By: Yvonne D. Anderson, LCSW, CADC, CODP II, Bilingual Licensed Clinical Social Worker
The current pandemic of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a difficult time for everyone and leaves a lot of unanswered questions, especially for children. The following short stories are great resources to bring some clarity and comfort to young children while their normal routines are disrupted. The stories below vary in length and detail ranging from very short to slightly more detailed. I hope you find a story or two that will be helpful for your specific child’s needs!
This short story answers some of the many questions young children may be having about Covid-19 and why their normal routines are so different. A simple breakdown of social distancing and safety procedures are talked about to help young children understand why certain actions are in place. Overall the story is informative, positive, easy to read, and is a great resource to calm uncertainty and confusion for children. When printed out, the book doubles as a coloring book and includes a page for parent’s and children to write out a simple schedule.
What is the coronavirus, and why is everyone talking about it?
Engagingly illustrated by Axel Scheffler, this approachable and timely book helps answer these questions and many more, providing children aged 5-10 and their parents with clear and accessible explanations about COVID-19 and its effects – both from a health perspective and the impact it has on a family’s day-to-day life.
With input from expert consultant Professor Graham Medley of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, as well as advice from teachers and child psychologists, this is a practical and informative resource to help explain the changes we are currently all experiencing.
Summary from the author: I have created this short book to support and reassure our children, under the age of 7, regarding COVID-19. This book is an invitation for families to discuss the full range of emotions arising from the current situation. It is important to point out that this resource does not seek to be a source of scientific information, but rather a tool based on fantasy. My recommendation is to print this material so children can draw on it. Remember that emotions are processed through repetitive play and stories read multiple times. Share COVIBOOK and help ease kiddo’s anxiety all over the world.
This book was a project developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Reference Group on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings (IASC MHPSS RG). The project was supported by global, regional and country based experts from Member Agencies of the IASC MHPSS RG, in addition to parents, caregivers, teach-ers and children in 104 countries. A global survey was distributed in Arabic, English, Italian, French and Spanish to assess children’s mental health and psychosocial needs during the COVID-19 outbreak. A framework of topics to be addressed through the story was developed using the survey results. The book was shared through storytelling to children in several countries affected by COVID-19. Feedback from children, parents and caregivers was then used to review and update the story.
Over 1,700 children, parents, caregivers and teachers from around the world took the time to share how they were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. A big thank you to these children, their parents, caregivers and teachers for completing the surveys and influencing this story. This is a story developed for and by children around the world.
Also, please don’t hesitate to reach out to anyone in our Social Services department if you and/ or your family need support, resources, etc. We are happy to help. Our staff completes comprehensive assessments to pinpoint what a child and family need to be able to succeed. Working with the entire family, our staff can identify each child’s unique strengths and challenges and then tailor a treatment plan to meet those needs.
By: Kelly Nesbitt, MOT, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist
Response to Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Kids are finishing up the school year, you are still going to work/working remotely, running your home, and keeping your kids entertained during their summer! All this change can be very disorienting and stressful for everyone. I wanted to put together a list of some suggestions that are “occupational therapist-approved” to help you navigate staying sane, keeping a good routine, carving out “family time”, and receiving therapy services remotely while being stuck inside the house!
Probably the largest disruption to all of us at this time is that all of our daily routines are completely changed! Daily routines help provide structure to our lives, whether you are a child or an adult. Research by Ruth Segal, OTD and Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at New York University, reports that daily routines give families as sense of identity, organization, and provide socialization opportunities (Segal, 2004). Our kids are used to having a predictable day involving school, extra curriculars, play dates, and therapy appointments which help them organize their days and have meaningful interactions with family and friends. With this change to e-learning and staying home, it’s completely understandable that kids may feel stressed, anxious, and aimless without their routines. This stress may be more exacerbated for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Children with ASD can be heavily reliant upon predictability and routine, which have been thrown off because of the Coronavirus. For both neurotypical and children with ASD alike, using visual schedules, timers, and social stories may be good techniques to help your child cope with a new routine.
Visual schedules can be as complex or simple as you need; they can be simple drawings on a piece of paper, an excel spreadsheet, or printed words/pictures from an online generator. For some of my clients, they are comforted and reassured when I draw 3 pictures of activities we are going to do in OT.
Honestly, whatever works for your kid and helps them feel organized is correct. Whatever way you decide to create a visual schedule, it’s important to build in both structured and unstructured time for your children. They should have time built in for their academic work for school as well as a few hours for play time that is completely unstructured. Some kids may want to put a sticker next to an activity they completed, erase it on the whiteboard, cross it out, or just put a checkmark next to it. The sky’s the limit! Below are some examples of visual schedules and who it may be appropriate for:
(Written schedule with times, appropriate for older elementary children who can tell time)
(visual picture or words, as they are able to read. You can draw your own pictures or just print some off for younger children who cannot read.)
