Staying sane with kids at home
Social distancing poses challenges for young families
Social distancing as means of slowing down the spread of the new coronavirus outbreak is proving to be a real challenge to many adults -- even those who live by themselves. So what is it like to work from home with young children to take care of during this crisis?
Needless to say, the task is far more challenging to many as they find themselves struggling to cope with their own stress while attempting to take care of their kids in this unusual situation.
Warunee Punpanich Vandepitte, a paediatric infectious diseases specialist with Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health, said even though the Covid-19 infection rate among children is low, about 1% as documented in China, and the virus doesn't seem to be virulent in infected children, it is still important to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The doctor, however, recommended against getting very young children, aged two or younger, to wear a face mask because their respiratory tracts are small, which makes it difficult for them to breathe through a face mask.
"That can accidentally lead to suffocation. So make them put on a face mask only when in a situation with a high risk of being exposed to the virus such as when travelling in a public bus or getting into a crowded area," she said.
Parents or guardians also need to avoid creating a stressful atmosphere at home, by managing their own stress which can have a spin-off effect on children, she said.
Arranging games designed to promote children's concentration span and meditation effects as well as reading stories to them are recommended as activities for creating a stress-free environment during the stay-at-home period, Assoc Prof Warunee said.
Being forced to stay mainly home during the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak could become a "traumatic event" especially for many young children, said Prani Paveenchana, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Manarom Hospital.
However, not every child reacts to stress the same way, given their differences in personalities, she said.
Those who are extroverts and like socialising will find social distancing difficult to live with, while young introverts who are shy and like sticking close to home might cope better, she said.
All children, however, share the same need of assuring messages from their families about the outbreak and what they should do to stay safe, she said.
"Parents and other adult members of the family should avoid repeating scary stories about the outbreak in front of children or have them exposed to too much media coverage about the outbreak," she said.
"An abrupt change in lifestyle adopting rules which are too strict about household hygiene at home such as washing hands constantly and cleaning up things with alcohol often in front of children could also create a stressful environment," she said.
Dr Prani also stressed the importance of parents trying to set routines for the sake of the young members of the family.
Fun activities other than leaving children with tablets or computer games are recommended, she said, adding that teaching them to learn to make things such as their own toys is ideal.
Virtual social connections are also recommended for keeping children connected with their social life, she said.
"A video call with close friends may help. Social distancing doesn't necessary mean social disconnecting," she said. "If your kids want to invite friends over for a birthday party, why don't you get them all on a video conference instead? That will be fun too."
Parents may also check children's mental state once in a while by inviting them to speak out about how they feel about social distancing at home, said the doctor.
However, the rule is get them to talk about the stressful situation surrounding Covid-19 as little as possible, she said.
Parents who feel they have run out of activities to keep their children entertained at home are advised to ask their children what they want to do.
But that doesn't mean parents will have to spoil their children during this stay-at-home period, she said, adding that fostering discipline is important for children at all ages.
For children developing too much stress to deal with at home, a visit to a psychiatric hospital rather than a general hospital with a psychiatric ward may be in order, as a the risk of getting exposed to Covid-19 at a general hospital could be higher, she said.
Many children are bored of home life as many of the activities they used to enjoy outside before the outbreak have been suspended, she said.
In this case, she said, she recommends drawing, painting and learning something new and fun online which appeals to youngsters but isn't too academic.
"After the first full month of stay-at-home practice, some children and adults alike may need medical help dealing with stress," she said.
Signs of this type of problematic stress include sleeping difficulty, uncontrollable anxiety or worries and a strong feeling of depression, she said.
Patcharin Dhanakornpipattanakul is a 37-year-old mother with a two-year-old son. She works from home in a house which she shares with her husband and his mother. She admits that adjusting to the stay-at-home regime was challenging at first.
She has had to deal with unexpected changes in her young child's mood. Her husband must also work from home. His mother works in well with them by helping take care of the child.
She needs to be creative in coming up with ways to convince her son to wear a face mask. She told him it smells bad out there so that everyone has to wear a mask.
Dawee Chaikere, 39, and her husband have to work from home while taking care of their three sons aged 10 months, 4 years, and 7 years old respectively. Music recital, online classes, in-door football and simple housework help keep the children amused, she said.
"Raising three kids, all boys, is quite stressful. We have not been out since the school break. Last year we took them to the provinces and played outdoor activities. But self-quarantine is also good as parents and their kids can spend time together. It's warm feeling," she said.
"The children develop very fast. We see the ability and willingness of our oldest son to take care of our youngest. This is something sweet that eases our stress," she said.
Tanarak Plipat, deputy director-general of the Department of Disease Control, said staff are looking into the effects of Covid-19 infection on child health, which at the moment appear to be mild. Up arriving home, adults are advised to wash their hands, take a wash and change before they come close to other people in the family.
Observing their own signs of possible Covid-19 infection and isolating themselves if necessary are also important to avoid unintentionally passing the virus, he said.