13 tips for protecting your child against the coronavirus, according to a pediatrician

·8 min read
school bus
school bus

Associated Press

Nearly 97,000 people have been infected with the novel coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19, and more than 3,300 people have died worldwide. There have been confirmed cases in Washington, California, New Hampshire, and New York.

Parents are understandably worried, considering that children spend lots of time in public places (school and public play spaces) and may not have the best handwashing practices. Those concerns are growing even though it appears children may be less susceptible to developing COVID-19 and dying from it.

Dr. Kelly Fradin, a New York City-based pediatrician and mother of two, has urged families to stay calm, noting that she hasn't disrupted her own routine and continues to take the subway to and from work.

Fradin suggests parents take simple and reasonable precautions, including reminding children to frequently wash their hands, having them avoid shaking hands, and letting them spend more time playing outside.

Here are Fradin's 13 science-backed tips for parents to follow in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

Continue to go about your daily life to the best of your ability 

In 80% of cases, coronavirus diagnoses are mild. Because of the relatively low risk for most people, Fradin said families should continue living their lives as they've been, assuming their community hasn't been instructed otherwise. That means continuing to go to school and hang out with friends.

Teach — and practice — good hand hygiene

Washing hands
To protect against the coronavirus, everyone should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.


There are still many unknowns about the novel coronavirus and how it spreads. But experts and public health officials agree that practicing good hygiene is critical.

Those measures include not touching your eyes, mouth, or nose with unwashed hands and covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze.

It also includes effectively washing your hands —  something children struggle to get right, since they may get bored or not understand the importance of the practice. Most adults have a hard time with it, too.

Make sure children wash their hands when they come home, after using the restroom, and before eating, Fradin said. They should wash with soap and water for at 20 seconds, which is about the duration of two rounds of "Happy Birthday."

Setting a timer on a phone or buying one you can set by the sink may help encourage your child to get through the process.

Don't depend on hand sanitizer alone

hand sanitizer
Stores across the US are running low on hand sanitizer, but it's not as effective as soap and water.


Hand sanitizer isn't as effective as washing hands wih soap and water, and may not even get all the visible dirt off a child's hands, let alone all the germs. Products like Purell also only work if they dry completely, which children may not be patient enough to wait for, Fradin said.

Rather than relying on Purell before having a snack on-the-go, Fradin recommends children wait until they get home to eat so they can wash properly. But if a child needs some fuel right after school and there's no sink around, the mom of two agrees that hand sanitizer is the way to go. (Don't stress if your local store is out of hand sanitizer. You can make your own).

Even children need to be reminded to avoid shaking hands

In an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus, places of worship and businesses have banned the practice of handshaking. It might not seem necessary to remind children to avoid this type of greeting, but handshaking happens at schools among young children, too. Some principals and teachers also greet students with the formality, Fradin noted.

Stock up on a month's worth of essentials, including diapers, medications, and wipes

In the case of a two-week quarantine, or if there are shortages of essential supplies, Fradin recommends that parents stock up on a month's worth of crucial items. That includes 30 day's worth of diapers, wipes, and over-the-counter medications such as Motrin and Tylenol. Families should also fill their medicine cabinets with prescription medications and medical supplies, including inhalers for asthma.

Also load up on two week's worth of food and buy items that have a long shelf life, like pasta and frozen fruits and vegetables. Cook and freeze items that will last for a while, like meatballs and soups.

Shoes and bags should go by the door

shoes front door
shoes front door


At any point during the year, and especially now, Fradin encourages parents to have their children remove their shoes when they come and leave them by the front door since they can carry in bacteria from the outside. The same rule applies to backpacks and bags that have likely touched the ground.

Encourage children to change their clothes

The likelihood a child's clothing carrying an infection is still "relatively low," Fradin said, but having your child change out of what they wore to school and into something fresh and clean is an easy precaution to take. Fradin said she, herself, changes out of her work clothes as soon as she gets home since she's exposed to sick children throughout the day.

Be mindful of high-risk family members

Those most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus are older people and those with other medical conditions. As a result, Fradin recommends taking extra precautions with more at-risk family members.

Reducing contact, washing hands more frequently, and not hugging or kissing can help protect those who may have a greater chance of developing the coronavirus, and related complications.

Get moving outdoors with your kids to boost your immune systems

child playing
child playing

NurPhoto / Contributor/ Getty Images

To reduce anxiety, promote health, and to just distract from the disconcerting news, Fradin recommends families prioritize outdoor play. Exercise in general improves immune function. Playing and exercising outside reduces exposure to the germs found in gyms and indoor play areas, though parents do still need to be mindful of surfaces in playgrounds.

Consider avoiding highly-trafficked places


NurPhoto / Contributor/ Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control has warned that the novel coronavirus spreads through the air in tiny droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. The virus spreads most easily when people are within six feet of one another.

In areas where there have been confirmed cases, parents might consider avoiding highly trafficked public spaces, like libraries and malls, in areas that have confirmed cases, Fradin said.

Continuously clean your home, especially areas that get heavy use

Clorox and bleach wipes
Clorox and bleach wipes

Jeff Greenberg / Contributor / Getty Images

It's crucial for families to thoroughly clean high-use areas of the home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The refrigerator door, staircase railings, tablets, phones, and toys are some of the most-touched places in the home.

To maximize effectiveness, leave the surface wet for at least 15 to 30 seconds.

Don't wear a mask unless you're sick

According to the CDC, face masks are only helpful for people who are sick (in order to prevent further infection) and people who are caring for someone who is ill. People who don't know how to wear masks properly are more likely to touch their faces, which can increase virus spread.

Plus, a shortage of masks will become a public health issue if healthcare workers don't have enough of them. The US currently needs at least 300 million face masks for medical workers to effectively fight the coronavirus.

Don't spend all of your time reading the news

Constantly reading updates about the health crisis can lead to heightened anxiety and panic. Fradin recommends that families choose a time at night when they're going to disconnect from the internet and spend time talking about other topics and engaging in fun activities.

"At some point," Fradin said, "we just have to trust that there are people working very hard to decrease the impact of the virus. There are wonderful hospitals and doctors who will take great care of us."

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