Todd Sanderson’s two young children are allowed to play basketball with each other.
Kids from the neighbourhood, however, have to bring their own ball if they want to join in.
Shooting hoops six feet away from other children while playing no actual games is the closest Sanderson’s sons will be getting to a playdate for the foreseeable future.
Like many other B.C. parents, Sanderson is social distancing Jett, eight, and Kai, 11, to try and help control the spread of COVID-19.
Avoiding close play is not the only new normal in his Nanaimo home. His parents, who live downstairs, are distancing themselves from Sanderson, his wife and two boys. Sanderson buys their groceries, knocks on their basement door, and scurries away.
For the time being, everyone outside of Sanderson’s immediate family is interacting with them from outside of the B.C. government’s recommended two-metre distance.
Shannon Turner, the executive director of the Public Health Association of British Columbia, said Sanderson is doing it right. Parents shouldn’t be hosting any playdates and should be taking social isolation seriously when it comes to their children.
“Maintain your family unit; you can go outside, you can do walks, you can be in your garden type of thing, but you maintain social distance,” she said. “Children are innately high contact, they love to run and play and tag and touch and share toys etcetera and any of those surfaces can, you know, transmit the bug.”
Turner said if you do have to go into a high contact place in the community with your child, like a grocery store, wash your clothes and hands when you get home.
“I think this is a great learning opportunity for kids around public health prevention practice,” she said. “Handwashing and using a Kleenex and taking care of your own personal hygiene, and kids can feel quite a bit of power when they get responsibility for those kinds of things.”
Turner’s advice mirrors that of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who says that people can go outside but to stick within their family.
Another struggle for parents is if they start displaying symptoms – how should they approach social isolation or quarantine with their children, while keeping them safe? Turner said there’s not a one size fit all answer for this, and anyone thinking they might be experiencing symptoms should contact the public health unit.
“I do feel that if a family is quite concerned about how they can proceed, say they have a grandparent in the home…I would make immediate contact with public health services,” she said. “And take advice, because every case is a little bit different.”
Sanderson said he feels lucky to be in his situation — his kids have each other, and he already works mostly from home as a real estate agent.
“We do have some friends with only children and then, that’s a very different scenario,” he said. “At least our boys have each other to play with and they are really good friends.”
He said all of the safety precautions, combined with activities that make kids feel hopeful, is the ideal way to approach isolation.
Dr. Jillian Roberts, a clinical child psychologist, echoed Sanderson’s sentiments and added that another piece of the puzzle while isolating with children, is their mental health.
Roberts said coming up with a daily routine is helpful for both children and parents. She’s been posting free activities for parents and kids on her Facebook page — everything from free colouring books to speech therapy resources.
She said parents should do their best to act calm around their child — taking care of their own mental health is one of the best things they can do for their kids right now.
“What they’re going to be aware of is their parent’s behaviour, so parents need to be calm and demonstrate what calm under pressure looks like,” she said. “Now is the time to use your own behaviour to model to the child how to get through challenging times together.”
For Sanderson, who has a background in biology and microbiology, that looks like having level-headed conversations with Jett and Kai about the virus.
“I asked them today, ‘are you guys afraid of this entire situation?’ and I think part of that question, they took to be ‘do you understand it?” he said. “And neither one of them are afraid of it.”