The death toll in India from coronavirus infection stands at five, as of now. The severity of the virus prompted state governments across the country to order closure of educational institutions and encourage parents to work from home, apart from home quarantine for those who returned from abroad or had come in contact with infected persons.
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But as families spend more time together at home, especially those under quarantine, parents are having a tough time keeping children engaged. And more importantly, safe.
Questions with regard to the safety of children are many: Are they more vulnerable to the infection? What sort of food should they consume?
We speak to Dr Ravi Kumar Thambidurai, Senior Consultant, pediatric intensive care unit, Rela Institute, Dr Vasanth R, consultant psychiatrist and Dr K Venkataramani, Senior Child psychiatrist, for their views on these child safety aspects.
- Are children vulnerable to COVID-19?
Ravi Kumar: They are not particularly vulnerable. But be it playing with friends or toys, kids have the habit of touching everything and everyone. So they do get exposed. But even though the lethality of the virus is much lower among children, they could infect other vulnerable groups like senior citizens and those with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
- What preventive measures can parents take in protecting kids from COVID-19?
Ravi Kumar: Educating children about hand hygiene is important. Most kids do not follow the 20-second rule. Teach them about sneezing and coughing in their sleeves, which I call a vampire cough. It is also necessary to clean your house once a day with a surface cleaner. Do not let them play with kids whose family members or acquaintances have tested positive for COVID-19. The best precautionary measure is to get the annual flu vaccine administered to kids below 6 years. It will prevent them from not just coronavirus, but any other flu, which can be just as dangerous.
- What kind of diet should we focus on for immunity-boosting in children?
Ravi Kumar: As people with poor immunity are being affected by the virus, kids and adults too should focus on improving their immunity. Give your kids plenty of water. Vitamin C rich foods such as lemon, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, oranges and grapes should be eaten regularly.
- How best to keep children engaged during quarantine?
Venkataramani: Let’s not consider it as quarantine. It could be a way to bond with the children by including them in your hobbies. It creates more happiness than going out. Engaging them digitally is an easy way for parents, but do not do so. Use this time to home school them. Due to low resistance and immunity, children should be indoors and as they do not know the seriousness of communicable diseases, parents should explain it to them.
Vasanth: Parents should not create a panic-driven environment at home while educating children about the virus. Pick up a few fun-oriented topics for conversation. Do not watch news on television with your kids, as they might become anxious. Educate yourself with bulletins from government portals, without relying on fake WhatsApp forwards. Inculcate a hobby that the child has lost or forgotten.
Ravi Kumar: Take out old pictures and recall the memories. You could get creative and do activities like storytelling, treasure hunt, gardening etc. Watch a good movie and ask your child to review it.
- Should group activities such as games and classes be avoided?
Ravi Kumar: Yes. Let there be two weeks of calm. However, if you are certain about the medical condition of the friends of your kids, you could allow them to play in the balcony or in the apartment premises. You may ask the tutor to come home for classes rather than sending them out.
Vasanth: Yes, it is better to focus on indoor activities. There is nothing wrong in including them in household chores like cleaning and cooking.
Venkatramani: Stop taking them to playgrounds and on play dates. At least two weeks of calm is advised.
- How can we care for children with pre-existing conditions during this time?
Ravi Kumar: Children with diabetes, cancer and kidney diseases and those who are on long term steroids are the most vulnerable group. As a precautionary measure, parents should get the flu vaccine administered to them.
- One piece of advice you would like to give parents?
Ravi Kumar: Do not panic. Kids are catching the common flu as well. Read about the symptoms of coronavirus and common cold. Rushing your child to hospital on Day 1 of a slight fever is not advisable as doctors will not know the cause that early. The telling signs of coronavirus include troubled breathing, high-grade fever and cough. It is really not a fever until temperature reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.7 degrees Celsius.
Check out our complete coverage of COVID-19.