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Keep Your Child's Brain Active

Pediatrician Dr. Steven Schulz helps you learn how to keep your kid's brain active if they are spending more time at home.

Apr. 7, 2020 4   min read

Children learning, reading, and playing

Spending more time at home while quarantining or practicing social distancing can be a challenge for everyone, especially young children and teens. For kids, once the excitement of staying home from school passes, they may become irritated, bored, and anxious—all normal moods according to Rochester Regional Health pediatrician Steven Schulz, MD.

“Without structure, learning, and socialization, kids can begin to show symptoms of anxiety and depression,” Dr. Schulz said.

Here are a few ways Dr. Schulz says you can keep your kid's brain active during long periods away from school.

Create a schedule

We all do better with a routine and knowing what’s ahead of us.

“If kids don’t know what’s ahead of them, they can become anxious,” said Dr. Schulz. “Following a routine can reduce anxiety and help them enjoy what they’re doing more.”

Creating a structure for each day and sticking to it is a helpful way to manage time.

Action items:

  • Develop a flexible schedule or set of expectations that encourage a variety of activities like schoolwork, family activities, chores, reading, and physical exercise
  • Make sure your kids get dressed and eat breakfast each morning. If you chose to start their day with school work, they’ll take it more seriously if they’re dressed and ready for the day
  • Talk to your kids about what interests them and balance that with activities to keep them active

Schedules at home don’t need to mirror what your child would expect at school. Dr. Schulz said there is some flexibility to be more creative at home.

“If you prefer that your children get all their school work done during the first part of the day and then use the second half of their day for play and discovery, that works. Or if you have a child who responds better to frequent breaks throughout the day, you can try that too.”

Bonus Tip: “Empower your kids to have a say in what some of the schedule looks like. Kids are going to be more open to participating and going with the flow if it’s their idea.

Ask a Doc: How to talk to your kids about COVID-19

Find online activities

There are plenty of resources online to help engaged children in learning and other activities. Many websites have programs that incorporate math, reading, writing, and problem-solving.

If your children normally attend music lessons, these can be continued online. Even if their teacher isn’t offering online lessons, there are plenty of videos online that teach various instruments and other music lessons.

“It’s essential that parents understand that online activities and smartphones are tools,” said Dr. Schulz. “Tools that help engage learning and creativity are great, but going online for pure entertainment should be used in moderation, and never as a substitute for learning. Entertainment should be earned by accomplishing tasks on the schedule.”

Action items:

Check out these websites that help kids learn about different topics.

  • Yoga with Sarah: Sarah Lane, a wellness coach at Rochester Regional Health, provides yoga lessons geared towards children
  • GoNoodle: GoNoodle is an online activity and resource tool used by teachers and parents all over the world

While online activities are great for kids and teens, Dr. Schulz cautions that too much screen time can harm their physical, mental and behavioral health. Making sure to be cautious about the amount of time children spend with technology is essential to their health and wellness.

“Set screen time limits from the outset so your kids aren’t given unfettered access to their screens anytime throughout the day,” he said.

Reducing screen time can help to avoid potential issues such as:

  • Irregular sleep schedules
  • Loss of social skills
  • Attention problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Behavioral issues

Spend time outside

Social distancing requires that people avoid all unnecessary travel, but that doesn’t mean your children can’t get outside under the proper guidance.

“It’s important to get outside every day for sunlight and fresh air, but we still need to remember social distancing,” said Dr. Schulz. “Kids should stay with their immediate family members when outside. Unfortunately, kids should stay away from playgrounds at this time.”

Action items:

  • Get outside at least once a day
  • Stay within your immediate family only
  • Keep kids away from other children and away from playgrounds 

Keep open communication

When creating a daily schedule, ask your kids what activities they want to do. If you only give them school-related work or learning activates all day, they can become bored or restless. It’s important to give your children the opportunity to express their feelings and opinions, especially as they grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak.

Action items:

  • Ask them how they’re doing and let them know you are open to hearing what they have to say
  • Encourage mindfulness and work with them to practice activities like meditation, yoga, or breathing techniques
  • If it seems like your child is struggling with communication, there are many smartphone apps to help with mindfulness, like headspace, calm smiling, mind, insight timer

Get creative

There are plenty of arts and crafts that can be done with household items. If you are running low on art supplies, here are a few things you can do:

  • Use wrapping paper to make origami
  • Turn pine cones into bird feeders using peanut butter and various seeds or nuts
  • Start a garden with an egg carton and some plastic wrap
  • Paint cans or jars and create flower vases

Another way you can get creative with your child is to read with them every day. Reading has several benefits for your child’s development. It can also strengthen your bond with your child.

Dr. Schulz recommends reading at least once a day with your child, or talk to your teen about starting a family book club.

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