Parenting During the COVID-19 Crisis
Remember what you worried about last month? I bet it didn’t involve a world pandemic. But yet, here we are.
Schools have been cancelled across the United States and beyond. Some parents are able to stay home and work or take a little time off. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for all. We are learning to navigate this emergent global crisis as a population, troubleshooting as each unique situation presents itself.
This is especially difficult because typically when schools are closed, students celebrate by going outside and hanging with friends. School is usually back in session within a day or two. This is unique in that we do not know when school will resume and we are not encouraged to socialize. For introverts this is the best. thing. ever. For extroverts and for young people who thrive on socializing with friends, this is a particular hardship. Parents must be firm about the social expectations while acknowledging how their children feel. This is new territory for everyone. But know you are not alone. I, along with many others, are here to support and encourage you all.
By putting specific actionable steps in place to help prevent the spread of the virus, we can protect our physical health. Parenting during the COVID-19 crisis has helped us become familiar with the drill:
Wash your hands often. If they become dry, as I’ve heard many complain, use lotion.
Avoid touching your face.
Practice social distancing and cocooning. In fact, just stay home if at all possible.
Stay home if you don’t feel well – even just the sniffles.
Use a barrier such as a sleeve when you sneeze.
Listen to public health officials for directives.
These measures will not only keep yourself healthy, but will also prevent your loved ones from becoming ill. If there are people in your family who are older (60 and over) or have some underlying health issue, especially diabetes, heart issues, or pulmonary problems, this directive is especially important for you and your children. The very last thing you want to be responsible for is spreading this illness and causing hardship or even death.
These basic hygiene practices also help prevent colds and flu and should be continued beyond this crisis. Thousands of people die of the flu each year, too, which can be prevented by practicing these basic hygiene steps.
One of the most frustrating aspects of preventing COVID-19 — and other viral illnesses for that matter — is getting people to stay home. Right now the recommendation is to just stay home, even if you feel okay. There has been a lot of convoluted messaging from the top which has caused many to doubt the importance of restricting contact with others. I urge everyone to pay attention to what the medical experts are asking, begging, the public to do.
Alice Cooper sang about school being out forever, but rest assured, the kids will eventually get back to their studies — someday. Many districts and colleges are scrambling to assemble online instruction. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to keep your kids intellectually and physically stimulated as you parent during the COVID-19 crisis. Adapt each idea for your individual child’s age, ability level, and interest level.
Children learn differently. Some are learn best through physical activity, some learn visually, some learn by reading, and some learn by listening. What a terrific time to hone in on their individual strengths.
In the classroom, educators are required to teach certain skills on a timeline. Certainly, that is ideal. However, in this less-than-ideal circumstance, focus on what your children are interested in. What do they want to learn more about? Do they enjoy video gaming? Perhaps learning how to design a game would be a great way to incorporate reading, writing, and math.
Workout as a family — at home
Some communities are already on complete shutdown. They are discouraging individuals from walking around on busy city streets. If you are fortunate to live in a community with open space, please enjoy some fresh air with your family. Keep six feet away from others and follow hygiene health recommendations. Besides, if you have a dog, they need to get out, too.
However, if that is not a possibility, access online exercise options. Many local gyms are offering classes on Facebook, YouTube, or via their website.
Encourage children to devise their own obstacle course in your home. This requires supervision: We don’t want any jumping-from-the-top-of-the-stairs-and-breaking-our-arm feats. We are trying to avoid visits to the hospital.
Help your child design a workout session that can be shared with their buddies. Each friend can make up their own virtual workout to add a little variety. Be sure to workout with them! (Or not. Maybe it’s a good time to sip a cup of coffee, virtually, with the other moms.)
Yoga classes are not only physically therapeutic, but mentally as well. Many studios are forced to close yet still offer online classes. You can access free online classes, or you can help support local studios by engaging in their virtual classes for a donation. One in particular is Good Times Yoga in Brooklyn, NY. Individuals can participate via Instagram at @goodtimesbklyn.
Charles Dickens once said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
Today we are facing burdens we never expected to see in our lifetime. Financial burdens. Health burdens. Healthcare burdens. Mental and emotional distress. Personally, I find it fascinating that, as individuals, we all have different worries. We all have our own perspectives and our own personal situations in life that affect how we view our current COVID-19 crisis.
However, one thing we can agree on is to try and help others.
Talk to your children about caring for others. You are laying a foundation of care and compassion that will carry them into adulthood and their future relationships.
Joanna Duensing, a middle school teacher, suggests making coloring greeting cards for residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities. These individuals are now separated from family and could use a little cheering up.
Make a Viral Apocalypse Survival Kit for those who are having difficulty finding supplies. I sent each of my daughters a box with toilet paper, Tylenol, chocolate, hand sanitizer, soap, tissue, and anything else I could think of. They were all tickled to death. The most favorite treat? Yup, you guessed it. Toilet paper.
Public health workers, nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals are working double-time to keep our communities safe. Many are risking their own health. To offer support, make cards or banners thanking them for their efforts. Arrange for locally-owned restaurants to deliver meals to these individuals. You are supporting small business as well as our frontline helpers. (Be sure to reach out to their places of work first — they may have restrictions in place due to the virus.)
Going to the grocery store? Contact neighbors and make a grocery run for several families at once to limit the number of people roaming the aisles. (There’s no need to stock up for weeks and weeks.)
Reach out to elderly neighbors. Perhaps they would appreciate a meal, home baked cookies, help with pets, or a grocery run. Keep in mind, it is important to limit exposure to older populations, so be cognizant of this as you offer help.
Small, local businesses are hurting. If you are financially able, and if your community is not yet requiring a total quarantine effort, pick up a meal or two from local restaurants and freeze one. Purchase gift cards to help keep these businesses afloat for a bit. Gift the gift cards to those who may be hit hard with the financial fall-out.
