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Children Play Safely This Summer as COVID-19 Eases

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Experts say outdoor activities and shorter playdates can help children ease back into summertime action. Sally Anscombe/Getty Images
  • Experts say parents should ease their children into more common play schedules this summer as the COVID-19 pandemic fades in the United States.
  • They suggest shorter playdates at first as well as more outdoor activities.
  • They note that some children may feel some social anxiety as they step back into the world after more than a year of isolation.

After more than a year of limitations, parents are again opening front doors and backyard gates for kids to get back to being kids again.

Summer’s here, and the time feels right.

Not so fast.

While states are lifting COVID-19 restrictions, there’s still plenty of reason to be careful. The novel coronavirus and its offshoots aren’t gone by any stretch.

And not everyone has been vaccinated, especially younger children.

Parents want to give summer back to their kids, but experts say the key is doing so in a way that keeps everyone healthy for fall, winter, and summers beyond.

“After an unusual and difficult year, families may be eager to jump into summer fun,” Dr. Sara Huberman Carbone, a pediatrician at One Medical in Southern California, told Healthline. “I would encourage families to let their kids ease back into normal summer activities, including camps, sports, and family vacations. As children under age 12 years are not yet eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19, there are a few things to keep in mind when making summer plans.

“Outdoor activities will be lower risk than indoor activities, (with) the added benefit of encouraging children to be physically active, which is especially important after a year or more of distance learning and increased screen time,” Carbone said.

Dr. Christina Johns, a pediatrician and senior medical adviser at nationwide urgent care chain PM Pediatrics, told Healthline that parents might need to be more involved in activities, even on playdates.

“I would encourage having a structured activity to minimize any potential initial uncomfortable moments,” Johns said. “For the first few playdates coming out of the pandemic, I would also suggest that parents keep playdates short. Shorter, structured playdates can set up a positive experience that will encourage both parties to do it again.”

After a year or more of isolation, children may feel social anxiety, and that is natural, Dr. Sara Siddiqui, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Huntington Medical Center in New York, told Healthline.

“There may be times when children will need to adjust to new behaviors, just as they did with certain behaviors during the pandemic,” Siddiqui said. “We should give them time to adjust to the new settings and make them comfortable. Start out with smaller groups of one or two children in an area comfortable for the child. Allow time for children to get to know each other again.”

Johns pointed out that the pandemic has taken up a bigger percentage of some lives more than others.

“There may be toddlers who have had very limited social interactions for the last 16 months or so, which could be half of their life depending on their age,” Johns said. “These children are learning to deal with more than one person at a time for the first time ever, and that could be very stressful. As such, parents should observe and listen closely to their children and work on identifying the cues that may indicate that they are anxious or nervous.”

Parents should also be mindful when traveling this summer, Carbone said.

“Consider lower-risk options for kids who have not yet been vaccinated,” she said. “Car travel generally has reduced risk than crowded airports. If you do opt to fly, direct flights have less exposure than flights with layovers. In terms of lodging, camping, or renting a vacation home is lower risk than a busy resort. And when visiting family and friends, outdoor gatherings will be safest.”

Another factor affecting children this summer is changing eating habits, Dr. Danelle Fisher, the chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, told Healthline.

“Some kids have suffered food insecurity, and this is tragic,” Fisher said. “Schools are often places where impoverished children may have their only meals of the day. Other kids have increased their snacking while they have been home during distance learning, and weight gain for some kids this year is real.”

Siddiqui said the lack of outdoor activity and an increase in sugary snacks, stress, and poor sleeping habits have contributed to kids not being as healthy as they should.

“Children need encouragement and modeled behavior to continue to eat healthy foods,” Siddiqui said. “A diet with fruits, vegetables, lean protein and plenty of water is important. I always advise to practice moderation, not to try and eliminate certain foods, but to exercise portion control.”