As businesses start to reopen, keeping children younger than 2 safe while coronavirus-related restrictions are in place can be challenging, especially since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend children ages 2 and younger not wear a mask. Dyan Hes, M.D., F.A.A.P., medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in Manhattan, says this is mainly because of a risk of suffocation. In addition, she says children at that age are likely going to keep touching their face when wearing a mask, which increases their chances of contracting COVID-19. This means families with young children need to be extra proactive. Here’s how to keep children ages 2 and younger safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
Virus Safety and Hygiene for Toddlers
How can I keep my toddler safe during the coronavirus pandemic?
Dr. Hes and Caroline Stockert, C.P.N.P.-P.C, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Crystal Run Healthcare, agree that the most important steps to prevent the spread of coronavirus care are maintaining proper social distance and washing hands frequently.
Ensure you and your children maintain a social distance of at least 6 feet from other groups or people when you leave your home. “The more we can spread out from one another, the better chance we have of staying safe and healthy,” Stockert says.
If you want your kids to get outside safely, Stockert recommends putting young children in a stroller to get some fresh air. She also advises parents avoid bringing young children to a grocery store, given that it is a confined space where maintaining social distance is difficult.
When it comes to keeping hands clean, Dr. Hes recommends that families bring hand sanitizer with them on walks. In addition, make sure everyone washes their hands before leaving the house and then again immediately once you return home.
Stockert says parents should help their kids apply soap when needed. The CDC recommends scrubbing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. Sing a fun song with your kids (such as “Happy Birthday” or maybe the chorus to a classic) to help them scrub while also having fun.
Socialization during the Pandemic
Should I be concerned that my child isn’t socializing with kids their age since they aren’t in preschool / day care right now?
Because preschools are closed and day care centers (if open) were largely for children of essential workers for the past few months, parents might be concerned their young child’s early childhood socialization and developmental milestones aren’t being nurtured.
Dr. Hes and Stockert say young children don’t typically play collaboratively with other children at this age. Instead, toddlers enjoy playing alongside other people or children. This stage in development is called “parallel play.”
This means your young child will not “miss” playing collaboratively with other kids, Dr. Hes says. They just need to be interacting with other people in some capacity, which you can do at home or from a safe social distance. “Unlike older children who may miss their peers, toddlers are egocentric and generally play on their own or look to their parent for attention,” Stockert adds.
When it comes to developmental milestones, Dr. Hes recommends parents be proactive in making sure their children are in the proper position to reach them. This can be achieved from a wide variety of activities.
Communicating and speaking with your young child is important to help them learn language. Read to your young children every day, speak to them in full sentences, and encourage them to use their words.
“For the kids who aren’t great speakers…their parents can understand their mumbled language because the parents know that ‘babba’ means bottle and ‘wawa’ means water,” Dr. Hes says. “But if they were in a day care setting or in a play group, they would be forced to use their words to communicate and that’s really not happening now with COVID.”
Dr. Hes also recommends parents try to keep their kids physically active. This includes simple activities such as going for a walk, going up stairs, or going to parks early in the morning before they tend to get crowded. She also urges parents from keeping their kids inside on screens all day. Try baking cookies or bread with your young children, have them help with chores (yes, even 2-year-olds!), encourage them to draw and color, make musical instruments out of pots and pans, build with blocks, or play peek-a-boo with babies and hide-and-seek with toddlers.
Patrick Gunn is a summer intern at Davler Media Group/NYMetroParents and rising senior at Syracuse University. He also contributes regularly for the Yankee blogs Start Spreading the News and Pinstripe City and enjoys a good film.