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Taking Care of Others by Taking Care of Ourselves


By Cara Natterson, MD

I’ve worked with American Girl to teach girls—and boys—about how to best take care of their bodies, minds, and spirits. I’m passionate about giving our kids the tools they need to be healthy and strong as this new coronavirus shifts how we need to think about taking care of ourselves, inside and out.

We are social beings and living our lives apart in this age of coronavirus is difficult. It’s hard to isolate ourselves when we long to laugh with friends, learn with classmates, and vacation with family. But by taking a few steps to keep yourself healthy and safe, you can also keep so many others in your community healthy and safe. 

Stop the spread.

Girl washing hands


  • STAY HOME! This is called social distancing or physical distancing. Basically, if people don't hang out in a physical space, then they cannot share their germs. Remember, lots of people who have coronavirus feel fine, and they don’t realize they are carrying the virus. But they might still be infected, and then it can spread through the air with coughs or sneezes and on surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops, or even on other people through high fives and hugs.

  • Wash your hands. If you do leave the house, wash your hands really well every time before you leave and once you are home again. This means washing with soap and warm water for 20 seconds (that’s how long it takes to sing the ABCs twice).

  • Keep your distance. Go outside and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, but follow the six-foot rule, which means keeping yourself at least six feet away from other people (who don’t live in your home). This means you can catch up with a friend at a park and kick a ball, take a jog, or go for a walk. But don’t play games that require you to touch balls with your hands and don’t play on playground equipment.  

Ease worries and create routine.

Girl washing hands


We don’t know how long this social distancing will last or what new restrictions will be announced in the coming days, but as parents and caregivers, we can ease worries and create routine as we live through this deeply unsettling time with a few simple steps:


  • Make a schedule. Write out the day's routine and post it on the fridge so that life feels normal. Include not only school activities but also household chores such as wiping down surfaces. And mix in tons of fun—family game hour, family movie afternoon, and outside activity time. Take your family yoga practice outside. Can you turn making lunch into a cooking show (and film it for fun viewing later)? Or check out the endless virtual visiting programs that many museums have created. Don’t forget to schedule a bit of quiet time throughout the day for everyone.
  • Relax the screen time rules. Humans are social by nature, so if we cannot be piled into one place together, we should take advantage of all of the tech tools we have to connect virtually. Use video chatting, social media platforms, and gaming as ways to keep everyone in your family feeling interconnected with friends. Yes, there should be a limit, but it will likely be longer than the one you set before.

  • Keep up the 4 pillars of health. Those are: nutrition, exercise, sleep, and hygiene. Try to eat as healthfully as you can, exercise daily, maintain usual bedtimes, and maintain all of your regular self-care strategies from showering and tooth-brushing to meditation and down time.

If we all do what we can to keep ourselves healthy, we’ll keep others healthy. At some point, life will get back to normal with all its carpools and chaos. So use this valuable and unexpected time you have with your family to grow in love and care with each other.


Explain what's going on.

Girl washing hands


To help kids stay calm and informed during the coronavirus pandemic, explain things in words they can understand. Here are some points to hit:


  • Viruses get passed from one person to another all the time, and usually this isn’t a very big deal. What happens is that a person gets infected with a virus, and then their immune system fights that infection—that “fight” inside the body can cause a runny nose, sore throat, or cough. For the rest of your life, your immune system remembers this virus, and so the next time you get infected with the same type, either you have very few symptoms or none at all.
  • But when a new virus appears, such as this novel coronavirus, nobody in a community (or city or country even) has ever fought it off, and so everyone’s immune system has to fight at the same time. For most people, this will mean that they feel a little sick, like they have a cold; some won’t feel sick at all. But some people, especially older adults, might feel really sick, and they may need extra help from a doctor to heal and recover.

Dr. Cara Natterson is a board-certified pediatrician and the author of the bestselling The Care & Keeping of You 1 and The Care & Keeping of You 2 as well as Guy Stuff: The Body Book for Boys.



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