In deciding where and how often to take our children out in public this summer, there are two key points to keep in mind: The number of new COVID-19 cases in Portland continues to plummet — the numbers are the lowest since April 2020 — if our children were to contract COVID, the illness is usually overwhelming mild, similar to that of the common flu virus.
That being said, the decision to take unvaccinated children into public spaces is a deeply personal one. If your child only comes in contact with vaccinated adults and has no serious underlying medical conditions, I suggest that the risk of taking your child to both outdoor and indoor public venues is quite low.
Based on both the CDC and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) guidelines, I continue to support the use of well-fitting face masks in indoor settings for children 2 years and older who are not fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated kids should also continue to physically distance, especially indoors, from people who do not live in their household. Face masks should also be worn in outdoor settings when physical distancing cannot be maintained.
When venturing out with your socially-innocent child, it is important to try to keep our own anxieties and uncertainties in check. It is appropriate to explain to most children older than 2 years why he or she needs to wear a mask — to keep himself or herself and other unvaccinated individuals safe. Children often require a lot of explanation and a lot of reassurance. But try not to instill fear in your child. Fear does not typically motivate desired behaviors and certainly does not benefit the mental health of an already anxious child. Most children take behavioral cues from their parents. If you are calm and convey the attitude that it is time to venture outside your home, then your child will likely be similarly confident. If we want our children to benefit from social engagement, then we must put their minds at ease while in public. Tell them explicitly that they are not likely to get seriously ill from COVID, and they are likewise not going to get their vaccinated family members seriously ill.
After a particularly challenging year, now is the time for us to re-dedicate ourselves to boosting children’s resiliency. At times when our children are trying new things, one approach is to think about the concepts of “looping” and “attunement.” (We provide a handout on these two concepts to parents at Metropolitan Pediatrics.)
According to our handout, looping is the process of moving away from the security of parents and caregivers to try new skills, and then returning for comfort and support. Encourage them as they explore their world. Notice their bravery and celebrate their successes. At times, they will become fearful or even fail in their attempts — welcome and reassure them as they “loop” back to the safety of you. Cheer their new skills and discoveries and encourage them when they fail. Confidence comes from both types of experience!
Think of attunement as “tuning in” to your child just as you tune into a radio station. Children are reassured when their parents recognize their needs and provide for them. Attunement is interactive, like making eye contact, getting on the child’s level and responding to their cues by speaking to them.
I do support you involving your isolated, socially-hungry children in the rich, beautiful Portland community this summer. There are ways to proceed cautiously, that will hopefully will result in fun and safe memories for your entire family.
Facts to Remember
- Right now, the number of new daily COVID cases in Multnomah County are the lowest they have been since April 2020.
- Young children who contract COVID-19 usually experience mild symptoms. COVID causes severe illness in young children at about the same rate as the influenza virus.
- The CDC and AAP recommend that unvaccinated children older than 2 years wear masks in all indoor spaces, and in crowded outdoor spaces. Unvaccinated kids should maintain at least 6 feet of physical space between themselves and people outside of their household.
- Parents should try to maintain a calm and confident demeanor when venturing out with young children. Children commonly take behavioral cues from their parents.
- Try to build resilience in your children by tuning into their needs while encouraging them to experience new things.
- I encourage you to enjoy some safe new experiences with your family this summer. It will undoubtedly benefit everyone’s mental health and wellbeing!