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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a national emergency that deeply affects children, in addition to parents, teachers and entire communities in this state and around the world. COVID’s dangers extend beyond the risk of contracting the disease. The disease impacts all aspects of human function and daily life, including parenting, teaching, business, health and government.
Actions we have needed to take for our dear state are stressful for a multitude of reasons, but especially when it comes to our children. Families worry about putting food on the table, paying rents or mortgages, affording medications, finding childcare when needing to continue essential work and managing behavioral and emotional needs. This is over and above the worry related to avoiding COVID-19 exposure to ourselves, our children and each other.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. In times of high stress, like this, it is critical to avoid situations that place kids at risk for harm. The effort of parents to maintain their own emotional stability is of paramount importance, so that they can be mentally present and available to accept the big emotions experienced by their children in the wake of so much change.
Families are struggling to create a sense of normalcy and to identify safe ways of interacting with others within the confines of social or physical distancing. Parents are working hard to protect themselves when they are physically outside the home, so that they can physically hug kids within the home. Because kids are not in school, parents are placed under enormous stress to help educate, while keeping the household running. Some parents are needing to do all this, while working — either virtually or physically. Some parents have work (e.g., in healthcare) in which they may feel taxed beyond capacity.
Kids may not be able to play in the way that they ordinarily need, to get their energy out, or to connect socially with others. Teenagers are missing direct social interactions, while dealing with more constant contact with parents when they may yearn for more independence. Creativity with meeting developmentally appropriate activity is needed, at a time when families are just trying to get by.
Meanwhile, teachers are depending on educational tools that remove the element of direct connection. They are physically separated from kids that may need psychosocial and learning guidance. These losses of meaningful support that normally help to maintain safe conditions for kids are leading to stress, anxiety, exhaustion, confusion, and sometimes chaos. It undermines the fabric of our community and increases feelings of loneliness.
How can we focus on kids to keep them safe?
Follow guidelines from the Center for Disease Control. This includes, washing your hands often and practicing physical distancing. Maintain healthy routines, including eat, sleep, exercise. Connect virtually with family, friends, and neighbors. Be kind.
Get tips on education and health, such as the resources for parents and caregivers posted by the Maine Department of Education. Health tips can be found at HealthyChildren.org where you can sign up for a free newsletter.
Reach out for help. If you, or anyone you know, wants or needs strategies to protect kids from harm, please call your child’s primary care provider or local community agencies that have initiated telehealth services (such as UCP of Maine at 207-941-2952 x333).
There are many measures we can take to make moods better and to stay healthy, while supporting the youngest of Maine’s citizens, who are our brightest future. Let us not forget that we have an opportunity to show our children how to thrive in the face of adversity; lessons that will live with them always.
Janice Pelletier of Orono is a pediatrician and the immediate past president of the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Jennifer Curran of Bangor is a child psychologist and a member of the American Psychological Association and the Maine Psychological Association.
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