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ECU pediatrician offers tips for keeping kids happy, healthy at home

GREENVILLE — With Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement that North Carolina schools are closed for the rest of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, children and parents have lingering questions about the virus, coping with stay-at-home orders and staying healthy.

Dr. Drew Baker, clinical professor of pediatrics and division chief of general pediatrics in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, offers tips based on questions from local parents about ways to keep their kids happy and healthy as coronavirus continues to impact their community and the world.­

Baker’s advice ranges from addressing children’s fears about getting sick to ensuring kids are getting enough exercise.

“Use direct and easy to understand language,” Baker said on initiating conversations with kids about coronavirus. “Provide basic information without unnecessary details. Consider asking them what they have heard and what questions that they might have.”

Other questions and answers include:

My little one thinks she has the virus every time she sneezes from seasonal allergies. How do I calm her fears?

“Reassurance is key. Remind your little one that lots of things, aside from coronavirus, can make us cough and sneeze and feel bad. A doctor for children can be there to help families decide what medicines and tests might be needed to make kids feel better and stay healthy.”

What are some of the best ways for adults to share information on how to stay healthy (hand-washing, not touching face, social distancing) in ways kids can understand?

“Don’t just tell them … show them! Model good practices that will keep you safe and teach forgetting. Decide what song they might want to sing while they wash their hands properly.”

What if my child develops symptoms? Are virtual visits an option if my child needs to see a doctor?

“Health-care providers are being creative in offering care to children during this pandemic. Although many well-child and follow-up visits are being rescheduled, visits for children who are sick are being accomplished in a variety of ways — in-person office visits, telephone visits and, in some cases, video chat. Please contact your child’s physician to see how your child can most safely receive the care that they need.”

My kids want to play outside. Is it safe? Can they play with friends?

“Play and exercise are so important for our kids and for us as adults. With the recommendation for social distancing by the experts, play with friends is not considered advisable or safe. This is a great opportunity for kids to spend more active time with parents and siblings. Consider new and creative ways to use your outdoor space — use what you have to create a fort or personal playground or sports playing field.”

How can I keep my kids in shape and getting regular exercise while staying at home?

“Kids love technology! Now is a great time to use active-exercise video games and apps. Set aside time every day for exercise for everyone in the home. Be creative. Try something that might be new to you like yoga or martial arts or dance videos on YouTube.”

How do I keep my child stimulated besides watching TV?

“We finally have time to do things we may not have tried in the past. Arts and crafts can be messy and fun! Clay and Play-Doh and painting and drawing allow us to use our creative side. Consider visiting a museum or art gallery-virtually — it’s free to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris online. Listen to music that might be new for you or your children. What about classical music or opera or a Broadway show?”

What are some tips for handling the weekends after working with kids all week?

“Consider keeping some kind of schedule — even if it is different from what is normal for your family. Schoolwork during the week. Fun time on the weekends. Don’t forget about virtual services available from many faith communities. Remember that other family members and friends might appreciate a phone call or video chat.”