Parents and caregivers who are home with children should follow simple infection prevention and control measures to help ensure a safe environment for the children in their care.
In addition to general infection prevention and control measures that should be followed, below are additional ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- Promote proper and frequent hand washing with soap and water. Washing hands with plain soap and water is effective at removing germs.
- Make a 20-second song for washing hands (e.g.“If you’re healthy and you know it wash your hands!”, "ABCs", "Happy Birthday"). Give children positive reinforcement and praise for regular hand washing.
- If hand washing sinks are not available, supervised use of alcohol based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol may be considered. (Note: If hands are visibly soiled, alcohol based hand sanitizers may not be effective at eliminating respiratory viruses).
- When in public spaces, remind children to touch only what needs to be touched. Wash or sanitize hands after touching any surfaces in public and especially before eating.
For more information on helping children follow proper hand washing practices, check out these resources:
- Instruct children to cover their mouth and nose during coughing or sneezing with a tissue or their sleeve, and to dispose of used tissues in a plastic-lined waste container, followed by hand hygiene.
- Access cough etiquette posters on the Cover your Coughs page.
Should Children Wear Masks?
Children under 2 and children under the age of five years either chronologically or developmentally who are unable or refuse to wear a mask or face covering and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver are exempt from wearing masks in enclosed public places.
As per public health recommendations, children under two should not wear masks.
Encouraging Your Child to Wear a Mask
Here are some ways to encourage your child to wear a mask:
- Explain why - Use this as a teaching moment to explain why masks are important to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Use words they can understand and give them time to ask questions.
- Give choices - Have a couple different masks for your children to choose from. Giving the option between wearing the blue mask or the pink mask helps make your children feel independent and in control, especially in a time where things may be changing frequently.
- Include masks with playtime - Let your kids play with clean cloth masks in a space where they feel comfortable. This can help them become more comfortable with the masks.
- Lead by example - When you are going to an indoor public space, show your kids how you wear your mask and why you are wearing it. Be a role model for your kids to help normalize their use of masks.
- Minimize contamination of toys by encouraging proper hand washing practices and cough etiquette.
- Clean and disinfect toys daily. Remove toys that can't easily be cleaned.
- Remove any potentially contaminated items until they can be disinfected.
- Limit the amount of toys available for play by rotating toys on a daily or weekly basis.
- Eliminate sensory play.
- Access more detailed information about environmental cleaning on our Environmental Cleaning page.
Physical distancing means to be physically separated from other people; however, it is still important to stay socially connected. Here are some ways to help children maintain physical distancing but still support their need for social connection.
- Build a social circle to increase children's social interaction with others. Play dates with children outside your social circle should still be virtual unless the age of the child allows for maintaining a 2 metre distance at all times.
- Consider how you can maintain physical distancing and other public health measures during any public outings, trips, or special functions.
- Encourage children to respect the personal space of other people (i.e. discourage hand-holding, hugs, kisses, hive fives, etc.).
- Encourage outside play to reduce the amount of time spent inside.
- Avoid public and school playground structures which are all currently closed.
- Avoid crowded public spaces.
With school closures extended, local and district school boards are implementing online learning for students (and offering hard copy versions). More information can be found on the Schools and Daycares webpage.
During a pandemic, it is common for children and youth to feel anxious. News streams and mainstream media can be panic-inducing and make children and youth fearful for their health. Please visit the COVID-19: Mental Health page for recommendations on talking to your children about COVID-19 and ways to support their mental health.
The School Mental Health Ontario website includes information and resources for students, school staff and families on managing mental health needs during the current pandemic. Also check out this resource on Mental Wellness during COVID-19 for Parents and Children.
Preparing and eating meals together is a great way to stay connected and has nutritional, health and social benefits too. If you have extra time together with your kids, it's a great chance to involve them in the planning and preparation of meals.
Meal planning and cooking is an important life skill that you have the opportunity to foster. If you’re at work while your tweens/teens are at home, consider putting them on dinner duty. You might all be surprised what they’re capable of. If it doesn’t work-out, you can always rely on breakfast for dinner, such as scrambled eggs and toast with cut-up veggies on the side.
It is important for both physical and mental health to remain active. Here are some suggestions of activities to keep children active and healthy:
- Engage in active play with your child. Visit Activities for Life for ideas.
- Engage in active outdoor play with your child. Visit 42 Indoor and Outdoor Activities to Keep Kids Busy, 7 Springtime Outdoor Activities, 39 Fun Ways Kids can Play Outside this Spring, and Recipe for an Active Day for ideas.
- Check out Resources to Support Parents and Caregivers with Health and Physical Education at Home and Outdoor Learning Activities for Kids.
