Preparing Children for Being Caregivers

Preparing Children
for Being Caregivers
If You Get Sick!
W I T H   S A R A H   F E I N E R

About the contributor:
Sarah Feiner is a student of traditional herbalism, a homeschooling mother, avid gardener, plant photographer and volunteer for residential hospice. She recently retired her registration as a health care professional to focus on therapeutic sound, clinical hypnosis, herbalism studies, collaborations with other wellness providers for community events, and her ongoing commitment to homeschooling her children. Inspired service and community care influence all of her work. For more information:

As a mother of three boys ages 9, 12 and 15, it had occurred to me several weeks ago the importance of their role in our home if both my husband and I were to become ill at the same time. Even in the best case scenario, we would both be stuck in bed for several days, although it could be longer, and our bodies would be busy fighting a virus and leave us unable to tend to our daily lives.

Statistics show that though a small percentage of children have been quite ill, the larger majority are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. This means that our children, given some simple skill-sets and guidance, can become perfect caregivers, and more importantly take care of the things we normally do - themselves.

It is an important time to be solutions-focused for your family and yourself. There have been mixed messages in the media regarding Covid-19, the severity of the virus and how it may affect you. Regardless of immediate risk, having several conversations with your children about preparedness and care-giving will help relieve some anxiety over these stressful concerns, and in setting them up to be an asset to your family’s health. There are several layers to this, so please take some time to digest and work through it in several steps.

Preparedness with Food Availability

If you are financially able, have two weeks worth of food at home. This food is specifically for if you and/or your partner become ill and go into quarantine. With this two week stash, it's really important to have a menu plan for each meal for two weeks (including snacks if your children are used to them). Then they don’t go through the food too quickly, and if you have multiple children it will greatly reduce arguing.

These meals should be something safe for your children to prepare. For example, if you have a microwave, does your child know how to open a can of soup or vegetables, put it in a bowl and heat it (without it being too hot?) Do you need to experiment with your child on being able to do this and find the perfect amount of time for heating? Does your child know what cannot go in a microwave, such as utensils?

Beyond the microwave, some children are ready to handle actually cooking food. Are they going to pan fry a salmon fillet? Not likely. But can they warm soup over low heat? With the extra time and gentleness, (and a timer on the phone that reminds them to turn the stove top off) for sure. There are stepping stones in terms of cooking. I would consider the oven at an advanced level, and don’t entertain that as an option unless we are talking about teenagers. As intermediate stepping stones, there are limited capability appliances (rice cooker, crock pot, pop-up toaster) that reduce safety risks and make the anxiety of a fire starting in the next room dissipate. They all have built-in timers, and all have easy to follow instructions.
Another option is freezer space and pre-made meals. You’ve already done the cooking, they only need to put the entire container in the fridge/on the counter the night before. This can even cut out any need for heating if it's eaten as a cold food (the secret to these meals is adding the word ‘salad’ at the end of warm foods you already eat, ie quinoa and sweet potato ‘salad,’ potato and tuna ‘salad’). Alternatively, it is a warm food like beef and barley soup and they throw it in the microwave/crock pot.

When I showed my children the supply and talked it over with them, I visibly saw a greater sense of ease that I hadn’t anticipated. They are hearing our conversations, they need to know they will be safe and that they are able to manage within their abilities.

Also consider that they will be cleaning up if you can’t help them for a couple days at a time. Dishwashers and soaking in the sink are good concepts for them to understand. But this is child-style domestic maintenance, so maybe they just take all the plastic containers into the bath with them, and give themselves a scrub while they’re at it.

Preparedness with Daily Activity Plan

I have homeschooled for over 12 years and a plan of the day is huge in creating a feeling of safety in knowing what to expect and how they can anticipate their day. If you do not currently have a routine (of some sort!), I would really encourage cultivating one. I also work and I volunteer outside of the home, so my children need to know how to function safely on their own for hours at a time. It is possible. Most farmers need to leave children to attend livestock or do other chores. Our children are incredibly resilient if we give them boundaries and a sense of what they can do.

Your activity plan might include when to feed the pets, who is doing the dishes, or if you want them to do a 10 minute tidy of a room. Include how often they are on the computer, if there is alone time for reading and playing (this is helpful for each child to have their own space), if they are doing online school

work, and if there are shows to watch and exactly how many shows or movies. Self-care is especially important to block out, not only ensuring their well being but giving them a sense of pride and self-reliance. Depending on how involved you are able to be given the severity of your symptoms, you might want to go hard on personal hygiene - down to the hand wash. Teeth brushing, picking clean underwear, face washing, include it all in the plan. And be sure that when you are preparing your two weeks of food, you are also stocked up on two weeks of personal hygienic supplies.

