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School's Out For....Spring?

By Dr. Scott Hamilton
April 3, 2020

This week's guest columnists are Drs. Mark Carreras and Jacob Sellers, Family Practice residents at the University Hospital and Clinics here in Lafayette. When I was a kid, the last day of class would end with a final bell, and we'd blast Alice Cooper's "School's Out For Summer."  We were free, thrilled we'd "survived" another year, as if we'd reached high ground just ahead of a tsunami. With schools closed probably for the rest of the year, many kids celebrated pretty early. For parents this is NOT a fun, exciting time (their lyrics: "Well I tried to make it Sunday, but I got so damn depressed").  School's definitely not out yet for summer, and while parents are used to kids' summers off, this is very different.  There's no more family vacation, with many household budgets taking a hit and vacation spots closed. Working parents must find babysitting and activities for their kids way before they were ready.  And there's school work still to be done. At home. Unless you're a professional educator, schooling and teaching are tough. Who remembers what they learned in history, much less technical subjects like trigonometry?  While schools are transitioning to on-line teaching and assignments, parents must do their share to keep their kids from falling behind.  More on this below. Doctoring must be done at home too. Offices and clinics have shortened hours, and visits are more time-consuming.  Many practices have parents wait in their cars, and staff call them when it's their turn to come in.  Emergency Departments are COVID war zones, with really sick and contagious patients; not places you want to be with your child. This blog's a place to go for advice if your kid is sick.  If you're reading this in the Advocate, note the blog address below.  Stock up on ibuprofen, tylenol, and benadryl. Make sure asthma medicine is refilled, as COVID can make trouble for wheezers. And don't panic. Many kids are still getting cold and fever viruses, and parents worry it's COVID.  Rest assured that in most kids, COVID is benign, and soon gotten over.  Only go to the ER if kids are short of breath, too sleepy to drink enough, or vomiting continually. As a new parent, one of the most shocking realizations for me has been the power of the screen.  My 2 year-old is typically unreserved, energetic, and sociable. All at once.  He'll hold a conversation with you while leaping from couch to chair.  However, a flip of the television switch turns him into an expressionless, drooling zombie.  I wouldn't be surprised if he started moaning "..brains....brains...." Limiting screen time may be the biggest challenge for parents during this extended school break, or school-at-home-for-the-rest-of-the-year.  But this battle is worth fighting, as increased screen time is linked with worse childhood obesity, depression, poor diet and constipation, and worse sleep.  In other words, an overall tanking of quality of life.  As Dean Wormer said in the movie Animal House, "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." One recipe for success during this COVID outbreak is maintaining a routine.  Filling kids' days, making them adhere to school work and stay off the computer/phone/tablet/TV sounds tortuous.  However, mapping out a daily schedule can actually save time and make things easier.  Start with wake-up time, three meals, snacks, and bedtime. Then insert school work, indoor play time, outdoor playtime, chores, and family activity. There can be some fluidity in that schedule, but keep in mind that kids are happier and better behaved when kept to a routine. The wake-up, mealtimes, and lights-out should be reasonably enforced. One daily activity that can't be discounted is reading.  Study after study shows that reading with children improves brain development, social-emotional skills, language, and of course literacy.  Your schedule should absolutely include reading to your child, or them reading independently.  When they read on their own, make time to discuss with them what they've read.  One of the best opportunities to read to your child is bed-time. This should ALWAYS be part of the nightly ritual. How you manage this challenging time will make a difference about how your children grow up.  Do you want them to be successful and happy?  Kids thrive on structure and reading.  Reinforcing these makes the difference between your kid being strong and independent, or being a screen-addicted zombie, depending on others for.....their brains!