A message to parents from a pediatrician and researcher: “You are not alone”

How St. Michael’s research aims to support kids and their families through the COVID-19 pandemic

By Ana Gajic

Dr. Jonathan Maguire

Dr. Jonathon Maguire

(May 12, 2020) – A study led by St. Michael’s Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is trying to understand the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and their families.

The team has pivoted TARGet Kids!, Canada’s largest ongoing cohort study of children, to understand the effects of COVID-19 on children and families. Having already recruited more than 370 families to the TARGet Kids! COVID-19 Study of Children and Families within less than a month, the study’s co-principal investigator, Dr. Jonathon Maguire, says that it is important that we not only understand the effects of the virus itself, but also how the dramatic changes due to physical distancing are affecting children and their families.

Parents are increasingly feeling the pressure of filling new roles. On top of roles as guardians, many are now functioning as educators, guiding their children through the uncharted territory of home schooling, and best friends, providing the main source of interaction and play for their children. Parents and guardians have found themselves wearing multiple new hats in what is a difficult time for many.

“I want parents out there to know that they are not alone,” says Dr. Maguire, a pediatrician at St. Michael’s and scientist at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions. “There are people who understand what you’re going through and are working hard to make things better for you and your children.”

Co-led by Dr. Catherine Birken, a pediatrician and researcher at SickKids, one of the study’s goals is to understand what families are experiencing and how the policies put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 may impact children in the long-term. This knowledge, Dr. Maguire hopes, will help inform future policies to ensure the best experience possible for families.

Three tips for parents and guardians caring for children during COVID-19 (full text below.)

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For now, Dr. Maguire has three tips for parents and guardians about how to cope during this time.

  1. Let go of the pressure of perfection

Parents are currently expected to function as “all-in-one characters” for their kids. Dr. Maguire says the pressure to fill every role perfectly can be overwhelming.

“Part of our role as parents during this pandemic is survival. It’s important that we remind ourselves that it is impossible to be perfect in every way. Don’t put pressure on yourself to strive for the impossible – this is new for everyone and we’re all trying our best in a highly challenging situation.”

  1. Focus on the basic needs of your family

Dr. Maguire recommends focusing on the basics: maintaining a nurturing environment.

“Don’t worry about the details. Just being there for your kids is great. And don’t forget to take care of yourself.”

  1. Reach out and seek resources

Dr. Maguire says parents and guardians should remember that they can always reach out to their children’s healthcare provider for extra guidance and support.

“We all know how difficult this is, and we’re here to help.”

Online resources can be helpful as well. Dr. Maguire recommends checking out the resources compiled on the Canadian Pediatricians’ Society website for caring for your kids during COVID-19.

The TARGet Kids! COVID-19 Study of Children and Families co-led by Dr. Maguire and Dr. Birken is supported by the FAST Grants program, St. Michael’s Hospital, the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation and the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions.