Maintaining Healthy Habits in a Post-Pandemic World
Over the past three years of the COVID-19 pandemic, all families grappled with managing a new normal and adapting to evolving changes in daily life. We rearranged schedules and living spaces, found creative ways to utilize limited resources, and struggled with connecting online. We also learned to appreciate small acts of kindness and seeing people in-person. Parents and teachers developed a different kind of partnership, one more cognizant of minimizing health risks and disease transmission. Public health agencies set protocols and standards, and we did our level best to maintain safe environments for our children.
Social distancing requirements and mask mandates have now been lifted in many public spaces, and most countries no longer require visitors to test or quarantine upon arrival. While COVID-19 is no longer considered a global emergency, it remains an ongoing public health challenge, particularly for those who are immunocompromised. During the school year, the onus to enforce safety guidelines on our children in public spaces fell largely on teachers. Now that the school year has ended, what can parents do to maintain healthy habits during the summer?
The period of transition between a regular school schedule and establishing a summer routine is the perfect time to revisit basic hygiene and healthy lifestyle practices with your children. Remember when we sang “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” or “Happy Birthday” twice to make sure we washed our hands for a whole 20 seconds? Well, some of us preferred to hum the chorus of Beyonce’s “Love on Top,” “Let It Go” from Frozen, or “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. How many of us still do this? Let’s get back to regular, thorough hand washing! Or use hand sanitizer in a pinch. Review coughing and sneezing into the elbow and throwing away used tissues immediately. We may not have to wear protective face coverings as much, but when we do, check that they fit properly. And we can agree that it’s still a good idea to keep our hands off faces and fingers out of mouths, right?
Children are generally more willing to help keep spaces neat and tidy in the classroom vs. at home because the expectations are often more clear. During the normal course of your day, incorporate clean-up processes into your daily routine similar to those used at your child’s school. As they move from one activity to another, remind them to return items to their designated spaces, wipe down surfaces, and generally leave a space as they found it. It may help to schedule clean-up times, right before naptime or before they start getting ready for bed. Reinforce the sense of accomplishment your child feels when they contribute to keeping your shared space clean and safe.
Is your child attending summer camp, participating in sports, or going to events at the local community center? Look up the safety guidelines in place, and if you have concerns, discuss them with teachers, caretakers, coaches, and program directors. Make sure your child knows what to expect before your visit. If they are prepared to don a mask or practice social distancing during a specific activity, it becomes less of an issue when the time comes.
Lest we forget, children thrive on structure and consistency. Try to get up and get dressed at the same time every day, and maintain your regular mealtimes. Model and promote the basic tenets of healthy living to protect your immune system:
Eat Well - A healthy diet provides a defense against illness, reduces stress, and helps your body perform at peak performance levels. Shop your local market for seasonal produce and explore new summer recipes.
Stay Hydrated - Drinking water helps rid your body of toxins, aids blood circulation, improves memory and enables your brain to produce hormones that regulate sleep. Freeze small pieces of fruit in ice cubes or infuse your water with berries, cucumber, lemon, or mint for a refreshing summer treat.
Get Moving - Regular exercise increases your immunity to certain illnesses and reduces stress hormones, decreasing your susceptibility to disease. Take advantage of warm summer days to take a hike, ride a bike, go swimming, or play tennis.
Go Outside - Spending time out in the sun increases your vitamin D, which strengthens your immune system, reduces inflammation, and contributes to building strong bones. Spending at least 20 minutes outside every day is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your overall mental and physical health.
Sleep - Immune health is affected by both the length and quality of your sleep. When you do not get enough sleep, infection-fighting antibodies are reduced, making you more vulnerable to illness. Longer summer days and higher temperatures can have an adverse effect on your sleep cycle. Decrease your exposure to light in the evening hours to signal your body to prepare for sleep, and open a window or use a fan to lower the temperature in your room.
It could take years of study before we understand the full scope of the effects this pandemic has on our children, but we know that a healthy immune system can help withstand an attack of disease-causing germs while protecting healthy tissues. Talk about the value of resilience! This summer, teach your children that healthy living provides the best foundation to flourish in a post-pandemic world. With your support and guidance, they will be fully equipped to take on their next period of transition when they return to school in the fall.