Your children can’t be outside unless you live on a large property, as your children will most likely be asymptomatic carriers. This can get intense for them even with you in prime health, nevermind being bed-ridden. All humans need to use their bodies, but double that need for kids. Indoor physical activity is not out of reach however, and is easily woven into the daily routines. Doing chores is getting them moving, and is fun if there are music and games associated with it (collecting laundry becomes basketball, and playing the soundtrack from Guardians of the Galaxy while they wash their lunch dishes still makes them feel like superheroes). And if we are being honest, there isn’t a good reason not to include dance parties and youtube-guided-animal-yoga in the activity plan (as with all media, observe it yourself beforehand).

As alternatives to screens you can tell them where to find a new deck of cards, books, lego and age appropriate puzzles. is a free online website with audiobooks for children, and it is fabulous! Adults would appreciate most of the stories as well.
Remember, this isn’t an exercise in militantly perfecting a schedule - they are children, and they will make mistakes. This is about setting up a ‘container’ that gives their day shape and meaning the same way you otherwise would. And at the end of that day, it really is okay if they watch extra movies and are eating a lot more cereal or snacks. Whatever works for the safety of your child(ren), given its only for a limited time. You can breathe.

Take heart, if you are very unwell, your children will likely be fighting less. Sometimes they fight to get attention, and when there is none they may work a lot more harmoniously. This has happened in many homes in times of family crisis.

Preparedness with Support & Help List

Make a list with everyone you can call on it, and specify what you can call them for. Have you talked to your friends or family about how they can be of help if you become unwell?

Then this list needs to make sense for supporting your kids in their new life situation: the household caregivers. Is there someone that your children can call, someone they have built a relationship and trust with? If there is someone that in turn will call them and talk to your children, give encouragement and inquire about your health? Can you brainstorm how they can be of help, to fill in the gaps your kids aren't ready for or need adult assistance with? Are these friends letting you know if they are sick? Can you ask how you can be of help to them? 

Does your child need to go to a care-giver? Is that person low-risk for complicated infection? Your child can not go to their grandparents or those with compromised health. Now is the time (rather than when you actually get sick) to reach out to either the food-bank, your child's school, the local girl-guides group, mothers-at-risk groups, Children's Aid Society, other community organizations or local churches to see if there are volunteers who your children can call if you are sick, especially if you do not have reliable friends or family and you are a single parent with young children or children with special needs. These volunteers can bring food to leave at the house, and some churches will do wellness calls if you ask. Some churches are keeping track of which members have gotten Covid-19. These members may be willing to come into your home for quick check after they themselves are well. There are absolutely major risks with this scenario, but I recognize some people are really alone in their life situation and are needing some options.

Do not leave your children alone with any strangers either on an online-chat or physically in your home. Please do not trust strangers whom you’ve met online for health-checks. I’ve heard of personal situations that did not go well. You need to personally let the person in your home and you also need to have them validate who they are before you open the door.

Preparedness with Caregiving Skills

Taking care of your health right now will be the most helpful for your children. Getting enough quality sleep if possible, drinking enough water, reducing sugar and processed foods.

When you are unwell, check-in with your support friends/family/organization right away. Give them a heads-up. From there, self-isolate and monitor your symptoms. If things are mild then you can be drinking herbal teas and resting. If things worsen, again you must touch base with those around you. 

If you become bed-ridden or very limited in movement, let your children know what they can prepare or bring you (such as apple juice or apple sauce to keep your hydrated). If your child is old enough to bring you water, that will help them feel capable. Some individuals find that a cool cloth on the forehead helps to control a fever or at least bring some relief. They should know where the thermometer is, extra tissues, cough candies, herbal teas, etc. This will help them feel connected to you, and will also make your life that much easier, speeding along your recovery. 

Try to let the child know how you realistically feel. Another part of care-giving under quarantine for them can be relaying essential information to another adult. If you are sleeping and a friend calls the home, your child may give an inaccurate interpretation of what they have observed, so maybe they are writing the things you say down in simple language, and reading the notes over the phone.

Make sure your child can dial emergency services for your area. This is just a valuable life skill. Have them practice by calling you/a friend instead, and role-playing. Look up a 911 script online so the kid knows what they are getting into. Life sometimes gives us tough situations where there might be a great deal at stake and your child is now in the position to save your life.

Resiliency and Service

When feeling overwhelmed with the idea of these scenarios, the best way to deal with them is just one step at a time in creating a plan. Just one step at a time. It may take several days to have things in place. Recognize what is a priority for you and your family, and remember that there are people who are wanting to be of service. Let them safely help.

Our children are watching how we prepare, how we serve, and how we accept the assistance of others. Our process of becoming prepared contributes to strengthened resilience within them, which will carry over to other areas of their lives.

Empower your children. Include an encouraging note that outlines the strengths of each child. They need to be reminded of the good that they carry and the abilities that they have. Just like the rest of us, they have inner strength with which they can rise to this challenge.

Be safe and be well, we're in this together.

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