COVID-19 coronavirus: what to do if you're too ill to care for your children

Many of us are anxious about becoming ill during the coronavirus pandemic. But for those who are responsible for children, their worries about COVID-19 are likely to also be about how they can take proper care of kids whilst trying to rest and recover.

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Most parents have had to cope with looking after the kids whilst feeling unwell at some point. And many will have someone to call on to help if they are struck down with any debilitating bug.

However, when it comes to the current coronavirus pandemic, things may seem a lot more complicated. Is it really possible to socially distance yourself from your children and still parent effectively? And what should you do if you're too ill to look after your kids altogether?

We look at how to cope.

Minimise stress

Even if your child seems blissfully unaware of the extent of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they may well be harbouring secret fears. It's important to talk with your children about the situation and give them a chance to express their fears, rather than keeping them inside.

"If you're ill, it's very likely that you're going to have a mild illness, but your child might worry that you're going to die - they will have absorbed the fear around them," explains GP and coach Nicola Harker.

"Explain that you're feeling unwell and that, although you can't be sure if it's coronavirus, you're going to stay in as a family to protect others. Then give them the space to ask questions. This will allow you to respond to the hidden fears that may be there."

Manage the risk

If you're living in a two-parent household, you should do everything you can to self-isolate from your family as well as the outside world if you are the only person showing symptoms. This means using a separate bathroom if you can, and, if you're unable to keep to a separate room, staying at least two metres away from others for 14 days.

You should also ensure that you don't share towels, glasses or cutlery, wash your hands carefully before preparing food and wipe down services with soap and water to reduce the risk of contamination.

All these measures may reduce the risk of others in your household becoming more seriously unwell if they become infected. There are several theories about why some people get more severe illness than others. One is that the more viruses you come into contact with, the more ill you risk being. While it isn't conclusively proven for coronavirus, it makes sense to minimise their exposure.

However, keeping your distance from children is not necessarily a practical solution, particularly if you're a single parent or if your children are very young or have special needs.

Caring for your children is important and no parent wants to cause unnecessary stress. So where do we draw the line when it comes to contact? "Children need reassurance, and if you're a single parent you are the person they naturally turn to," explains Harker. "Adhere to hygiene measures as best you can, but you need to still be able to comfort and care for them. You also need to be realistic. Chances are if you live in the same household, your child will have already been infected - or may even have infected you without displaying symptoms themself."

So while you should follow guidance to minimise the risk, it's important to be realistic about where you need to draw the line.

Get some rest

If you're feeling unwell, it's important to get as much rest as possible. If you're looking after young children, this may not be an easy task.

"Lower your standards," advises Harker. "Accept that it's OK for you and your child to sit and watch TV together. It's OK for them to do some colouring while you lie down and keep an eye on them from the sofa. You don’t have to be an amazing parent at this time."

It may also be worth preparing for this possibility while you are still well, by stocking up on easy-to-cook foods and preparing an action plan. "You could get a few ready meals and pop them in the freezer, just in case - if you can afford to," advises Harker. "And start connecting with neighbours and nearby friends. Is there anyone who could help you in the event you become unwell?"

Ask for help

No matter how well prepared you are, it's possible you may find yourself in a position where you are unable to care for your children for a short time. If you need to take to your bed or pay a visit to hospital and don't have another responsible and healthy adult in your household, it may be that you'll have to ask for help from elsewhere. But calling the grandparents is not a good idea.

"Be mindful of not asking anyone who's in a high-risk category," explains Harker. "Ideally, you need to find a person you can ask to come to you and isolate with you for two weeks. This would pose the least risk to the relative and would contain the virus within the same household. Sending your child elsewhere may mean spreading the virus further."

Again, it is not always possible to find the perfect solution, particularly in these chaotic times. If you are unable to find the support you need, contact your GP surgery for advice. If your symptoms worsen call 111 for advice and medical support.

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