The last couple of weeks have been very confusing and stressful for parents. Some schools are closing while others remain open, and citizens are getting conflicting messages from health officials and elected officials.
On Sunday afternoon President Trump assured the nation that COVID-19 is something "we have tremendous control of," but at the same press conference America's leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told the country, "the worst is yet ahead for us. It is how we respond to that challenge that is going to determine what the ultimate end point is going to be."
The President does not want people to panic but his top doc does want us to be proactive. The way Fauci and other experts at the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization want us to do that is through social distancing.
"Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing," Fauci said earlier Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Hunkering down is necessary in order to flatten the curve of this virus, which means fewer people will be hospitalized at the same time and there will be fewer demands on the system. If we all do our part health officials believe social distancing can minimize the impact of COVID-19.
Here is what parents need to know about social distancing:
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According to the CDC, "Social distancing means remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible."
That means that many of the activities parents engage in with kids should now be avoided or reimagined.
School's out, but are playdates safe?
If your child's school is closed it's tempting to arrange some playdates to keep social connections strong, but experts warn against getting kids together to play right now.
Dr. Asaf Bitton is a primary care physician and executive director of Ariadne Labs, a joint health system innovation center at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School. According to Bitton, playdates, birthday parties, sleepovers and the like should be canceled.
"This sounds extreme because it is. We are trying to create distance between family units and between individuals. It may be particularly uncomfortable for families with small children, kids with differential abilities or challenges, and for kids who simply love to play with their friends. But even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent," Bitton writes.
Nobody wants to cancel a birthday party, but during a pandemic it is better to be safe than sorry, say the experts.
Playgrounds are not advised right now
Bitton says "coronavirus can live on plastic and metal for up to nine days" so playgrounds should be avoided right now.
Instead, Bitton recommends families "take walks/runs outside, and stay connected through phone, video, and other social media. But when you go outside, do your best to maintain at least six feet between you and non-family members."
Healthy children are not at the greatest risk for COVID-19, but they can spread it to more vulnerable populations and in order to stop that from happening we need to stop visiting the playground, Bitton suggests.
The silver lining of this social break
Kids have a lot of energy and curiosity—and playdates, trips to the park and extra-curricular activities are one way that parents help kids expel their energy and expand their minds.
But experts also say a little boredom isn't the worst thing in the world.
"Sporting, musical, and other organized activities can certainly benefit a child's physical, cognitive, cultural, and social development. But children also need time to themselves—to switch off from the bombardment of the outside world, to daydream, pursue their own thoughts and occupations, and discover personal interests and gift," writes Teresa Belton, researcher and author of "Happier People Healthier Planet: How Putting Wellbeing First Would Help Sustain Life on Earth".
Social distancing during the pandemic may be an opportunity to families to chill out, slow down and take a break from the jam-packed schedules that modern family life often revolves around.
This is going to be hard
Downtime may be a positive side effect of the pandemic but that doesn't mean this isn't going to be hard on parents. Many kids are going to be sad, disappointed and maybe even a bit lonely at times. The best things we can do for them
"We need to be very serious about—for a while, life is not going to be the way it used to be in the United States," Dr. Fauci said on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday. "We have to just accept that if we want to do what's best for the American public."