Keeping Kids Active During COVID-19 Pandemic: What Parents Can Do

Promote physical activity and reduce childhood obesity risk factors associated with school closures

Summary:

  • Parents across the country are attempting to find new ways to keep their children physically active in the wake of lengthy school closures and stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In a recent article, public health scientists predict that school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic will increase risk factors for childhood obesity that are often associated with summer break.
  • Exercise is especially important for kids during the COVID-19 pandemic because it can reduce stress, prevent weight gain, and boost the immune system.
  • Parents can safely promote physical activity by making exercise a family activity, encouraging outdoor play, using online videos or virtual classes, creating fitness challenges, and assigning calorie-burning chores.

Researchers believe that extended school closures due to COVID-19 could increase risk factors for weight gain in kids. Childhood obesity is a significant risk factor for obesity in adulthood, which is linked to health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Here’s what parents need to know about the importance of keeping kids active to reduce risk factors for childhood obesity despite community and school closures and social distancing.

How do community and school closures increase risk factors for childhood obesity?

During school closures, parents across the country are finding it challenging to limit their kids’ screen time and encourage physical activity — especially while balancing working from home, managing the household, and overseeing online school lessons. It’s a lot! Closures of businesses, parks, and other public places have forced many kids to temporarily abandon spring sports and activities. Social distancing may also reduce the opportunity for children to exercise, especially if outdoor physical activity is not an option due to shelter-in-place orders, crowded outdoor spaces, bad weather, or other factors.

Increased screen time is also associated with increased snacking. Additionally, families and kids are coping with increased boredom and stress, which are two emotions that have been linked to overeating.

Why is exercise important for kids during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Regular exercise is essential for everyone, including kids — and you’ve no doubt heard about the many benefits of physical activity. However, here are a few reasons why exercise is especially crucial for kids during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Exercise boosts the immune system: Research shows that regular, moderate-intensity exercise has immune-boosting benefits that may help children and adults to fight off infections, including COVID-19.
  • Exercise may prevent weight gain: During the pandemic, families have fewer opportunities for exercise and may be forced to change their dietary habits. Exercise can help kids burn calories and offset the effects of sedentary activities.
  • Exercise reduces stress and anxiety: Just like adults, children may also be experiencing stress, anxiety, and sadness during these challenging times. Exercise is a proven mood-booster and can help children reduce their stress levels and build emotional resilience.

How can I help my child stay physically active during COVID-19 closures?

There are many ways your child can be active, even while practicing social distancing. According to recommendations from the American Heart Association, kids aim for 60 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity per day. Here are a few suggestions to get your child moving:

  • Exercise as a family: Children will be more motivated to exercise if the entire family participates. Family walks, bike rides, dance parties, living-room yoga sessions, or backyard soccer games are just a few examples of how your household members can exercise together.
  • Encourage outdoor activity: Whenever possible, encourage your child to get outside, even for a quick stroll around the block or a game of catch with a sibling. Several 10-minute outdoor exercise sessions can quickly add up to a full workout.
  • Watch online exercise videos: Many online services offer exercise videos geared toward children. Additionally, many sports clubs, exercise studios, schools, and other community organizations are providing on-demand virtual fitness content for kids.
  • Take a class: If you have the financial resources, consider supporting your local fitness studio or personal trainer by signing up for online fitness classes or training sessions. Some personal trainers will even host a private virtual “gym class” or sport-specific training session for young athletes who want to work out from home.
  • Make it a challenge: Work with your child to set an age-appropriate exercise goal, such as five bike rides per week or 50 push-ups in a row, to motivate them to keep moving.
  • Assign calorie-burning chores: Chores such as mowing the lawn, working in the garden, washing the car, or cleaning out the garage provide excellent opportunities for kids to build muscles and burn calories. Consider assigning your kids age-appropriate jobs that do double-duty by helping you accomplish household tasks.

