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Stuck at home with your kids? Nurse offers advice on keeping kids, parents happy and healthy

UPDATED: Wed., March 18, 2020

Wendy Williams-Gilbert is an academic director and professor in the WSU College of Nursing. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Wendy Williams-Gilbert is an academic director and professor in the WSU College of Nursing. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Wendy Williams-Gilbert knows what it’s like to find yourself home from work, with kids who would otherwise be in school, navigating confusing and concerning circumstances.

And the work she finds herself home from – serving as director of the Registered Nurse-Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program at Washington State University – means she’s especially qualified to help families navigate the challenges of a family life disrupted by the coronavirus.

When doing so, she said this week, it’s important to remember children are more perceptive than they appear.

“We need to remember that the kids don’t know what to expect either, and they’re looking at us to set examples,” Williams-Gilbert said. “They’re taking their cues from us.”

That’s true for the nursing professor, as well. She’s found herself at home with four teenagers, ages 13 through 18, and she plans to use the time sharing lessons about life skills. That includes a family dinner night, with one child cooking the meal each evening.

Williams-Gilbert said there are steps families can take while spending so much time together to prevent the potential spread of the coronavirus into the home, while balancing the needs of interacting with family members and neighbors. For younger kids, that might mean turning the mundane tasks of sterilization into a game.

“You could put an ‘X’ on their hand with a marker, and whoever cleans it off first gets a prize,” Williams-Gilbert suggested. “Make it fun for the kids. It’s just making sure that parents are keeping their house as clean as they possibly can.”

Playing outside with other children and allowing kids inside the home to play with each other should all be done smartly, Williams-Gilbert said. If a child has a fever or is coughing, families can isolate that child in their room and designate one parent to go in and care for him or her, in an effort to stop the spread. Anytime someone goes outside, they should wash their hands upon returning.

“I think the answer I can give is the normal answer for a nurse, which may be the worst answer: It depends,” she said. “If it’s just your family, no one else is coming in, and you’re not going anywhere, normal sanitary practices are probably fine.”

Split families might consider one child or a pair staying with one parent, while the other child stays primarily with the other, in an effort to stop transmission from one household to another, she said.

Big families, like hers, also have to be considerate of directives to limit large gatherings to 10 people or fewer, as well as keep in mind older people, like grandparents, who are at a greater risk of health challenges after contracting the virus.

“It’s making sure they’re not coming and hanging out with the grandkids, but as you’re doing that making sure you’re using alternative technologies to communicate,” Williams-Gilbert said. “Maybe write grandma and grandpa a letter.”

Families should use this time together not just to hole up in their rooms on their devices, even if those are convenient ways of staying connected, Williams-Gilbert said. Parents should also be reaching out to each other and sharing strategies that work with their families.

“I think we’re so hardwired that we don’t want to get things wrong,” she said. “Every parent’s probably in the same boat. We’re all trying to figure this out.”

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