SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Spanish government will allow children under 14 to leave their homes tomorrow as long as they're accompanied by an adult. Spain is one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19. It has one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. So children have been confined to their homes for the last six weeks. Reporter Lucia Benavides has the story.
LUCIA BENAVIDES, BYLINE: Lindsay Patterson is teaching her 6-year-old son Emmett to help with household chores.
LINDSAY PATTERSON: OK. Emmett, did you sweep up the dust in the kitchen again?
EMMETT: Yeah. I made it into piles.
PATTERSON: OK. Let's...
BENAVIDES: Patterson is an American living in Barcelona with her husband and two sons, Emmett and 10-month-old Jamie. They've been spending a lot of time together lately, cleaning the house, doing crafts, even playing a sports game they invented called Family Olympics.
PATTERSON: It looks like Daddy is going to get both the balloons and Emmett through the goal.
BENAVIDES: Like many parents, Patterson and her husband now work from home. But she says the hardest thing is not being able to take the children outside.
PATTERSON: Like, number one - vitamin D - just - you know, kids need that to grow. They need to be able to exercise, to have fresh air.
BENAVIDES: They've been stuck inside their apartment without a balcony since March 14, when the government declared a state of emergency. People can only leave their homes to buy food, go to the pharmacy or walk their dogs. But up till now, that only applied to adults. Children were confined at home. Patterson says that for those living in small apartments like her, plazas and parks provided the only kind of outdoor activity the family had.
PATTERSON: To kind of cut out that availability of public space, it is just a completely different lifestyle now.
BENAVIDES: After mounting pressure from parents and political leaders, the Spanish government announced that, starting April 26, children will be able to go outside accompanied by an adult for one hour each day as long as they stay close to home.
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PABLO IGLESIAS: (Speaking Spanish).
BENAVIDES: In a televised press conference on Thursday, Vice President Pablo Iglesias apologized to children for the government's delay in relaxing the rules and thanked them for being patient. But some children are already exhibiting eating disorders, sleeping problems, even the symptoms of PTSD, says child psychologist Blanca Santos.
BLANCA SANTOS: Children are suffering from the emotional pain of the fact that their whole world just changed from one day to another.
BENAVIDES: Santos says the situation varies from family to family. While some kids are getting by just fine, others will exhibit problems long after the crisis is over, like grief over the loss of a family member. Some children are even stuck in households with an abuser.
SANTOS: Kids are at-risk population that cannot even defend themselves.
BENAVIDES: Santos says the government should implement social and economic programs to support families during these stressful times because children, she says, are like sponges to parents' emotions.
Back in Patterson's apartment, they're beginning to talk about outdoor activities again.
PATTERSON: What do you want to do when we're able to go outside again?
EMMETT: Play soccer.
BENAVIDES: But for now, Emmett will have to play by himself. The new rules still don't allow him to play with his friends in the neighborhood plaza. For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Moia, Spain.
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