Helping Medically Fragile Children Cope with Loneliness During COVID-19
November 21, 2020
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
If you have a medically fragile child, you are well-acquainted with the long list of items you have to worry about on a daily basis. You’ve learned how to best care for your child, have backup generators to sustain their life if there’s a power outage, and know which medications are required, and when. But even the best-prepared parents couldn’t have predicted the curveball that would be COVID-19.
All of a sudden, you had to learn even more steps to preserve your child’s health, as well as reorganize medical appointments to reduce the risk of contagion. But, what about loneliness? Quarantine and social distancing have affected everyone around the world, and medically fragile children are no exception. How can you help them cope?
What is a medically fragile child?
Medically fragile children are those with extensive medical issues that require around-the-clock supervision from a healthcare professional. They typically rely on medical equipment and require assistance with basic personal care activities. But at the end of the day, they are still children. They enjoy playing, laughing, and spending time with loved ones. And, making sure they get the love and attention they need during the isolation that has resulted from COVID-19 is as essential to their health as their equipment and medication.
7 Tips to Help Medically Fragile Children Cope with Loneliness
1. Acknowledge Their Feelings
If your child is verbal, ask them how they’re doing. If they’re not, gauge their feelings from their non-verbal communication. Don’t dismiss their emotions or pretend they aren’t sad, hoping they’ll get over it. If they’re upset or angry, let them know that you understand why.
2. Provide a Sense of Structure
Try to maintain their routine as similar as possible to pre-quarantine. Have them wake up, shower, and get ready for the day, at the same time as usual. Regardless of whether they attended a regular school or were homeschooled, maintain the same class schedule — and incorporate their regular break and nap times. If their usual caregivers aren’t able to provide care, schedule short video calls so that your child knows they are loved and missed.
3. Promote Social Connections
Social connections are now happening mostly through a computer screen. While they will never compare to in-person interactions, they still provide your child with a chance to see and talk to their friends and family. Schedule play dates and/or storytime with grandparents. Go outside and wave to neighbors. If they have to be isolated from everyone due to their immunocompromised system, schedule visits from loved ones and interact through a closed window.
4. Incorporate Exercise Into their Routine
Clear this first with your doctor to ensure that it’s viable for your child. If they have a physical or occupational therapist, ask for suggestions for exercises you can do daily while at home. Have the entire family join so that it becomes a tradition for everyone. If your child’s medical condition allows them to dance, dance with them. They don’t have to be on their feet to do so.
5. Give them Something to Look Forward To
Knowing that they have something to look forward to gives your child a sense of daily purpose. This could be by scheduling regular activities you know they will enjoy — whether it’s to play board games, video games, bake cookies, listen to music, dress up, or do arts and crafts. They could be done as a reward (e.g. after completing their homework/occupational therapy/eating a meal), or as a fun activity to do on weekends.
6. Keep Having Celebrations
Birthdays, graduations, and any other milestones — such as being in remission or ending a round of treatment — should be celebrated. Play their favorite music, have loved ones call in through video chat applications, serve their favorite foods, and, if possible, make decorations together. Play their favorite movies and have the entire family watch together.
7. Adopt a Pet
Think carefully about this one before deciding on it — adopting a pet involves years of committing to walking them, cleaning litter boxes, feeding them, vet bills, and arranging for care when you’re not home. However, pets provide a lot of benefits for medically fragile children, such as unconditional love, comfort, companionship, and a sense of responsibility — which can also give them a sense of purpose.
Resources to Help Medically Fragile Children Cope with Loneliness
Several Sunshine State agencies — including the Florida Department for Children and Families (DCF) and the Florida Department of Education — are providing resources to help you and your medically fragile child navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. These include:
Contact Care Options for Kids for Home Health Care in Florida
It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.
Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.