Learn more: Tips on talking to children about the COVID-19 Pandemic

The bottom line: When combined with a healthy diet, regular physical activity can help kids to stay fit while school is closed. Taking steps to minimize your child’s risk factors for childhood obesity during the COVID-19 pandemic — and all year long — will lay the foundation for a lifetime of good health.

Nuvance Health is keeping the communities informed on our website at nuvancehealth.org/coronavirus, and on social media @NuvanceHealth, or search for your hospital’s name.

Tips on talking to children about the COVID-19 Pandemic

Answers to how to minimize anxiety in children during this difficult time.

By Dr. Maria Lombardi, pediatrician, Nuvance Health

With school closures, sports games cancellations and family vacations postponed due to the evolving spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), it is important to remember the toll this may be taking on children. They may be experiencing anxiety about catching the virus or perhaps, their grandparents getting sick, not knowing how to express their concerns and emotions. Parents, extended family members and teachers play an important role in minimizing those fears by providing a sense of calm, as well as clear and honest information that is understandable for their age level.

Here are some tips on how you can talk to your children during these challenging times:

Support: Encourage your kids to ask questions and talk about how they are processing the information they are receiving. While it is understandable to want to shield them from bad news, not addressing the situation may ramp up their fears. They may also be receiving misinformation from friends and social media that you would want to correct.

Don’t Panic: Talk to them calmly. Children mimic their parent’s actions so if you are panicked or stressed, they will be too. Stick to the facts in a way that is understandable for their age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a trusted source for factual, up-to-date information, as well as your state and local health departments and hospitals.

Boundaries: Limit screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information can bring on unnecessary worry. Let them know that some information on the Internet may be hearsay and inaccurate.

Comfort: Provide reassurances. Tell children the reason their school play was canceled or their family trip postponed is because these actions will help contain the spread of COVID-19. Let them know that there are many people working hard to keep everyone safe.

Empower: As more and more children are home from school for an extended period of time, provide opportunities to pick an activity for the day or put them in charge of ensuring everyone in the house is washing their hands frequently. Also, stick to routines throughout the day, including setting school work times, reading hour, exercise and eating. This will give them some control of their environment during these times of uncertainty.

Hygiene: Remind them of the importance of continuous proper hygiene, including:

  • Washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating and after using the bathroom. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and/or Happy Birthday is about 20 seconds long.
  • To cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of their arm and immediately throw out the tissue after use.
  • Not sharing food or drinks.

Empowering children with information and the tools they need to prevent infection, will go a long way toward reducing their anxieties, getting through this difficult period, as well as providing them with coping mechanisms for the future.

Nuvance Health is keeping the communities informed on our website at nuvancehealth.org/coronavirus, and on, social media @NuvanceHealth, or search for your hospital’s name.

Raising Healthy Babies and Children During COVID-19

By Nuvance Health Pediatricians Dr. Maria Lombardi and Dr. Christina Mezzone

By now you know COVID-19 is a virus that can cause a range of symptoms. Some people will have mild symptoms while others can develop more serious illness requiring hospitalization. There are also those who can be asymptomatic, carry the virus and spread it unknowingly.

Please know that we are here for you during this uncertain time

We offer Virtual Visits to try to keep you at home and safe whenever possible. Telemedicine is a great way for us to communicate with you and offer medical advice while keeping you safe. Call the office to schedule a Virtual Visit.

If you have a newborn and need advice or are struggling, don’t hesitate to call us. Your pediatrician is an excellent resource for understanding your baby and your own needs, including postpartum depression.

What do we know about COVID-19 and kids?

Because COVID-19 is new, the best data we have so far comes from China where the pandemic first started. We know that kids can be asymptomatic, carry the virus and infect others. When children who have COVID-19 do develop symptoms, the most common ones are cough and fever. They can also have a runny nose, sore throat, vomiting and diarrhea.