In conjunction with visual schedules, it can be helpful to utilize timers (sandtimers, timer on the microwave, on your iPhone, etc.) to help your children keep organized. The timer you use will have to be dependent upon your own child’s level of development as well as what they personally need to feel supported. Apps you can use:
Children’s Countdown App:Great, free time app on smart phones that shows a picture countdown on the screen. The coundtown clock can be set for any amount of time and children do not need to understand how to tell time or have understanding of numbers to comprehend it.
Timed It! App: App for older children in which you can put in personalized tasks in minute increments and the app will help the child count down until they need to move on to the next task.
Timer on smart phone: just about all smart phones have a “clock” application in which there are capabilities for setting a timer. This would be good for older children who have a better sense of what an hour, minute, second is. Although, some younger children will understand the concept that they are only “all done” when the timer makes a sound.
For some children with ASD, social stories are a good way to help explain why their routine has changed or what the “story” of their day. Social stories are third person stories in which the child is the main character and different themes can be explored. Ask an Occupational or Speech therapists for help creating a social story, if needed.
In this uncertain time, it’s important to have some outlets for both you and your children to decompress and still have fun together. Building in sensory activities into your daily routine will help your child remain calm and regulated throughout the day.
Physical Activities and Heavy Work
Taking movement breaks throughout your day will help both you and your child stay sane while you are cooped up at the house. Occupational therapists often discuss the benefits of heavy work and how this push, pull, or carry input (or proprioceptive input) to the muscles and joints has a regulating and calming affect. There are a multitude of heavy work activities you can do indoors. Such as:
Build a pillow fort with blankets, pillows & stuffed animals
Pull siblings on the hardwood floor while they are sitting or laying on a blanket
Do animal walk races across the room (bear walk, frog hop, crab walk, etc. Make up your own silly walk!)
Jumping Jacks or jump on a trampoline
Pull siblings in the wagon around the block
Have a wall push-up competition and find out who is the strongest in your house
Play towel tug-of-war
Plant flowers in the backyard or help with yard work (using little shovel, pull weeds, dig in the dirt)
My helpful tip to parents is, if the activity includes pushing, pulling, or carrying something; that’s heavy work! Get creative and come up with your own ideas!
Family Game Night/Nightly Mealtime Tradition
Keeping special family routines will be important to make sure kids feel safe and supported when everyone is kind of stressed. Set aside time in your routine where you can all sit down and have a meal together with the television off. A family tradition at my house growing up was to play “Pot Boils Over” where one member of the family starts a silly story and after a few sentences says “pot boils over” and “passes” the story-telling to another family member to add on as they please. It’s a simple game that gets all family members involved, laughing, and thinking creatively.
Another mealtime routine I have heard of, is going around and saying one thing each family member is thankful for, what the best part of their day was, share a good joke, etc. This is also a great time for families to all sit down together and have game nights. You are going to be all home together, why not build some special memories and encourage social learning. Here are a few favorite games that can be played with multiple people, for different ages:
Games for younger children: Shoots and Ladders, Simon Says, Twister (help them with right and left), Follow the Leader, Go fish, Memory (match pictures by turning over cards), Jenga, Kerplunk
Games for Older children: Twister, Uno (each color you play can correspond to a fun activity such as “Make up your Own Dance Move” or “Do 2 Pushups”), Clue, Scrabble and Scrabble Junior, Telestrations (like telephone, but with drawing pictures), Apples to Apples, do a 200+ piece puzzle as a family, Guess Who?
I am personally feeling inundated by COVID-19 news and I can get overwhelmed quickly, so I can imagine you and your children are feeling the same. I think it’s healthy to be aware of the evolving situation and current precautions, however it’s beneficial to “unplug” every once and a while when you are at home with your kids. Your children are very perceptive and can pick up on your stress and anxiety as they read your non-verbal cues and affect. Young children especially need their parents to “co regulate,” meaning they read your affect, mood, facial expressions and adjust their own regulation accordingly. If you exude a calm, cool, collected attitude when they are anxious, this will help them calm down and feel secure.
Therefore it’s important to turn off the news at some point and focus on having quality and uninterrupted play time with your kids. Do finger painting, make a fort out of blankets, play board games, read stories by flashlight, sit together and do a puzzle or color! Even just being available to your children, not distracted by technology or work, can be extremely beneficial to your kids.
As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the CDC also recommends to take time to pause and breath during stress. Notice How you Feel. Take Breaks. Make time to sleep and exercise. Reach out and stay connected. Seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed or feeling unsafe. If you or your child needs help, our social work team can help.