- Find screen-free ways to entertain children by reading books, graphic novels or comics, building forts or obstacle courses and playing card games, like UNO or cribbage.
- Bake healthy snacks together - find some tasty ideas at Unlockfood.ca.
- Walk the dog; try a new route to keep things interesting.
- Go for a hike and see how many trees, birdsongs, mammals, fungi, lichen etc. you can identify.
- Find some new trails in TBay.
- Go puddle jumping.
- Play mini-sticks with your family.
- Break out the bikes and get those cycling muscles back in action. Visit the TBDHU Cycling in Thunder Bay page for some great tips.
- Visit your library on the web. Thunder Bay Public Library has online content like e-books, e-audio books, online magazines, Tumblebooks for kids and music streaming that you can access with your library card.
- Play board games with members of your social circle: Monopoly, Life and Risk are some favourites that can help pass the time; Scrabble, Bananagrams and Yahtzee or other dice games can help build language and math skills.
- Art projects at home – CBC Parents has some great ideas for arts and crafts projects and at-home workouts too.
- Make a bird feeder and then identify the birds that come to your feeder. EcoSapiens has an easy option that uses a recycled plastic bottle.
- Go outside and get some fresh air.
- At home yoga - there are lots of free online options, or dust off those old yoga DVD’s or VHS tapes and have fun checking out “vintage” style yoga.
- Get your little helpers to contribute to keeping your home clean and healthy. Remember to keep all chemical cleaners and disinfectants out of the reach of children.
- Get the kids to put on a puppet show. CBC Kids has some ideas for inspiration.
- Check out McMaster Children's Hospital page on COVID-19 and Childhood Diabetes for activity ideas for everyone (they also have some great information for all parents).
- Read the free online storybook called Coronavirus: A Book for Children that explains the science of viruses, the rules of physical distancing and answers many of the questions kids have right now in a language they can understand.
- When possible, parents and caregivers should try to spend time with children in their care individually.
- Let children help decide what they would like to do. If they suggest something that doesn’t follow current public health recommendations (i.e. having a bunch of friends over to play) caregivers can use this as an opportunity to discuss the importance of keeping physical distance from others.
- Find creative ways to have children socialize with friends using Skype or FaceTime without being physically close.
- Actively listen to children when they share how they are feeling, acknowledge their feelings, and give them comfort. Reassure children by talking about what is being done to keep everyone safe and healthy.
- If everyone is starting to feel cooped up, redirect children into a new fun activity before behaviour turns from good to bad.
- Limit the use of technology (phones, TV, tablets) and be active every day.
- Check out the World Health Organization's Healthy Parenting During COVID-19 Pandemic resource and the Public Health Agency of Canada's Parenting during COVID-19 resource for more parenting tips and ideas.
The COVID-19 situation may be challenging for parents who are not living together but are co-parenting their children. Here are some tips to help you work together during this time:
- Stick to court-ordered parenting schedules as much as possible:
- Regular parenting time and custody schedules should be kept, unless someone is self-isolating.
- Family court has been postponed during the pandemic, and only urgent matters will be heard at this time.
- If you think the other parent is not taking necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, an urgent motion can be filed. Instructions on how to file an urgent motion can be found on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
- Do not take advantage of this health crisis to prevent your child from having contact with the other parent. Breaches of custody orders will be noted once the courts are back in session.
- Stick to regular family schedules and routines – schedule time for exercise, school work, family time, chores and hobbies. Keep regular bedtimes and meal times.
- Keep conflict away from children. Stay child-focused and work together as a united team to help your child feel safe and reduce their stress and anxiety. Focus on what is best for your child.
- Reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19:
- Ensure that both homes are taking measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as regular hand washing, cleaning and sanitizing frequently touched objects and practicing physical distancing.
- Consider building a social circle with both families, as long as the number of people does not go above 10.
- If you are not part of the same social circle, keep a safe physical distancing of 2 metres (6 feet) from the other parent when carrying out parenting exchanges, and wash your child’s toys, clothing and personal belongings each time they return from their other parent.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be situations that require you to self-isolate. If your child was not with you when you started self-isolating, you should not see them until you are able to come out of self-isolation. Make sure to let the other parent know as soon as possible. If your child was with you when you developed symptoms or were exposed to COVID-19, they should stay with you and also be assessed for COVID-19 testing.
- Parenting exchanges should not take place when a parent or child is self-isolating, and should only resume once the isolation period is over, and the parent or child who was in self-isolation is feeling better.
For more information about co-parenting during COVID-19:
For more legal information or support:
- Legal Aid Ontario: 1‑800‑668‑8258
- Law Society of Ontario: 1-855-947-5255
(The information in this section was adapted with permission from Toronto Public Health)
During a pandemic, it is common for teens and young adults to feel anxious about the state of the world and the impact of restrictions on their social life. Physical distancing can be more difficult for teens because relationships with peers are so important, and they push-back more than younger children because of their need for independence.
