The World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. With over 110 confirmed cases in India, the health ministry has now advised everyone to avoid unnecessary travel, while all travel visas stand suspended till the 15 April as of now. People have been urged to practise social distancing, especially if experiencing symptoms associated with coronavirus. But it is easier said than done with kids, who simply have too much energy at hand with no schools and no playtime in the park. So how does one keep the kids engaged while social distancing? Moreover, how do parents protect them from not just coronavirus, but the anxiety and panic that has gripped the entire world?

A few days before state governments began shutting down schools and malls, and suggesting that people work from home, I took a domestic flight with my child from one of the busiest airports in the country. This was just days before the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, mind you. The airport was littered with overseas travellers. Some people were wearing masks while you could hear the pop and squirt of hand sanitiser bottles here and there. We wore surgical masks during our flight, we kept our hands as clean as possible. And yet when we got home my husband suggested that kiddo and I practice social-distancing out of precaution.

Social distancing doesn’t mean that you go easy on the hygiene rules that have been prescribed. Encourage your child to wash hands properly and sneeze and cough into their elbow.

Now I haven’t experienced any symptoms so far, neither has the kid, but then children are thankfully being largely spared by coronavirus, although they do act as carriers and thus it made sense to isolate our kid. Why was I in two minds? Hadn’t I used masks and practised proper hand hygiene? Well if you are a parent, you’ll know how hard it is to keep kids away from trouble; it’s like they are drawn to chaos and germs. They’ll touch their masks or their shoes or any surface that catches their fancy within two seconds of you spending 20 to wash their hands.

And let me tell you, keeping your kid busy and away from the outside world is an equally huge challenge. Suddenly they want to play in the park or go to school, rather than watch television at home. So here are some practices, I have been adopting to help my child with social distancing.

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Hygiene rules stay: Social distancing doesn’t mean that you go easy on the hygiene rules that have been prescribed. Encourage your child to wash hands properly and sneeze and cough into their elbow, even if it is due to the common cold. It is anyhow a good habit they can carry on with in the future, when the world is rid of coronavirus menace.

There is such a thing as too much cartoon: Yes, there is nothing much to do around the house, especially when you cannot visit friends, so naturally they may argue for more screen time. Since both my partner and I are working from home and have little time to play with our child this becomes a specially difficult task. What we can do is spread it out. Don’t let your child sit continuously in front of the screen.

So we have gone easy on the house rules. The kid is free to litter and take out as many toys as possible from the cupboard, no restrictions, as long as she repeatedly washes her hands. While our floor is covered with a concoction of Lego, plastic animals, Ludo board, books and an array of toy sets, our kid is busy and that is what matters. It is a different story that we have to sanitize the whole load, time and again, out of precaution.

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Explain why they have to be careful: Kids need cuddles, kisses and hugs. It is heartbreaking to refuse those to them if you are social-distancing. However, social distancing is very essential if there are grandparents in the house or any elderly with health complications. The ordeal to keep them separate is tough, because no one wants to part ways with the other. Which is why it is important to sit down juniors and seniors alike and tell them why it is better  if they can maintain a certain distance, and in the long run too. Look for games that can be played by the family with minimum physical contact. Introduce your children to Pictionary, dumb charades, good old antakshari etc., so that they can still have fun with the grandparents.

Kids can pick up anxiety and panic from their surroundings the last thing we want is for them to be terrified under lockdown in their own house.

Cheer them up: Last night my partner and I realised that we had been underestimating our kid, who asked us whether we were talking about coronavirus, simply by observing our expressions and tone. We hadn’t used the obvious c-word or “death” or “illness” in our conversation mind you. So now we have agreed to keep the corona-talk to the minimum around the house. Kids can pick up anxiety and panic from their surroundings and the last thing we want is for them to be terrified under lockdown in their own house.

So watch some cheerful films together, play, and try to avoid the conversation of COVID 19 when your kids are in earshot.

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Healthy eating: It is difficult to keep up with unending demands for snacks and munchies on a daily basis when kids are at home. But before than ever, it is pertinent for parents to ensure that children are eating healthy meals packed with nutrients that will boost their immunity and keep them healthy. Chips, pizzas, takeaway meals are fine occasionally, but we are also encouraging our child to keep eating daal, chawal, sabzi, roti twice a day. Squeeze in a portion or two of fruits in their diet and opt for healthy options of snacks yourself, leading by example.

The views expressed are the author’s own, who wishes to remain anonymous.

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