Adapting to the new normal during social distancing

Social distancing has provided a unique opportunity to re-frame how we engage and interact with children. With the vast majority of adults working from home and students participating in e-learning, it is crucial that we unite with parents and guardians to navigate this new landscape and teach children habits and lifestyle skills that will allow them to stay healthy, confident, curious, able to learn and develop strong values. 

Healthy Lifestyles and Hygiene Practices

It is important for children to cultivate a healthy lifestyle at a young age, starting by practicing proper hygiene. Now more than ever, washing hands thoroughly with soap at frequent intervals is very important.

It is vital that children are constantly reminded to make use of soap in their hand-washing routine in order to reinforce a habitual routine in their lives. During every wash, they should wash each finger, rinse well and dry off their hands properly. A good way to ensure all they wash thoroughly is by making them count to 20 or teaching them a 20-second-long song.

To help them understand the essentiality of this, parents can conduct a fun experiment at home to illustrate how soap kills germs:

  • Put some glitter in a bowl of water and let your child swish their hands in the water. Instruct them to rinse the glitter off with water only and show that a lot of the glitter will remain. Then, ask them to wash their hands using soap and see for themselves, the glitter wash away, demonstrating how germs stick to hands and a thorough wash with soap removes them.
  • Place some black pepper in a water bowl. Then place a few drops of liquid soap in the bowl. The black pepper will move towards the rim of the bowl, away from the soap. Just like the glitter, this will emphasize that soap kills germs.

Encourage Communication Skills 

Another positive practice to reinforce during this period is communication. Children are extremely perceptive and often listen to adults when they speak.

With so many digital mediums available, children have access to news and information regarding the happenings of our society, both local and worldwide. This coupled with the natural curiosity of children means they are likely to seek information themselves, if it is not being provided. 

Parents should always serve as the primary source of information to prevent them from using unreliable sources. It is common to pacify children by telling them everything is okay, however, the best way to reassure them is to be truthful and make it known that you are available to discuss and comfort them as needed. 

As many young children will be unable to understand the meaning of a pandemic, speaking to them in a language they can understand and answering questions they may have it crucial. It is important to keep children informed by sharing relevant and age appropriate information, taking into consideration the age and developmental status of the child. By conversing, the skills you are indirectly teaching them is to remain observant, ask questions, communicate their feelings and ultimately, to be problem solvers. 

Always keep in mind that each child is different. Some children may show limited awareness to lifestyle changes while others may require more attention and nurturing. There is no “normal” response to an abnormal situation. Listen to the child’s concerns and watch body language in the case of an infant, letting them know that you are there to keep them safe and protected. 

Organization and Routines

Surprisingly, most children desire a stable and consistent routine as this allows them to find order and calm in their practiced activities. While social distancing, you can maintain structure by setting a functional schedule of activities to perform throughout the day. From wake up and bedtime to study and play times, build a routine that your child is comfortable following. 

For example, a set flow of activities could be, waking up, bathing, brushing their teeth, breakfast, organizing their room, e-learning, exercise and so on, to be repeated on a daily basis. Depending on their age and developmental level, speak with them to decide on the best time for each activity and allocate a duration to ensure that the day is well planned and productive. Involving them when creating the routine would help them understand why each activity should be done and ensure they follow through with it.

It may take some time for you and your child to adjust to the routine, but the long-term benefits will be visible as your child begins to thrive at home. To ensure that the child does not abandon the routine, parents must lead by example by following the schedule as well. 

Caring and Empathy

Countless people worldwide have been impacted during this period, making it imperative to instill caring behaviors in the minds of young children. One way to do this is by involving them in household chores and encouraging them to take more responsibility in family activities like making their bed or assisting with cooking and dishwashing. 

Another brilliant way to teach empathy during this difficult time is to encourage appreciation for things that have previously been taken for granted, such as, play dates, family fun days or even classrooms. 

As a reward for practicing caring behaviors and empathy, remember to thank them by returning their kindness. This would encourage to them continuously replicate their behavior and eventually make them adept at displaying compassion for others. 

Although this is an unexpected time for all, enhancing your children’s ability to lead healthy lives by practicing good hygiene, communicating with others, following a routine and demonstrating caring behavior towards will help keep them healthy both physically and mentally.

Children represent the future. Encourage, support and guide them.

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