"Kids are very savvy. Kids are very resilient, and very, very, I think, amenable and adaptable to change. We probably don't give them as much credit as we should," says Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, MD, BMSc, FRCPC, an Infectious Diseases Specialist at University Health Network in Toronto.
Dr. Sharkawy, a father of three children under 10, shared his perspective during a 60-minute all-medical panel presentation of ParenTalks at St. Michael's College School (SMCS) --- the first one of the 2020-21 academic year and the first panel made up entirely of physicians. Their expertise spanned mental health, family health and infectious diseases.
Below are some of the highlights of ParenTalks: Supporting Your Son's Safe Return to School: A Conversation.
DR. ABDU SHARKAWY, MD, BMSC, FRCPC,
Infectious Diseases Specialist
University Health Network
"I think we need to change the narrative from one in which we're seeing ourselves as making sacrifices and doing things that are seemingly unusual and almost obsessive in nature to making them things that are going to make us healthier. Hand-washing makes us healthier. It reduces the risk of all kinds of transmissible diseases, respiratory and otherwise. We can incorporate that into our routine especially with younger children and make it a challenge that's fun --- I think that's helpful.
We have to look at the public health recommendations that have been put forth and have been re-iterated repeatedly through this pandemic and try and not view them as impositions on our lifestyles and routines but rather to look at them as a means of empowerment. As a means of arming us against all kinds of things including the impending flu season. And that's one of the benefits of some of what we're doing right now is that whatever we're doing to keep ourselves from COVID-19 is actually going to serve us very, very well in protecting ourselves from the flu, which ravages much of our community, through much of the winter months.
Kids realize that as adults, we are facing our own story of stressors as well. We're learning to adjust to things. We need to make sure that we're modelling very good coping mechanisms, good strategies in terms of how we're preparing ourselves when we re-integrate with a normal routine, whenever that may be.
What we want to do is prepare ourselves and our families to begin as many safe practices and to maintain them in our daily routines, anticipating what is going to be a stressful time, moving forward."
DR. PETER LIN, MD, CCFP
Director of Primary Care Initiatives
Canadian Heart Research Centre
"This virus cannot move on its own. It's actually a very weak organism when you think about it. It has no wings and it has no feet. So it can't actually move unless we help it. So either we are breathing it out, or we put it on our hands and we bring it up to our face. The only way that it can replicate is within us. It doesn't even have its own photocopy system. If we kind of drill down onto that, then it makes sense why these simple things work --- you know the social distancing, the mask and washing your hands. It sounds kind of very primitive those things work because this virus really can't do a whole lot.
We need to prepare them. The schools will do what they can. But in the end, your child will be making decisions every single day. Where do they sit, how do they eat lunch, on the bus, how are they going to do that.
Giving them scenarios that you help them work through, so that way, when they come up to that scenario, they're not sitting there and saying, 'oh my gosh, there's a whole bunch of people in front of the washroom, what do I do?'. So these are the kinds of things that perhaps we should work on now, just like you're preparing your child to go driving."
DR. MARK BROUSSENKO '07, MD
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
"We haven't as a society quite normalized the reality that this is going to be hard. And it's going to be hard for your kids, it's going to be hard for you, it's hard for us as medical professionals --- we're dealing with a lot of things that we've never had to deal with before. At least certainly not at this scale.
My suggestion to normalize it especially to your kids is that -- this is going to be an adjustment, this is going to be different than school looked like last year. You are going to have to do things differently. You are going to lose out on some of the things that you would have been doing otherwise. And that's ok. And it's okay to be frustrated and it's okay for it to cause you anxiety, and it's okay for you to come and say you know this is a difficult time. This is not the thing that I see in movies that shows me what my teenage experience is supposed to be.
We need to change some of the groundwork and some of the rules to make it so that kids don't feel like this is punishment. These are not punitive measures. They are protective measures. These aren't things that you are in trouble for if you fail. These are things to aspire to do well, so that you can protect your community.
If we frame it from the perspective of learning and growth, it becomes much less punitive and it becomes much more empowering. That way you can strive towards excellence, as opposed to necessarily being punished for failure.
We need to be very accepting of the fact that this is going to take a lot of patience, a lot of humility as parents to be able to work through. You have to earn the trust of your children to be able to understand what it is about those interactions that are making them very, very anxious, to help guide them ways in which they can still retain social bonds with their friends, and to be very forgiving."
Other topics covered during this ParenTalks event include tips on:
- Proper mask-fitting and mask-wearing
- Public transit and school bus transportation
- Maintaining social bonds with physical distancing
- The pros and cons of 'bubbles'
- Households with high-risk medical conditions or multi-generational families
- Screen time and digital connections
- Tips to help support responsible behaviour from children
Watch the full ParenTalks event: