Initially, early on in this pandemic, it seemed that our kids would be spared from the worst symptoms. They were the least affected, and their risk of severe complications was low.
Now, as cases rise, more mysterious symptoms are popping up, and our kids may not be as impervious to worsening outcomes as we thought.
As we navigate school from home, manage fear, and a vast upheaval in routine, how do we cultivate resilience in our children, while we manage the threat of a complicated illness that threatens their health and safety?
The Newly Discovered Link to Inflammation
The microbe causing the current pandemic is part of a larger family of organisms that are capable of a vast difference in symptom severity. Meaning, some forms are severe, others are mostly harmless, with a spectrum in between.
Initially, the general consensus was that the younger generation seemed to be less affected than those of advanced age and with pre-existing conditions. Now, however, we’re learning there may be a more pernicious aspect presenting itself in the pediatric population.
It’s worth noting that the medical community and integrative medicine learn more new information with each passing day.
At the time of this writing, doctors have suggested a link between the current pandemic and a serious inflammatory disorder called Pediatric Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome. They don’t yet have a full explanation for what exactly is occurring, but it shares symptoms with toxic shock syndrome and a condition called Kawasaki disease, which can cause inflammation in the blood vessels and, in severe cases, damage to the heart.
It is believed the inflammatory syndrome can occur after recovery, and while testing positive for antibodies, but not for an active case (1).
Kawasaki disease is the most common form of acquired heart disease in children in developed countries, and can present with fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, redness in the mouth or throat, or swollen glands.
Coincidentally, one article written for the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2005, suggested a link between another strain in this same family of organisms, and the development of Kawasaki disease.
They tested 11 children diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, and found this organism present in 8 of the tested cases (2).
Researchers also noted that Kawasaki is generally preceded by a respiratory infection.
While doctors and researchers don’t yet fully understand the link this pandemic has upon inflammatory processes and the risk for developing a Kawasaki-like condition, we know its important to support our children’s health and wellbeing as if they have the same risk their adult counterparts do.
Take a look at the FREE guide to navigating immune health and managing inflammation.
Children Face Unexpected Challenges
Some of the most pressing challenges kids are dealing with right now, however, have been caused by the pandemic, but aren’t the pandemic itself.
Trouble with school, continuing to learn, combating boredom while stuck at home, and managing fear and mental health are just as important for kids as parents.
The following will help you understand how to provide your kids with the tools and understanding they need to feel safe and supported during the next several weeks and months.
Creating Resilience in Kids
As parents, sometimes we wish there was a way to guarantee our kids would weather difficult times coming out stronger on the other end. If we could do it for them, we would. If we could make life easier, we would. But the real success comes from giving children the tools they need to cultivate the skills to navigate their future–and all the uncertainties that come with it.
During times of stress of trauma, there are three main concepts parents can strive to create for their children that will foster a sense of calm understanding, through which your child can learn from difficult periods.
This concept probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most parents and teachers. Kids do well with structure built into their days, and a certain level of control over their activities. Knowing what to expect as they transition from one task to another provides the stability and reassurance they need to develop a healthy sense of purpose.
What this looks like: if you’re homeschooling, or have transitioned to web-based learning with your child’s teacher, plan out the day’s activities similar to what would happen in a classroom. You can do this by adding in structured breaks, mealtimes, playtime. But following (even if it’s loosely) a schedule will provide your kids with the structure they crave.
When parents and other adults around them are going through a stressful or traumatic time, kids notice more than we think. They’re highly intuitive and experience many feelings they may not know how to articulate.
Not knowing how to articulate feelings can sometimes manifest as acting out, or perhaps acts of defiance or uncharacteristic anger. Many times, these are displaced feelings your child doesn’t have the framework to adequately process.
Other times, nutritional deficiencies, undiagnosed food sensitivities, or other environmental factors can be to blame for a child’s change in behavior or focus. An integrative provider can help correct those imbalances in chemistry and environment.
Fostering coherence about their experiences will help them learn and grow as an individual. By encouraging your kids to communicate how they’re feeling, we promote problem-solving skills, in addition to better coping mechanisms and hopefully–more emotional intelligence.
What this looks like: There are many outlets through which you can encourage your child to articulate feelings. When you talk with them, ask open-ended questions, such as “How do you feel about that?” or “What makes you feel afraid?”. Many kids also open up through more creative mediums such as drawing or writing. With a simple recipe for salt dough, you can even encourage your child to mold you what’s on their mind.
As adults, even we’re feeling the pain of not connecting with friends that help us get through so much. Loneliness can be a major detriment to health–for both adults and kids alike.
We’re adapting to connect with friends, coworkers, and teachers through technology that used to be for convenience–now we’re using it as a necessity. And your kids can still foster healthy connections this way too.
Studies show that even 15 minutes spent talking with someone you love is beneficial for mental and physical wellbeing.
Schedule a Zoom call with your kids’ friends by getting parents involved. You can even have a virtual sleepover, complete with jammies, snacks, and a movie they all watch together.
Following the Three C’s will help your child continue to develop the social competence, problem-solving skills, autonomy, and a sense for a hopeful future they need to be able to thrive in the present, and as we move out of the quarantine (3).
Power Kids at Home
I’m sure your kids never fail to let you know when they’re not feeling adequately entertained–as if you needed to add this to your ever-growing list of responsibilities right now! But, being proactive about activities might work in your favor. The more kids are occupied, the more time you potentially have to take care of YOUR needs, and your mental health.
After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Take a look at these educational activities for every age and topic, and don’t forget to create a little time for yourself afterwards.
Find your next oasis in the Healthy Mom Guide.
Limit screen time
While gaming, social media, and TV can be a way to pass the time, too much screen time can have a negative impact on kids’ mental health, and can actually result in a decrease in feelings of self-worth and wellbeing.
Check in with your children’s media often, become aware of what they watch and consume, and set limits on their time spent in front of a device.
For instance, too much digital distraction close to bedtime can interfere with sleep patterns, making them all the more likely to be tired and grumpy the next day.
Kids can fall prey to a lot of the same bad habits adults do around eating. One major one? Boredom snacking. And this tends to be the worst kind. Kids reach for convenience foods that are often high in sugar.
Parents of young kids will curse the dreaded “sugar rush,” but what is actually happening is an unstable source of energy going to the brain, that over-excites certain cells and makes it harder to focus and concentrate when you need them to.
One easy mom-hack to employ is chopping handheld fruits and veggies when you get home from the store (broccoli, carrots, celery, apples), so that what’s convenient for them to grab is also healthy for their brains and bodies.
Pair with some cheese or nut butter for a well-rounded snack!
Kids have recess for a reason! If you can do so safely, get outside! If not, have them join in your morning workout. It may not be your perfect workout, but it’ll get everyone’s heart rates up, burn off some stress energy (and cortisol for mom) and we can refocus on our next task afterwards.
Not only does regular exercise give kids the tactile stimulation they need to focus on the rest of the days’ tasks, but it also promotes healthy immune function. And if you’re outside, they get their daily dose of vitamin D as well.
Holistic Wellness for Every Age
While parents struggle to navigate the challenges brought on by stay-at-home orders and an upheaval in daily life and school function, kids are highly perceptive to stress around them, and can benefit from healthy self-care strategies the same as adults.
Supporting their bodies with optimal nutrition, healthy sleep habits, and structured stimulation will help keep them healthy–and help keep their parents sane.