COVID-19 FAQs: Keeping kids healthy during pandemic

Watch for symptoms, keep up with well child visits, encourage healthy routines

A mom sits on a couch with her two daughters, bookshelves in the background. Dr. Stephanie Hanson offers advice to parents on keeping their kids healthy

When we’re talking about kids and the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, there’s a lot we don’t know and there’s a lot we do.

Sanford Children’s pediatrician Stephanie Hanson, M.D. addresses some of the most commonly asked questions parents have about COVID-19 symptoms, prevention, behavior and scheduled visits.

Are kids at a higher risk for COVID-19?

“This still is a very new virus to us,” Dr. Hanson said. “Even experts don’t know all of the answers about who is at higher risk.”

Generally, kids who have underlying medical conditions — particularly those that affect the immune system, heart or lungs — may be at higher risk for developing more serious disease.

She says most people, especially most kids, do not have serious problems if they get this infection.

How might symptoms be different in kids than adults?

“There are a lot of things about this infection that look similar to other colds or the flu that your child may get. Looking at fever, looking at a cough, looking at sore throat, some children will have some gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea as part of it.”

Fever and respiratory issues are what Dr. Hanson calls the hallmarks of the disease.

How will I know if my child needs to be seen?

“Look at their breathing. Are they breathing a lot faster than normal? Or a lot more shallow? Are they using the muscles of their chest or belly to help with their breathing, where it looks like they’re gasping or struggling? If you’re seeing those things, reach out to your child’s physician and get care,” Dr. Hanson said.

Likewise, she says, if those symptoms are very severe, don’t wait to talk to your provider. Just bring your child into the emergency room so they can be assessed and cared for. Some other things to look for is how they’re eating and drinking. If your child is sick and not taking in fluids or eating, and you’re seeing a decrease in their urine output, that’s another thing you want to bring to the attention of their provider.

Does my child need to wear a face mask?

Wearing face masks outside of the house is recommended for anyone age 2 and older.  For those younger than that, there is a risk of difficulty breathing and suffocation.

Dr. Hanson has a few tips to help kids get used to the idea of wearing a mask:

  • Role model wearing a mask yourself — model the behavior you want to see in your kids.
  • Make sure the masks are soft and comfortable/well-fitting.
  • Fun patterns and colors can help encourage kids.
  • Watch a video of kids wearing a mask and having fun.
  • Incorporate masks into pretend play with stuffed animals.
  • Small rewards or incentives for good cooperation are helpful as well.

Is it safe to bring my child in for a well visit and immunizations?

Yes. Providers recommend sticking with scheduled visits and immunization schedules.

“We don’t want to see a resurgence of some of those other infections due to people being scared to visit the clinic. We’re taking a lot of steps to keep our clinics a safe place so we can serve those patients,” Dr. Hanson said.

“I’ve heard, from a lot of people, some hesitancy about bringing their children into the doctor right now. We think it’s very important for young children, especially those 2 and under, to stick to planned well child visits. There are lots of things we’re doing at Sanford Children’s to keep healthy kids healthy and protect them from infection.”

Is Sanford Children’s using telemedicine?

Providers are doing all kinds of things through telemedicine.

“Not only are we doing behavioral health follow-ups or management of chronic conditions, but we actually can do some acute visits via telemedicine,” Dr. Hanson said. “If your child is sick — let’s say they have a fever, or other symptom you’re concerned about — contact your child’s pediatrician. Reach out to their office. That staff is very knowledgeable about what the options are available. They can help you get to the right type of care your child needs: telemedicine or in-person. They can work with you to make sure your child’s needs are being attended to.”

How can I boost my child’s immune system?

There are a number of things parents can do to help keep their children safe all year long, not just during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Adequate sleep: “Making sure they’ve got a predictable schedule is one thing they can help.”
  • Establish a routine and “stick to it.”
  • Healthy diet: “Stick to fresh whole foods as much as possible. Really try to avoid added sugars and highly processed snack food. The more you can stick to fresh fruits and vegetables and foods you prepare at home yourself, the better off you’ll be from a nutrition standpoint.”
  • Exercise: “Our kids should be getting at least an hour of exercise every day. During pandemic, we have to get a little creative about how to do that. That process of getting the heart rate up, a little bit of sweat, having fun, that’s protective to the immune system and can keep kids healthy.”

I’m struggling with my child’s behavior right now. What should I do?

Your child’s pediatrician should be your first step if you have questions or concerns about your child’s behavior.

Related: Sure-fire solutions for managing lockdown temper tantrums

What other things can I do to protect my child at home?

Pay attention to how clean your home is right now.

“We want people to practice hand-washing and social distancing while they’re out of the home. But at home, it’s making sure your surfaces are clean. Those high-touch areas: doorknobs, light switches, electronic devices. Things people are touching a lot — it’s important to make sure those are cleaned well.”

Toddlers, Dr. Hanson says, will do the opposite of whatever we recommend: touching everything and putting everything in their mouth. She suggests keeping their environment as safe as possible.

With that in mind, she says, remember Sanford Children’s is here.

“We’re here for your child, we’re here for your family. Even though we may be providing care in a different way than we’re used to, we are dedicated to making sure our communities are healthy and our patients’ needs are being met during this time.”

Contact your Sanford Children’s provider by calling their clinic directly, or send a message through My Sanford Chart.

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Posted In Children's, Coronavirus, Family Medicine, Frequently Asked Questions, Parenting

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