I heard one mother complain that her kids are continually bickering. She is sending them to their “special time-out corners” all day long. I immediately recognized that her kids are likely anxious and confused. They don’t fully understand what is happening not only in their lives and daily routine, but also in their previously safe community. How can they fully understand? Even the adults in the room are trying to comprehend and evaluate current circumstances.
This is a time to calm anxiety in our children. One way to do this is by letting them talk and ask questions. They need to find the language to express what they are feeling. Share your concerns, too, but keep it hopeful. They already sense you are nervous, scared, anxious. Don’t lie and claim you’re not worried at all. They need to trust that you will be honest with you. You are building foundations that will carry your relationship into adulthood.
This week, March 15-21, 2020 is also International Adolescent Health Week. (@IAHW2020 on Twitter, #IAHW2020) Dr. Laura Offutt explains, “Resilience is an important part of achieving good overall health, including good mental health.Resilience has been described as the ability to “bounce back” after adversity, or to convert “toxic stress” into stress that is tolerable. Teaching adolescents the skills to develop and strengthen resilience, such as personal life skills, positive social skills, and how to identify sources of support, can promote mental health.” I can’t think of a better time to discuss and model resilience, the art of bounding back from adversity.
Have your kids design gratitude jars (or bowls or cans…). Encourage them to find the good in each day. Is the sun shining? Did they get to FaceTime their grandmother? Did they get extra M&Ms? (Okay, that’s for me. Yes, yes I did.) At the end of the week, share your thoughts.
For your artsy kids, encourage them to write, direct, and perform a play. Perhaps you have a budding author in your home? How about a comic book enthusiast? Art allows people to creatively process feelings and is a very healthy outlet. Besides, their art may help others deal with confusing feelings as well.
Those with access to a camera can take photos of their day. They can become a photojournalist and share their personal experience with loved ones and friends who do not live nearby. It will also give parents a glimpse into how they are processing their feelings.
Journaling is a classic method to recognize and process thoughts. Pull out the unused spiral notebooks or notebook paper and have your kids write about their days, feelings, thoughts, frustrations… You know the drill. In fact, join them. Start processing your own fears so you are better able to help your children process theirs.
Enough fun and games
Okay, sure. If your kids were in school, there’d be a whole lotta learning going on. If you’re not a teacher, there’s probably a very, very good reason for that and you are not particularly happy with your new role. (So, thank a teacher next time you see one, okay?) Yet, your kids still have to learn some stuff.
Right now, being a perfect parent, much less teacher, is no longer the goal. The goal is to do the best you can with what you’ve got.
Let your child sleep in. This serves two purposes. You get your morning coffee. Also, your kid won’t be too crabby.
If your school district has rolled out an online learning schedule, thank your teacher.
If not, determine a daily schedule. Kids are used to schedules in school and actually like the structure (even if they state otherwise. Kids need and like rules.). Navigating a schedule at home may meet with push-back, but give it try. I would not expect your kids to devote the typical 50 minutes of classroom instruction to each subject, however. But, nice try.
Find creative ways to learn. For example, if your child is learning basic math measurements, bake something together! If your child is learning grammar, write a book! Sure, you may not know how to grade it, but that’s not the point. Sort of like learning Algebra … what are the little letters doing in those math problems anyway and why should I care? Your goal is to keep their minds stimulated. Not only that, but middle school kids sometimes like to make their parents feel dumb. What a great way to do this! Have them explain how they got to their answer. Little do they know, they are actually learning!
Check out some online learning opportunities. Laura Tiebert, a suburban mom who lived like Prince for year and is writing about it, is touring museums online with her boys, ages 14 and 17. Not only that, they are preparing for a big move, so the boys will learn some organizing skills as they help pack for their new adventure.
Perhaps hone your kid’s peer teaching skills and collaborate together to broadcast a home cooking show.
Check out an online story hour. Have your children offer their own online story hour and share with the little neighborhood kids. What a great way to give frazzled parents a minute to regroup.
Take a minute
Parenting during the COVID-19 crisis requires adults to think outside the box.
Take a minute to evaluate the situation. Right now, the most important goal is to keep your family healthy. Your kids, your parents, and yourself. No one has any expectations that your child will be homeschooled to the extent the schools provide education. Please take that pressure off yourself. Give yourself permission to crumble up the day’s schedule and do what feels right — and maybe a little fun. Your mental health is every bit as important as your physical health.
I hope this helps you feel a little better. You, and the entire globe, are navigating a new normal. If you figure it out, please share, because no one else has all the answers, only suggestions.
Life has a way of taking unexpected twists and turns. That is what makes it a unique and challenging journey. Some days are awesome, some, quite bluntly, suck. This situation falls in the “suck” category because there are so many unknowns, financially and health-wise. But it is also awesome in that you have unexpected time with them. When your kids are grown, you will look back and marvel at how fast the years flew by. I know the days are long. I get that. But the years are very, very short. I’d give anything to have all my daughters with me now. But instead, two are on the frontlines ensuring that the population remains healthy.
For the sake of my daughters, and all those working to keep everyone safe and healthy while navigating medical supply shortages and exhausting hours, remain calm. Follow the precautions the CDC and other health professionals recommend. Stay inside. Wash your hands. Do what you can to stay out of the hospital. As the professionals say, “I stay at work for you, so please stay at home for me.” Remember, they want to be home for their families, too, but instead are caring for others.
One day your children will grow up and be out of the house. Enjoy the time you have with them, the best you can. Is it stressful? Of course. But hang in there. The memories you make now will be shared — and laughed about — in the decades to come.
Stay well, my friends.