being a teacher is hard work," says Deborah Badawi, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Maryland School of Medicine and pediatric developmental and behavioral expert.

"While classroom teachers must handle 20 or more children, parents trying to have children do schoolwork at home have their own challenges. Families who homeschool know this well!"

Just like adults adjusting to being at home, children may have a difficult time with the change in their daily routine. Try these tips to ease that transition:

  • Set up a schedule every day for what each person will be doing. If you have work to do, let them know you will be working while they are doing schoolwork. If not, this could be a great opportunity to get involved in what your child is learning at school and do it together.
  • Schedule breaks and rewards. A reward does not have to be a concrete prize! It can be one-on-one time with an adult or cooperative older sibling; getting to pick a show or movie; or game time.
  • Acknowledge your child's feelings. "It's really hard to do schoolwork when you're not in class with your teacher and friends. It must seem really strange." Let them know their teachers and classmates are all working from home too.
  • Have realistic expectations for yourself and your child. They may not work at the pace you would like, especially at first. If you are working remotely, you likely won't get everything done that you planned either. Everyone needs time to adjust.
  • Consider family mindfulness/meditation time. Common Sense Media has a list of meditation apps for kids.

Helping Kids Understand

The approach you take to helping your child understand what is happening will vary by age.

Children Under Age 5

Children under 3 will not understand lengthy explanations. Simply telling them school is closed for a while may be enough. If they want to know why, a simple explanation that there is a bad cold or flu going around will be helpful. Children 3 to 5 years can begin to understand that there is a germ spreading and schools are closed to keep people safe.

It's important to let children know that adults are doing everything they can to keep them safe. Remind them it is spread by coughing or sneezing on others in close contact and that washing hands and staying home keeps the germ from spreading.

Let them know that children who get the germ usually don't get very sick. If you're child is in an at-risk group, tell them what they can do (hand washing; not touching your face; helping to wipe down surfaces) and what you are doing to keep them safe.

Children under 5 should not listen to the news reporting. If they do hear or see something, ask them what they understood about it and what questions they have.

Older Children

Allow some electronics or phone time so that your adolescent can communicate with friends or play games online with them. Ideally, this time would be allowed after planned schoolwork is done for the day, and it should still be in limited amounts as part of the daily schedule.

Monitor what your child is reading on social media and emphasize that not all information on the internet is accurate. This is an opportunity to remind your child how to evaluate what they read. Trusted sites include the CDC, WHO, health department or university websites.

What Parents Should Be Doing

  • Check in with your child frequently about what they are hearing from friends or reading on social media. Clarify misinformation and avoid stigma or blaming in talking about how the virus is spread.
  • Take care of yourself and limit your exposure to media, particularly sources that are not scientifically based. You are a role model for your child, and the calmer you can remain, the better they will be able to manage the situation.
  • Make yourself available for family activities like going for walks, cooking, doing crafts or whatever you enjoy doing together. This is a great opportunity to reconnect!

Children want to know that they have been heard and just like adults, they don't want to have their feelings minimized. If you had to cancel a trip during this pandemic, you likely wouldn't respond well to another adult telling you it's no big deal.

Let your child know you understand. "You must be so upset and disappointed that you didn't get to participate in this activity. I know you were looking forward to it."

Remind them that even though you don't know when things will go back to normal, at some point they will return to school and get to do those fun things again.

Find questions and answers from University of Maryland Medical Center experts in our COVID-19 Q&A series.