Teach Your Young Children to Take Precautions Against COVID-19
Children can be responsible for taking Covid-19 precautions from a very young age. Habits such as handwashing and covering your mouth when coughing should be taught – just as we teach children to brush their teeth, pack away toys, or say please and thank you.
Whether your children are at home in lockdown or going back to school, precautions need to become part of their daily routine.
This will also help them feel less anxious about the disease and reduce possible fear and uncertainty. Learning to practise precautions will help them feel empowered and give them a sense of control and security.
Here are 10 of the most important ways to teach your children about taking precautions with COVID-19:
1. Lead by example
Be a good role model. If you practise precautions, your children are more likely to do the same. Reinforce all safety behaviour with praise and encouragement to help it become a habit for your children. Introduce incentives, like getting a gold star stuck onto your mask every time you wash your hands. For instance, 10 gold stars could earn a treat or fun activity.
Always be calm and reassuring. Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others.
2. Facts will alleviate fears
Children will be reassured if they understand why precautions are needed. Emphasise that they are doing this to protect others and help reduce the spread of the virus. Ensure that they understand they are not at high risk of getting sick themselves, but they can help others. You can give them the role of a superhero, doing smart stuff to help their friends and family to stay safe.
Explain that hand washing can keep them healthy and stop the virus from spreading to others. Make handwashing a family activity that you do together, such as before a meal, when you arrive home or before story time.
Try out songs you can sing together for 20 seconds – “Happy Birthday” sung twice is an easy option. Little children will enjoy the fun of trying to make bubbles with the soap as they wash their hands.
Teach your children to follow a routine for handwashing, such as when they get up, before a meal, before putting on a mask, before leaving the house, when returning home, after using the toilet, before going to bed.
4. Wearing a mask
Children 2 years and older should wear a cloth face-covering when they go out in public. Make sure that they understand that this is how they can protect others around them. For instance, when you leave the home, you can consistently say, “Let’s put on our face masks to help other people stay safe.”
If possible, let your child choose a cloth mask design that he or she likes. Cloth masks can also be personalised with something they like, such as colourful stickers.
Little children will enjoy including their toys in these activities. For instance, a favourite teddy can have his own mask to wear.
5. Coughing and sneezing
Practise how to cough or sneeze into a tissue or a bent elbow together. Praise your children when they do it correctly and gently remind them when they forget. Use games and simple rewards to reinforce the behaviour. Remind children to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick.
6. Social distance
Older children can be taught to maintain a social distance when out in public. Give them an alternative for greeting others, such as doing a high five gesture without touching each other, or only touching with the elbow.
7. Clean surfaces
Involve children in keeping frequently touched surfaces clean. At any age, they can help wipe down table-tops, door handles, remote controls, light switches or favourite toys with disinfectant. Make it fun, praise often and lead by example. If your child owns a cell phone or tablet, teach them how to carefully wipe these items, too, by using a clean cloth and disinfectant.
8. Keep others safe
Children can be taught to protect family members who are at risk. For instance, they may need to keep a safe distance from a grandparent and wear a mask when they are together. Give them alternate ways of connecting, such as face time with granny on Whatsapp, even when she’s just in the next room.
9. Send them to school feeling prepared
When your children go back to school make sure they have a small bottle of hand sanitiser and a spare cloth mask to keep in their school bags. Schools, by law, should make sure they have sanitisers and masks for all the learners, but it is still good practice for your children to carry their own as back up. It will also provide them with a sense of security to know they have spares in their bags.
10. Keep it positive
Build positive affirmation and discussion into how you communicate with your children about COVID-19. Praise and acknowledgement for every small action is vital. A nice idea is to do a daily wrap up of the superhero things your child did to help keep people safe. For instance, you can tick off items on a checklist, count how many times they wore their mask, or get a special cuddle from a parent to celebrate another day of staying safe.
Teaching your children to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be a natural part of good parenting. Handle it like you would any other life skill, inject fun and creativity into the daily details and embrace the challenge as an opportunity to teach your children to be caring, responsible and socially aware.
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Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.