Just like infection with Covid19 has been shown to impact different people in different ways, its associated societal limitations have impacted everyone differently. Many parents of pre-school and school-age children have been reaching out to me regarding their anxieties about the re-opening of society and schools. The anxiety is understandable and justified.
Infection numbers are climbing; while we may have terrific vaccination figures for the vulnerable, our children (those under 12 years of age) are not vaccinated and are now increasingly likely to be exposed to the virus. While undeniably unpleasant and variably challenging, the relative certainty of prolonged school closures and community lockdowns is preferable to the uncertainty of possible virus exposure and snap school closures, for some.
For years we have expressly told children that schools, shopping centres and playgrounds are closed ‘because of covid.’ An understandable reaction from a child is to think that covid lurks in these places and they are thus unsafe. Now we are ostensibly flipping our stance and telling them to attend school, parties and sports; in a child’s shoes, this indeed seems daunting. Today, there are two sets of emotions that need tending to: a child’s and a parent’s.
Children need unconditional love and support in the home environment. They need to imbibe your excitement about the reopening of society. Be explicit with your explaining that children are mostly not vulnerable like the elderly, and with great vaccination rates, we can safely return to our pre-pandemic activities, albeit modified. Speak to your children about their fears; they may not mirror your assumptions.
Give them autonomy whenever possible – let them choose their lunchbox contents, their extra-curricular activities and their play-dates. Practice mindfulness and meditation multiple times a day and importantly, before bed. Avoid extraneous negativity and political commentary within their earshot. Be positive, prioritise good sleep, clean eating and plenty of physical exercise.
Next – focus on your own wellbeing. Parents should not be afraid to acknowledge how challenging this situation continues to be, as we morph from absolute closure to cautious reopening. Take time for your own mindfulness, meditation, exercise and sleep. Discuss your concerns with friends, family, teachers and community leaders. Avoid judgement of others’ actions and opinions and trust that every parent you know simply wants what is best for their children.
With regard to viral exposure… My approach is simple and straightforward. If you are planning to visit a family-member or friend socially, ensure that all family members are well and asymptomatic. A quick and casual conversation prior to gathering, that asks the same of your acquaintances is perfectly reasonable; far more so now, than this conversation may have seemed 2 years ago! Rapid antigen tests provide extra layers of certainty when visiting vulnerable people, like the elderly or immunocompromised.
The same applies for parents of newborns, who are particularly concerned when it comes to leaving the house in the current climate. Newborns are vulnerable due to their young age and newly developing immune systems, yet they do not need to be cocooned in their homes for fear of viral exposure. Common sense prevails, just as it has since Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis first discovered that washing his hands between patients dramatically reduced hospital deaths rates, back in the 19th century.
Teach and practice good hand hygiene and symptom etiquette, avoid symptomatic people and don’t socialise your children or send them to school/day-care if they have a fever and/or illness symptom. Common sense prevails.
Most parents of newborns were not afraid of leaving the house in 2019. They didn’t fear respiratory syncytial virus, rhinovirus or human metapneumovirus. Yet these viruses are common causes ofbronchiolitis, the most frequent cause of hospitalisation for infants under 6 months of age. Almost 15,000 children are admitted to Australian hospitals with bronchiolitis each year, accounting for over half of all admissions for children under the age of 12 months. One of the few positives that arose from this global pandemic has been the virus’ discrimination, largely leaving young children unharmed and asymptomatic. While Covid19 has proven not to bejust another virus,in some ways with children – it can be treated as such. Common sense should prevail.
If other, less infamous viruses didn’t stop parents from leaving their homes in 2019 – it shouldn’t stop them now. If anything, with universal improvements in microbiological protection, prevalent hand-sanitiser and increased global awareness about infection minimisation, it’s probably safer to leave the house today than it was back then.
A note on vaccinations…
Vaccines are highly topical at the moment and it’s important that we encourage this conversation, without judgment or fear. Just like we never asked visitors for their vaccination status before allowing them a cuddle with a newborn two years ago, parents should feel completely comfortable allowing family and friends to visit and interact with their baby, provided they are asymptomatic and don’t have unwell primary contacts. If a grandparent or other carer will be spending a large amount of time with your baby, they should receive a whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine booster - if they have not had a booster in the last 10 years - because immunity to pertussis wanes over time, and pertussis is particularly dangerous for young babies.
If you and your family feel strongly about certain vaccines, you have every right to make your own choices. I urge open, courteous conversations with particular focus on a happy, settled baby and recovering mother.