Recently, a rare but serious health condition has emerged called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, believed to be connected to COVID-19. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your child, call your pediatrician:

  • A fever lasting more than 24 hours
  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea or vomiting
  • Rash or changes in skin color (pale, red, blue)
  • Trouble breathing
  • Your child seems confused or overly sleepy

Your child does not have to have all of these symptoms to call. Even one symptom should prompt a phone call. Be sure to let your pediatrician know if your child has tested positive for COVID-19 or has been exposed to the virus. Your child can still develop this condition if they were exposed to COVID-19 and never had symptoms or a mild illness and was never tested for the virus.

While multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children sounds frightening, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reminds parents that this condition is very rare.

Should I take my children to the doctor right now? 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that any child age 2 and under still see their pediatrician for routine check-ups and vaccinations. These vaccines are crucial in preventing serious bacterial and viral infections in this age group.

Newborn visits are still necessary to monitor weight gain or loss, screen for jaundice and establish a framework for ongoing care.

Parents of children who are older than two years old can discuss when to reschedule their children’s annual physical exams with their pediatrician.

If you are worried about visiting your doctor’s office, we recommend you call ahead and ask what precautions the office is taking.

If you think your child has been exposed to COVID-19, call the office to arrange a Virtual Visit. If you feel they need immediate care, please call ahead before heading to the nearest Emergency Department or call 911.

Is it safe to breastfeed my baby?

There is limited data on whether this type of coronavirus is passed in breastmilk.  However, so far there have been no known cases of transmission through breastmilk and we know enough about the protective effects of human milk to recommend the continuation of breastfeeding. Breastmilk has immunologic properties that boost the baby’s immune system. We know that with other illnesses, mothers pass protective antibodies to their babies through breastmilk.

You should thoroughly wash your hands and wear a mask when you breastfeed if:

  • You are under investigation for COVID-19
  • Have suspected COVID-19 through clinical diagnosis
  • Have been diagnosed with COVID-19 through laboratory testing

If you have active symptoms, such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, you may choose to express your breastmilk with a breast pump and have someone else feed your breastmilk to your baby. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations vary on the separation of mother and baby. If you do continue direct breastfeeding, comply with strict preventive precautions that include the use of a mask and meticulous breast and hand hygiene.

How should you clean your breast pump?

Clean immediately after use. If you wash by hand, don’t place them in a sink or use an ordinary dish sponge. Wash parts with hot soapy water in a basin only used for this purpose. If your parts are dishwasher safe, run them on high and a heated or sanitizing setting. You can also use a sterilization bag in a microwave. Do not store wet breast pump parts. For more help, visit our CDC link in the resources section.

What should you share with your children about the pandemic?

We offer some helpful guidance for talking to your children about COVID-19 here, including how to minimize fears by providing a sense of calm, as well as clear and honest information that is understandable for their age level.

What can you do to keep your family healthy? 

All public health agencies recommend good handwashing. Wash with soap and water for 20 seconds or longer or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60 percent or more alcohol.  In addition, teach your child to not touch their face and to cough and sneeze into a tissue or the crook of their elbow.

You can clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved cleaning agents. This article can help you learn what to clean with.

In addition, practice social distancing to keep everyone healthy and stop the virus spread. As hard as this is for everyone, it does mean no playdates and no social visiting.

Where can you learn more?

Make sure your information comes from trustworthy sources, places like the AAP, CDC and state Department of Health (DOH).

What are some resources you should check out?

Where can parents turn to for additional support?

New parenting can feel overwhelming at times. Remember although grandma may be unable to visit, there are other ways people can help you. Social media avenues continue to allow connections between family and friends.  New parent groups continue to remain active and a great resource. Neighbors and friends often are also willing to lend a hand to do errands for you and pick up extra diapers to be left at your doorstep. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Nuvance Health is keeping the communities informed on our website at nuvancehealth.org/coronavirus, and on social media @NuvanceHealth, or search for your hospital’s name.