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How Can Parents Keep Their Kids Involved During A Pandemic?

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(AP Photo/Matt York)

Friends gather to play volleyball at a local park Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Gilbert, Ariz.

Parents and guardians are fighting to keep to kids healthy and happy, during a time when activity is limited. With the lack of school sports, clubs, and social activity. How are kids able to express themselves while still being safe?

Brian Labus is an epidemiologist and an associate professor at UNLV's School of Public Health. He said the difficulty with organized sports isn't the interaction of the kids on the field.

"Sports don't happen in isolation either that's the problem," Labus said, "You can't just think about what happens on the field. It's all the things that go on around that."

Some leagues have restricted parents from watching in the stands or beside the field, but Labus noted not all sports are doing that. His biggest concern is tournaments where people from states gather. 

"You have large tournaments still happening with teams coming from all over the country. So there are all the risks that come along with travel and hotel stays and large groups of people attending these events," he said, "So, it's not just the kids on the field we have to think about. It's that kind of entire support structure around them."

Labus said there is a lot of risk with the sports activities that are going on, especially because of the tournaments. He is less concerned about a small group of kids practicing together or even holding a game.

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He also said it depends on the sport. For example, it is very easy to keep tennis players apart, but much more difficult for full-contact football players.

Patricia Mateo is the director of operations for Silver State Soccer League. She said her league worked with the governor's office to establish safety protocols when sports leagues were allowed to start again.

At first, no spectators were allowed at the games, but that restriction was starting to ease until the second wave in the late fall started.

"We are doing everything we can," Mateo said, "Nothing is going to be 100 percent, but I think we all feel, including the governor, that it was important that the kids get out and get some exercise and social interaction."

In the Silver State Soccer League, each team must have a safety officer that makes sure everyone is following the safety protocols like wearing masks and disinfecting the ball.

Mateo said so far they haven't had any disagreements over wearing masks or social distancing.

"We've enforced the idea that they have to meet these protocols because we don't want the sport to be taken away from us right now," she said, "We were thrilled that it came back, and we were able to get back on the field. So everybody has been taking it pretty seriously."

Mateo said that while there is some contact in soccer it is not as much as other sports like football, but in the end, the rewards of having kids play outweigh the risks. 

It is not just sports, but arts programs that have also been limited by the pandemic. Everything from theatre to dance programs have had to dramatically change.

China Hudson is a community organizer and dance instructor at the West Las Vegas Cultural Arts Center and the Pearson Community Center.

At the start of the pandemic, the center had to close, but after several months, Hudson and her colleagues decided to restart dance classes in the park behind the center.

"For the month of August and September, we decided to beat the heat and just kind of tough it out for the young people," she said, "The word got out and we were able to head over to a park. It was outside. It was enough room for everyone to socially distance, and we committed to being there every Saturday for two hours teaching free dance classes for the community."

It didn't take long for parents to come to the park with the students to watch - socially distanced from each other. Hudson said even the transient people living in the park started to save the spot for them. 

"It became a real community event for two months," she said.

The teachers specialize in African and modern dance, which meant the dancers didn't have to touch. 

She said the first dance class in the park the gratitude of the young dancers could be seen on their faces.

"The look of them pulling up in the parking lot. Their eyes were big," she said, "The smiles were great. They were grateful to be out. They were grateful to move their bodies. We're community people. We need one another."

Now, the center has reopened its classes with a limit of ten students per class. 

Hudson said the dancers she works with are having a difficult time.

"They are having a hard time, especially the young people who focus on dance for their college entrance," she said, "A lot of people dance has saved them - it saved me - it has saved numerous young people in the past and it will continue to save young people. The Arts - dance, music and theater is the gateway for people to leave their homes and their communities and travel whether it be on tour or to college."

She said there is only so much a dance instructor can do virtually. There needs to be one on one interaction. But she believes kids are resilient, and they find a way.

Megan Freeman is a clinical and policy advisor for Nevada's Department of Health and Human Services. She also serves on the department's COVID-19 Behavioral Health Advisory.

She said when we talk about a child's inability to participate in activities we're really talking about that child's mental health and his or her development.

"Play is incredibly for children during their childhood," she said, "It's an important part of developmental milestones. They receive cognitive and social benefits from playing and interacting with other children."

She said right now children are experiencing isolation and loneliness, which is impacting their mental health and development.

While some kids are able to interact with friends over messaging or chat apps, Freeman said that is not the same, especially for teenagers who are missing key interactions with peers and romantic partners.

Freeman said parents can help offset the loneliness and isolation by helping their children interact virtually with trusted adults like family, coaches or a religious leader.

She also suggests parents do their best to carve out one-on-one time with their children.

"That can be really hard right now," she said, "I'm a parent. I know. I can relate. Work seems extra stressful right now. We're all kind of stretched but it's really important to make that one-on-one time for your child."

She said even if it's five or 10 minutes, it can be helpful.

Another suggestion, if you have another family that you know has been following guidelines an outdoor playdate will work. 

Pamela Goldberg is a marriage and family therapist and the creating of a program that works to teach children the soft skills that help them improve their emotional intelligence.

Skills like mood control, healthy peer connections, appropriate expression of feelings, setting boundaries and understanding social interactions are all important skills that kids often learn from parents but also from teachers, coaches, and friends.

She said missing school and other activities means kids don't get a chance to practice some of those important skills in real life.

"Kids are in a bubble at home. There are with parents at home working. Kids are in their bedrooms on their tablets for so much time, and they get easily frustrated. And it just gets worse as time goes on," 

If you are concerned about your child’s behavior or mental health, please contact your pediatrician or call the Children’s Mobile Crisis Team at 702-486-5282 (statewide, available 24/7). You can also access tools from the Nevada Resilience Project and Mentalhealth.gov

Guests

Pamela M. Goldberg, Marriage and Family Therapist; Patricia Mateo, Director of Operations, Silver State Soccer League; Brian Labus, Epidemiologist, UNLV’s School of Public Health; Megan Freeman, Clinical and Policy Advisor, Nevada Department of Health and Human Services; China Hudson, Community Organizer and Dance Instructor, West Las Vegas Cultural Arts Center and Pearson Community Center.

 

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