Helping Our Kids Deal With COVID-19: 5 Tips

Maintain your kids' routine, let them have input, be honest about what you don't know

Mark A. Lewis, MD


April 10, 2020

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This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Mark A. Lewis, MD: This is Mark Lewis for Medscape Oncology. I'm very privileged to be speaking with my wife, Stasha Lewis, MD, an urgent care pediatrician in Salt Lake City, Utah, about one of the issues affecting dual-physician couples during the coronavirus pandemic.

Stasha, how would you recommend that parents talk to children about coronavirus?

Stasha S. Lewis, MD: There are five things that I've tried to do with our kids. One is just to be honest and explain to them what's going on, but try to do that on an age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate level.

The second thing is that I've tried to limit their exposure to news coverage in the media. This way, I have control over how coronavirus information is presented and I can make sure it's presented in the right way and is not overwhelming or frightening.

The third thing we've tried to do is maintain some sense of daily routine. I think kids thrive on structure, but we've also tried to allow them some decision-making in what's going on. I'm fortunate that I work in urgent care and do shift work, so I'm able to be here to help them do school work at home. But I try to let them make some decisions about whether they want to do assignments inside or outside, or we let them have input on what we do for entertainment on family game nights or movie nights. I think that helps a little bit with their coping with the situation.

Our kids know we work in healthcare.

A fourth thing we've tried to do is maintain communication with our family and friends, which is really important. We FaceTime and Skype with grandparents and friends. My son's karate studio has actually been able to do classes via Zoom. Our church has had a parent support group via Zoom, which I think is important for all of us parents who are stressed out trying to manage work responsibilities and entertaining and educating our children 24/7 now—all within the confines of our homes.

The fifth thing is to provide them reassurance and make them feel secure in these uncertain times, although I find that this can be really difficult. Our kids know we work in healthcare and they think we know all the answers about these things. I've been honest with them when I don't know the answer. I try to answer their questions as best I can, but it's been really hard with our oldest, who is 12 and really wants to know when she'll see her friends again, go back to school, resume her extracurricular activities. I have to be honest that I don't know.

I try to explain it in such a way that she understands that all of these inconveniences right now are really for her safety, our safety, and the safety of populations that are incredibly vulnerable to this infection. We're trying to do all of this for the greater good.

Mark A. Lewis, MD, is director of gastrointestinal oncology at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has an interest in neuroendocrine tumors, hereditary cancer syndromes, and patient-physician communication.

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