On a good day, parenting is a step into the unknown, but during a pandemic, there are infinitely more questions about the business of raising children. Perhaps no one knows kids and parenting better than Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician, founder of Happiest Baby, creator of the SNOO, and author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block. Karp has decades of experience working through life's mysteries with moms and dads, and sat down to answer parents' most pressing questions about kids and coronavirus in a video series for Romper that you can watch on Romper's Instagram.
From whether it's time to visit the grandparents, to whether children with asthma are more suspectible to the virus, he addressed the most commonly asked questions we have seen at Romper.
Here, though, are his top tips on parenting through the pandemic.
Children appear to be less susceptible. Karp wants us to know that optimism we have about our children right now is backed by science.
"One glimmer of sunshine in this whole COVID-19 disaster is that children and infants seem much less susceptible to the virus than adults," he says. "We're really happy to say that it's less severe in young children." He warns, however, that parents should be mindful of preexisting conditions, such as asthma, that are known to increase one's risk of serious illness with COVID-19. If your child does has asthma, Karp recommends making sure there's ample medication in the house, just in case the pharmacy runs out or is closed, and taking that medication as prescribed so that, in the event of illness, your child's lungs are in the best health possible.
And while he notes that mother to fetus transmission appears to be uncommon, newborns' underdeveloped immune systems are always a point of concern, pandemics not withstanding, so parents should be protective of new babies. We also must be careful to protect older members of our family, such as our kid's grandparents.
You should postpone that trip to Grandma and Grandpa's. "The scary thing we know now is folks over 60 have a higher risk for serious illness with COVID-19," he says. As such, physical visits will have to wait for the foreseeable future. "You don't want to be exposing grandparents to that situation."
Fortunately we have technology on our side. So while FaceTime and Zoom may not be as good as a cuddle with Mimi and Papa, it's a comforting substitute until risks are limited.
There are helpful ways to deal with your child's outbursts during quarantine. While physical health is probably parent's primary concern right now, Dr. Karp acknowledges that many parents may also be challenged by their child's emotional outbursts. "It's hard enough when you have school-aged children at home," says Karp, "but it's super hard when you have toddlers at home, [children] anywhere from 8 months to 4, 5, 6 years of age."
And who's to blame them? They're out of their routine, they're sensing stress all around them, and even under the best of circumstances they're, to quote Karp "kind of uncivilized." (Hear, hear, doctor.) He encourages strong communication and the best way to achieve that with toddlers, he says, is something he calls the Fast Food Rule.
"When you go to a fast food restaurant," he explains, "you get to order, and then the order-taker repeats your order back to you. And whoever is hungriest gets to order first."
The Fast Food Rule is sort of like that. Only instead of the hungriest person speaking first, here the person who's most upset in a conversation gets to speak first. A parent then respectfully acknowledges their child's mood by repeating what they said in what Karp calls "toddlerese," which is defined by short phrases and repetition, mirroring one-third of the emotion the child has expressed.
So it's not "I can see you're upset." It's more "You don't like that! You don't like that! You say no, no, no!"
Karp acknowledges that this may feel a little bit odd or silly. "But the interesting thing is, when kids are very happy we kind of do that technique automatically."
"[The Fast Food Rule] is the best way for someone to feel heard and cared about."
Don't forget about yourself. Dr. Karp also urges parents not to forget an absolutely crucial aspect of parenting care: self care! No one needs mom and dad throwing caution to the wind and winding up in the hospital. Moreover, when it comes to a viral disease, taking care of our own health is going to be one of the most important things we can do in preventing our children from getting sick as well.
"Please be safe for your child's sake," he says. "And be safe for your own health, because that's for your child's sake as well."
To watch Dr. Harvey Karp answer parenting questions about coronavirus, visit Romper's Instagram.