How To Keep Cooped-Up Kids Active and Engaged During The Pandemic

As part of Northwell Health Physician Partners, we at Westchester Health would like to share the following article from Northwell Health concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.

In brief, the article discusses:

  • maintain a daily routine
  • kids need time for play along with their schoolwork
  • for activities, think outside the box
  • help kids connect with their friends
  • get outside regularly

The full article is reproduced below.


Keeping Cooped-Up Kids Content Through A Pandemic

Experts say it’s possible with a balance of structure, play, virtual socializing, and time outdoors.

As more families are staying home during this historic pandemic, an enormous responsibility falls on parents: We are comforters-in-chief, homeschool teachers, and round-the-clock camp directors—and parents may be tasked with all of this while also maintaining the responsibilities of traditional jobs, now undertaken within the home.

Under such challenging circumstances, it can feel like a downright daunting task—even an impossible one—to keep kids happy and engaged in the age of social distancing. But experts have good news: You can manage your kids’ mental health and well-being at this time without spending a ton of money (or sprouting spontaneous superpowers). Just focus on these straightforward, research-backed strategies for nurturing calm kids and a comforting home environment, whether you’re under quarantine or just practicing social distancing.

Maintain structure

Even out of school—and removed from the rigidity of their typical schedules—children can benefit from a basic framework of structure at home, explains Cynthia Rodriguez, director of child life and creative arts therapies at Northwell Health Cohen Children’s Medical Center. And no, that doesn’t mean simply inking a daily study schedule and adhering to the curriculum rigidly. Rather, it means sticking to the basics: get up, brush teeth, have breakfast, get dressed … (Normalcy can beget calm.)

Beyond that, it’s creating an outline for the day that includes modules of time for study, play, chores, snacks, exercise, and family time.

“With so much downtime, children can become bored, unfocused, and unmotivated, with a lack of energy to get up and do anything. Creating a daily schedule for children can help them navigate this new norm,” Rodriguez says. “Feeling productive and industrious is essential to children’s emotional well-being, at all developmental levels. Being able to rely on consistency and a routine whenever possible helps to settle the chaos that seems to be happening all around them.”

Make time for play

If your kids are out of school, they may have come home with a stack of curriculum to work through while stuck at home. But try not to let the schoolwork fully eclipse time for play—which is essential for kids always, but especially now.

“Kids play, that’s how they express themselves, that’s how they learn, that’s how they enjoy themselves,” Rodriguez says. “Anytime we can infuse play into their world, it’s a way for them to learn, but learn in a fun way—and it’s also a way for them to express what they are feeling.” Which can be super beneficial during a confusing time like this.

Be creative

Your daily schedule should include time outside of home school for extracurricular activities that inspire creativity and keep their brains stimulated. Try scouring Pinterest for ideas that can incorporate science and creativity—while being fun, too. Think art projects, DIY chemistry experiments like making bath bombs, colorful slime—or even baking.

Such activities have multiple benefits for kids, Rodriguez says. “To start, just being engaged in an activity is important at this time. Too much open-ended free time can leave children feeling unmotivated and bored. So the idea of getting their hands into a structured activity with an adult is fun.”

Beyond that, she says, these playful moments also connect kids and parents. “From a psychosocial perspective, by the age of 6, children need to feel productive,” she says. “They need the opportunity to show their efforts, be industrious, and feel successful and competent.”

Connect with friends

School provides daily social interaction for kids—as do the activities in their regular schedule, which may typically include organized sports, birthday parties, and more. Absent all of those opportunities right now, kids need other social outlets.

“They’re missing out on some really important milestones—seniors may not be able to walk for graduation, they might not be going to their proms, young kids might not be going on school field trips,” Rodriguez notes. “What they’re really craving is that interaction with friends.”

Even during social distancing, there are ways to help kids maintain and develop those bonds—safely. Think virtual hangouts or even in-person exchanges with the minimum CDC-recommended distance of 6 feet between people.

“Any way that we’re able to connect our kids with their friends safely we should be trying to do. Even if it’s FaceTiming, having a telephone conversation, or being outside with your neighbor from their own driveway 6 feet away,” Rodriguez says. “Any way we can connect kids with their community in a safe way is what we need to spend some energy on.”

Get outside

Social distancing is our public health responsibility—but staying home doesn’t mean you have to remain indoors around the clock. In fact, getting outside is critical for kids’ mental health.

“Being contained in a home when we’re used to being able to go about anywhere we can—that’s a challenge. It’s a challenge to keep your spirits up,” Rodriguez says. But she adds, “It’s OK to go outside, it’s OK to get fresh air.”

So schedule in some time to get outdoors—after establishing and explaining rules so kids know what’s off limits, and what’s safe and encouraged. “Of course, you don’t want to be playing in a group of people,” Rodriguez says. “But get on a bike and go outside and ride, walk around the block. Not only does it keep up your physical health, but really your state of mind, too.”

Learn what Westchester Health is doing to protect our patients and staff against COVID-19

We are here to provide the care you need, when you need it. To learn what smart precautions we’re taking to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and keep you safe, visit our Coronavirus Digital Resource Center. To know how we’re responding to the outbreak and what to do if you’re feeling sick, visit our FAQ page (frequently asked questions). Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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