Health & Fitness

Ways to keep your child safe at home in pandemic


Makini School pupils wash their hands during a past Global Handwashing Day celebrations. FILE PHOTO | NMG


  • Aside from offering education, schools and other learning institutions also play a significant role in improving the well-being of children.
  • They tend to provide a well-structured life for children with a good balance of activities that occupy them and keep them proactive.

As most children continue to remain home due to school closures instigated by Covid-19, many parents or caregivers are trying to find constructive ways of keeping their children busy and occupied.

Aside from offering education, schools and other learning institutions also play a significant role in improving the well-being of children.

They tend to provide a well-structured life for children with a good balance of activities that occupy them and keep them proactive.

“When my kids are in school, they appear to have a well-rounded life that makes them thrive. There is a time set aside for learning, playing with friends, engaging in sports and even having meals,” says Mercy, who is a mother of three children aged 11, 13 and 15, respectively.

“Even when they come back home in the evenings, the school programme usually gives us some form of an outline for managing them.For instance, they know that after bathing and having an evening snack, they need to do their homework, have time for personal study and sleep early so they can be fresh for school the next day.”

Mercy says she has been struggling to find ways to keep her children busy and fulfilled while at home during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“Revising their notes the whole day makes them tired. So I allow them to break the monotony with Internet video games, movies or television programmes in the afternoons. But that doesn’t seem to be enough as they keep complaining that they are bored, tired and stressed. And they look sad most times.”

For parents facing such hurdles, health experts recommend establishing a productive routine to help occupy the child.

While doing this, parents are urged to minimise the amount of time children spend entertaining themselves through television sets and other electronic gadgets.

A new study published in the Preventive Medicine Journal has found that teens have better mental health when they spend more time taking part in extracurricular activities like sports and art, and less time in front of screens.

According to the research, which was conducted by scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC), spending less than two hours per day on recreational screen time such as browsing the Internet, playing video games or using social media is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction and optimism; and lower levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Similarly, the study found that extracurricular participation was associated with better mental health outcomes.

“Although we conducted this study before the Covid-19 pandemic, the findings are especially relevant now as teens may be spending more time in front of screens, during their free time if access to extracurricular activities like sports and arts programmes is restricted due to Covid-19,” said Eva Oberle, the lead author of the study and assistant professor at the UBC School of Population and Public Health.

“Our findings highlight extracurricular activities as an asset for teens’ mental well-being. Finding safe ways for children and teens to continue to participate in these activities during current times may be a way to reduce screen time and promote mental health and well-being.”

Data for the new study was drawn from a population-level survey involving 28,712 Grade Seven students from 365 schools. The researchers examined recreational screen time (such as playing video games, watching TV and browsing the Internet) as well as participating in outdoor extracurricular activities like sport and art programmes after school. They then compared its association with positive and negative mental health indicators.

“We do know that some forms of screen time can be beneficial, like maintaining connections with friends and family members online if we cannot see them in person, but there are other types of screen time that can be quite harmful,” said Oberle.

Compared with adults, children are less likely to catch and spread the coronavirus disease.

But health experts note that being in close contact with infected people for long periods increases their risk. And this can be influenced by the type of sports children play, as well as the setting in which the activities take place.

It is thus advisable for children to play in smaller groups and pick sports like tennis, baseball or jogging, as opposed to group sports such as basketball or football that involve a lot of close contact.

Since good airflow reduces the risk of infection, these group sports are best done outdoors.

Spending time in nature as a family also holds additional mental health benefits for children. This can be done through leisurely walks or cycling. Increased time in nature exploration also boosts learning outcomes by promoting more curiosity, creativity and critical thinking in children.

All these outdoor activities need to be done with strict adherence Covid-19 prevention guidelines such as mask-wearing, washing hands with soap and water or cleaning them with a sanitiser during and after the adventure.

Aside from sports, indoor family activities that challenge the mind, such as playing scrabble, which helps in language mastery or monopoly that can impart financial literacy lessons to children can also come in handy.

Encouraging children to embrace art can also go a long way in helping them cope with mental strain caused by the pandemic. Through art, children can use colours, movements and other expressive techniques to be in touch with their inner feelings and become peaceful during difficult moments.

Aside from painting drawing or colouring, other expressive forms of art include writing, singing, dancing and playing musical instruments.

Children could also learn or hone skills in cooking, baking, knitting, sewing, pottery or gardening.