Authored by Dr. Kelly Fradin
During a pandemic our resources are limited. As parents we have less childcare and more stress. So understandably some things get pinched. When this happens we often think about our values - what is really important?
As a pediatrician, mom and author of Parenting in a Pandemic: How to help your family through COVID-19, I’ve thought about this a lot. For most parents, the health and wellbeing of their child will be listed as a top priority. But there are so many factors that contribute to children’s wellness, it’s nearly impossible to optimize all of them, so we have to make decisions.
Making decisions is always important whether you are a pediatrician or a parent. The Eisenhower decision matrix is a personal favorite tool for making thoughtful choices about how to spend my time. Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what’s urgent is seldom important.”
The matrix construction is straightforward, two columns and two rows create four boxes. The columns are determined by importance and the rows are determined by urgency. The idea is that we likely don’t spend as much time or effort on important, non urgent priorities. For many people’s careers this makes sense, setting a distant ambitious goal may require effort now but due to the decreased urgency be relatively neglected.
I think the same tool can be applied to family life to help us choose where to spend our time in a purposeful and thoughtful manner. Here is an example relevant to the life of many families.
When our resources are limited we have to choose where we spend our attention. While frequently we get bogged down with urgent items, important tasks are necessary for important goals. Our health depends on important non-urgent activities. Connection, exercise, sleep, and self-care are essential to our wellbeing. Given what’s recently reported by the CDC regarding the pandemic’s associated mental health crisis, these activities can’t be neglected without significant cost.
Parents often put their children first, but it’s important to ensure you’re taking care of your own health needs. Follow current cancer screening guidelines for mammography and colonoscopy. An early diagnosis can lead to more treatable outcomes. Go in for routine health visits, schedule your dentist appointment, and get some exercise.
When it comes to children, vaccinations remain important. The vaccines babies receive in the first six months are essential to prevent severe infections that can occur from common bacteria. Some of these bacteria are all around our homes, not just found in crowds, and can cause severe illnesses - vaccination against these can be lifesaving. Other illnesses like influenza and pertussis should be less likely while we are masking and social distancing. Still we saw many children hospitalized with coronavirus AND a second virus such as flu, so they are still important to prevent this season. Additionally, vaccination now will help protect children in years to come.
Despite the COVID pandemic, it’s still essential to introduce the common allergens to your baby early. We know that food allergies cause decreased quality of life. Families with food allergy carry a constant stress that affects more than just meal planning. Frequently they report challenges in socializing (ie. parties and sleepovers), school, and athletics We can’t prevent food allergies entirely, but we can decrease the risk of food allergies substantially by introducing foods early and continuing to give those allergens frequently.
Of course parents can feel nervous to introduce new foods, but we should remember that anaphylaxis from food allergies is rare, recognizable, and treatable. In fact, the two most common signs of an allergic reaction are hives and vomiting. Delaying foods will meaningfully increase your child’s rate of food allergy which is something we’d all like to avoid.
As a parent and a pediatrician, I hope this can help you choose your priorities during this chaotic time.
Dr. Kelly Fradin is a pediatrician, mom and author of Parenting in a Pandemic: How to help your family through COVID-19. She gives parenting and pediatric health advice on Instagram @adviceigivemyfriends.