Should I Send My Kid Back to Day Care?

Like many people who live in urban areas, I have a small front yard. But it’s painstakingly cultivated. Here is the gate that my husband welded himself, there the strawberry beds. As the weather has warmed up, my preschoolers have spent more time outside on our stoop. On our little patch of land, with even our neighbors held at bay, my kids are as safe as I can make them.

Loosening our social distancing restrictions and rejoining the outside world—one wracked by a global pandemic, a cratering economy, and social upheaval—feels almost scarier than it felt going into lockdown. But my family needs help. A few weeks after schools closed down, still high on adrenaline, I wrote about how we were taking it easy on ourselves .

But three months into social distancing, my house is liberally crusted in yellowing tape. You can’t squeeze in an 8-hour workday if you are also parenting a 3- and a 5-year-old. There’s no room for error, no grace. I don’t have the time or patience to sit calmly with a toddler who is having a rough morning; I can’t play with a preschooler who doesn’t want to get out of the tub. Every time I straightjacket them into bed and stomp out, shouting, “I’m sorry! I have to work!” all of us get just a little more hurt.

We need childcare, badly. In order to figure out how I was to achieve this ordinary thing that now seems fraught and impossible, I talked through my options with two pediatricians and a public health scholar. If you’re a parent reading this, you probably need childcare too. Here is how you might frame the risk/benefit equation.

Your Kid Will Probably Be Fine

First, let us address every parent’s primary concern: Even if they catch Covid-19, they will probably be OK . Currently, early data from China shows that over 90 percent of pediatric cases are asymptomatic, mild, or moderate. (We do warn parents, however, that newborns and children with preexisting conditions do seem to be at higher risk.)
And yes, there are reports of a new “mysterious inflammatory ailment” known as pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS) or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). But again, this is rare—serious cases of Covid-19 are rare in children, and cases of MIS-C are rarer still.In many ways, MIS-C is similar to other known conditions like Kawasaki’s and toxic shock, as Hayes Bakken, a pediatrician and the lead on outpatient pediatric Covid-19 response at Oregon Health and Sciences University’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, pointed out to me. It’s serious, but, again, it’s rare and treatments exist. “This condition is new because we believe it’s associated with Covid, but we’ve already been treating kids with these types of conditions pretty well,” Bakken says.
Of course, if your child has a health condition—a chronic heart or lung issue, or if they just went through chemotherapy—it changes the equation. But Bakken also points out that not all chronic conditions create increased risk. Check with your doctor to help ease your mind.

When thinking about your child’s health, it’s important to consider their holistic well-being as well. Young children need to interact with other children (and other adults!); it enhances brain structure and cognitive function. When your child races around a playground with other kids, they’re exercising not only their bodies, but developing their mental, social, and emotional skills during a critical point in their lives.

And finally, you need to consider the health of the family unit as a whole. “Childcare is what keeps our families going,” said Bakken. “It keeps our lives going.” I desperately want to be able to smile when I see my kids, not snarl and turn back to a computer. Everyone suffers when parents don’t get a break.