Teens may not view COVID-19 as a serious health threat and might challenge the need for physical distancing because they’re more prone to impulsive behaviour and unlikely to consider consequences as an adult would. In addition, they are trying to form their own identities by separating from their families and testing rules and boundaries.
This combination of factors can make it challenging for parents and caregivers to rationalize the necessity of physical distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak and maintain household harmony.
Check out this infographic on Physical Distancing for Teens for more ideas and information.
- Prioritize wellness – eat regular meals, maintain regular bed and wake-up times (these can be loosened-up compared to school days) and make sure everyone spends some time outside daily (unless self-isolating with symptoms).
- Encourage balance – just like adults, teens may binge Netflix and use social media and gaming as distractions. This is expected, but ensure everyone has unstructured screen-free time, individually and as a family. Too much social media can have a negative impact on mental health.
- Gather a support system – even though teens can’t go to the movies or hang-out at a coffee shop with their friends, they can get together in groups of up to 10 as long as they maintain 2 metres of distance between each other at all times. Outside hang outs are best and encourage frequent hand washing and cough etiquette. Include your teens in the building of your family's social circle and consider their needs for social interaction if possible. They can also still connect virtually or on the phone with friends and relatives to get and give support.
- Identify strengths – remind teens of their strengths and capabilities like problem-solving and resilience that will help them get through this challenging time. Try to help them build joy and gratitude into each day.
- Bridge gaps – acknowledge what they want in an ideal world and identify what is realistic in the current climate of physical distancing. They may not be able to get together with their whole group of friends, but help them socialize safely in groups of 10 people or less while maintaining physical distancing.
- Be patient and understanding – nothing like this has happened in their lifetime, they have less social contact with their friends and they may be missing special events like graduation and sports competitions. Let them grieve the loss of these opportunities and listen with empathy and compassion.
- Build empathy – encourage youth to think outside themselves and model empathy. Suggest writing letters to house-bound family members or calling grandparents to help teens see beyond their social woes and get a sense of the bigger picture.
- Connect – as scary as it may be, parents and caregivers are all they have right now! Try to enjoy this bonus family time by inviting teens on a daily walk or by cooking meals together.
- Be mindful – model positive coping skills by monitoring your own stress level and pause before talking about the pandemic to give teens a break from the constant news about the outbreak. This mindfulness will help take care of your own mental health too.
- Provide Support – let them know they’re not alone (although it’s common for teens to feel like this) and if you’re concerned about their mental health, visit TBDHU’s Youth Mental Health page for supports.
- Walk-In and Talk-In counselling is available through a partnership with Thunder Bay Counselling Centre and Children's Centre Thunder Bay.
- Visit the Mental Health Support page for more information.
School Board Supports
- Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique des Aurores Boreales - Apprendre à la maison
- Lakehead Public Schools - Mental Health Resources for Students, Staff and Families
- Matawa Education and Care Centre - Matawa Education
- Northern Nishnawbe Education Council-COVID-19 - Contact Information
- Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board - Mental Health Support
- Superior Greenstone District School Board - Mental Health and Well-Being Resources
- Superior North Catholic District School Board - Supporting Student Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic
- School Mental Health Ontario - How to support student mental health during the COVID-19 Pandemic
It is important for both mental and physical health to keep minds and bodies active and connected in the face of cancellation of activities and the closures of schools and many community spaces.
Here are some activities to keep teens engaged, active and healthy:
- Get teens in the kitchen and encourage them to develop their cooking skills - the whole family will benefit. Download a free PDF of the cookbook Good and Cheap for ideas and inspiration.
- Encourage teens to kick it old-school and beat boredom by reading books, graphic novels or magazines and playing card games like UNO or cribbage.
- Bake healthy snacks together, or get them to create an epic dessert. Find some tasty ideas at Unlockfood.ca.
- Visit museums and art galleries from around the world from the comfort of your living room. Check out the Guardian’s list of 10 of the World’s Best Virtual Museum and Art Gallery Tours.
- Go for a hike (stay 2 metres away from anyone else you run into). Teens are really good at identifying brand logos and celebrities - challenge them to see how many trees, birdsongs, mammals, fungi, lichen etc., etc. they can identify. Find some new trails in TBay.
- Break out the bikes and get those cycling muscles back in action. See the TBDHU Cycling in Thunder Bay page for some great tips.
McMaster Children's Hospital COVID-19 and Childhood Diabetes website
There is more information for children and teens on the Schools and Daycares page.