COVID-19 does not have to stop your child’s progress toward their goals! Your child can still receive therapy services remotely via tele-therapy. Tele-therapy is a unique service delivery method in which your friendly Easterseals therapist will arrange a time and will send you a link via the Microsoft Teams app. From there, you just click on the link at your pre-arranged appointment time and you can have a video call with your therapist. Your therapist can then work on therapy goals with your child with you, the parent, being the therapist’s “hands” in the session. An occupational therapist will help coach you through appropriate handling techniques, sensory strategies, exercises, fine motor activities, feeding session and more remotely!
All our therapists adopted this technology so your child will continually receive services with minimal interruption. It is our hope to keep providing exceptional therapy services to all of our clients during this difficult time. If you have any questions or concerns regarding tele-therapy, please reach out to one of your therapists or contact us at 630.620.4433.
Also stay tuned to our blog for more resources and tips from our therapists on helping families cope with increased time at home during COVID especially during the summer.
Segal, R. (2004). Family routines and rituals: A context for occupational therapy interventions. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58, 499–508.
Physical fitness is important for everyone, including children and adolescents with developmental disabilities. Running is a great weight-bearing aerobic activity. It promotes cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, bone health, lower extremity strength and endurance, symmetry of movement in both upper and lower extremities, and emotional regulation. Wheelchair racing promotes cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, upper extremity strength and endurance, and upper body symmetry. These are all areas that children with developmental delays and disabilities can improve on.
Our community program, Hustle for Your Health, helps children reach their fitness goals. Each week includes an outdoor aerobic activity in the form of running and walking or wheelchair propulsion, basic strengthening exercises, and stretching to cool-down. At the end of the program, children will be prepared to complete our Run for the Kids: Superhero Hustle to run or walk a 5k distance and are encouraged to participate in other local races too.
I have heard from countless families that are amazed at their child’s commitment to health during and after the 10-week program. Below, I share some tips to help all children grow their enthusiasm for wellness.
Growing a Child’s Love of Physical Fitness
Make it fun. Choose activities your kids like. Some kids enjoy walking, running, and biking, but others may get more out of obstacle courses, climbing trees, hopscotch, rollerblading, dancing or a game of kickball in the yard. The goal is to promote a love of movement.
Variety is the spice of life. To prevent boredom, change things up. Tour the neighborhood using different modes of transport – walking, scootering, biking, skating; you can even make a walk feel different by bringing a ball to dribble while walking or by challenging your child to run to the next tree, skip to the next fire hydrant, leap across the next driveway, etc.
When building endurance, add in activities for “active rest.” Lengthen a jog or a bike ride by bringing along a frisbee so that you can take a break in the middle of your run/ride to toss a frisbee before heading back home. Your child will have maintained being active for a longer period of time and be able to handle a longer distance with a built-in break.
Stuck inside? Get your body moving by:
Making up a dance routine.
Setting up an indoor obstacle course
Creating movement themed minute challenges. How many times can you…. in a minute?
I.E: Run up and down the stairs, do sit-ups, do jumping jacks, push a basket of laundry across a room, run laps throughout your house.
Growing your child’s fitness and love for activities like running, biking or yoga, has a positive impact on their overall body health but also improves attention, mood and more. But one of the biggest factors in growing a child’s fitness was parent modeling according to a recent study published in the Disability and Health Journal. Caregivers and parents that model physical activity helped encourage their children to be active and created a supportive environment for children with developmental delays and disabilities. The study also mentions that starting this early, around preschool age, takes advantage of the fact that younger children are already spending significant time watching and copying parents.
During the State of Illinois’ stay-at-home order, children have more opportunities to spend time with their caregivers and model their activities. There are plenty of fitness activities the family can do together. Our annual Run for the Kids: Superhero Hustle helps many children at Easterseals make a goal to cross the finish line with their first independent steps, with a walker, or after reaching a new distance. Their goals help inspire other family members to join in their training and reach new levels of health. The new Superhero Hustle date is August 1, which gives participants three months to work on a new wellness goal.
Our goal is to help you reach yours! Set your intention for the next 3 months. What will your family accomplish by August 1? Will you run a 5K for the first time? Do 100 jumping jacks? Start each day with mindfulness and yoga? Tell us! To get started:
Share your progress with family and friends and encourage their support
Make plans to “cross the finish line” on August 1
One of my personal goals as a physical therapist for children with developmental delays and disabilities is to not only help improve their physical health but the entire families. Our Run for the Kids and Bike for the Kids events are opportunities to grow our family’s fitness with a very supportive community group.