Is It Ok to Let My Young Kids Play with the Neighbor Kids During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

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The COVID-19 pandemic has us reeling with all the changes in our daily lives that have come about as a result. We have tons of questions. What’s the best way to minimize risk for my family and myself? Are children at risk of contracting the disease? How contagious is it? These are great questions that scientists are doing their best to answer. In the meantime, the best thing you can do to keep your family safe is to stay home when you can.

That being said, what really constitutes staying home? Going for a walk or a bike ride in places that are not crowded are certainly acceptable activities. Hanging out with the kids in the yard is nice for some fresh air. But what if your little ones want to play with their neighbor friends? Is that ok? In this case, unfortunately, I would say that would increase the risk of spreading COVID-19, even if no one in your neighborhood has symptoms of the disease.

Parenting in a Pandemic

It’s important to remember that parenting in a pandemic is not the same as normal parenting. With working from home and e-learning, we’re all trying to figure out the balance that works best for us. It can be difficult to tell your children ‘no’ if they want to play with the neighbors. It’s more helpful if your neighbors are as conscientious as you about limiting the spread of COVID-19, but if not, you have a responsibility to keep your children safe, happy, and healthy. In addition, you are being asked to take on a wider responsibility to the community and the world. You are being asked to stay home, save lives, and flatten the curve.

What is Flattening the Curve?

You have no doubt heard endlessly about flattening the curve, so I won’t go into much detail here. The goal is to prevent a large surge of infections at the same time. Physical distancing is effective in preventing large surges of infections. This is important because we don’t want to overwhelm the healthcare system. You want resources available if your child should have an unremitting asthma attack or broken bone and needs medical attention.

But We Live in the Same Neighborhood

I’ve seen a lot of people reasoning that “We all live in the same neighborhood, so it’s ok.” Unfortunately, this logic is flawed. Think about it: has anyone entered or left your neighborhood in the past 14 days? The answer to this is very likely yes.

It may seem harmless to let your children play with the kids across the street. But think about this: at the time of this writing, it is estimated that one person with COVID-19 can go on to infect 2 or more people. So even one transmission can amplify the spread exponentially.

Now think about the following scenario: your neighbor ordered dinner last night. We know that coronavirus can live for 24 hours or more on inert materials like cardboard or plastic. That virus could be spread unknowingly within that family and then when your child plays with their child, your child gets the virus. Then you get it and you go to the grocery store and a frail little old lady gets it from you. She then gives it to her caregiver who is also caring for other elderly people and, before you know it, you have contributed to the pandemic. And with fewer restrictions (many states are prematurely dropping restrictions on public gatherings, hair salons, and restaurants) that means more people are moving around a lot more.

Does COVID-19 Even Affect Children?

The short answer to this is yes. Though children do seem to be less susceptible to the severe effects of COVID-19 than adults, there is concern they may be disease vectors. That is, they may carry the virus and unknowingly pass it on to others. Additionally, doctors have recently been seeing an increase in what they’re calling pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome, a COVID-19-related syndrome in children that is similar in presentation to Kawasaki disease, causing inflammation of the blood vessels which could lead to damage in the circulatory system and heart.

Strategies for Dealing with Bored Children

It’s difficult with the weather getting nicer and the kids getting more and more bored and the parents getting more and more overwhelmed, not to just send the children outside to play with their young friends. But, as I said earlier, we are parenting in a pandemic; these are not normal times. Things that we expect during normalcy, like strict restrictions on screen time, decreased indoor time, general motivation (which children often lack anyway, especially when it comes to doing things they don’t want to do) are not the same expectations we should have of our kids during this time.

My son found a meme he liked. It said something about how your grandfather had to go war to claim victory and all you have to do is stay home and play video games. My advice to you: in addition to letting your kids get carried away in the art supplies, allowing them to make a mess, baking bread and cookies, and taking walks, download a few more educational apps for your child’s favorite device, and give them permission to watch their favorite shows and play some favorite video games—after all, we’ve all been binge-watching our favorite shows and maybe having an extra glass of wine here or there. As long as we don’t get carried away, we’re going to be fine.

We need to do what we can to stem the spread of this terrible virus. The small actions we take will have big repercussions the world over. We can do this. We can make small sacrifices to ensure we pull through this together and in one piece. Our children will learn something about the world and about themselves, and maybe we will too. Be well.

Janette DeFelice
Dr. Janette DeFelice is a writer currently focusing on how the changing environment affects our health. She holds a Doctor of Medicine degree from Chicago Medical School where she taught clinical and diagnostic skills to beginning medical students, and a Master’s degree in Humanities from the University of Chicago. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Her writing can be seen online at BeTheChangeMom, ChicagoNow, and Medium, and she’s very excited to have published her first novel, Delia Rising: A Ballet in Three Acts. She lives in Chicago’s west suburbs with her school-age twins, her husband, and a family cat named Clara Barton.

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