It’s an unprecedented time. There are a lot of unknowns. Worry and overwhelm are abundant. And on top of all that, you’re working from home and your kids are out of school.
The truth is, none of this is easy. It’s not easy to work at home and deal with stir-crazy children who are craving socialization. It’s not easy to keep saying “No” to all of the things they want to do and all of the places they want to go. It’s not easy to cancel all of your plans, vacations, and activities. It’s not easy to deal with the fact you have to continue working outside of the home even though you think you shouldn’t. It’s not easy to scramble for childcare or take a loss of pay or use all of your PTO to stay home with your kids. None of this is easy.
While there’s a lot that’s out of our hands at this point, there are a few things we can control. The first is our attitude towards the life disruptions we’re dealing with, and the second is how we approach this time with our kids. We know social distancing is vital to the health and wellbeing of our community, not just ourselves. But, how can we all put this in practice without losing our minds?
Here’s how we can start.
1. Reassure the kids
If your kids are old enough to recognize that schools being closed all of a sudden for weeks at a time is a little out of the ordinary, there’s a good chance they’ll have some questions on what is happening. They may have heard some talk in school and feel worried or anxious about this virus.
Take this time to explain to them, in an age-appropriate way, why schools are being closed, how this helps our community, and why good hygiene is so important. Practice proper handwashing (set up rewards chart for reluctant hand-washers). If you’re not sure of how to explain things like hygiene, viruses, and staying healthy, bring in reinforcements.
Some of our favorite resources:
TV shows and video clips
- This video from BrainPOP explains the coronavirus specfically—for older kids who are already in the know.
- This episode of The Magic School Bus is wonderful for school-aged kids; it explains how germs get into your body and what they do and also touches on how your body fights bacteria and illnesses (also available on Netflix).
- This short video by StoryBots explains what a virus is—perfect for younger children with shorter attention spans.
- This longer episode of StoryBots dives into how viruses spread, how your body fights them, and how you can keep yourself healthy (also available on Netflix).
- This episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood explains why rest is important when you’re sick and how sometimes that means canceling plans that you may be excited for.
- This short Daniel Tiger clip talks about the importance of hand-washing and how it helps keeps germs away.
- This comic is great for explaining the coronavirus to kids old enough to understand its implications.
- This book talks about how germs spread in a way that is simple for kids to understand; it emphasizes the importance of cleaning your teeth, clothes, bodies, and hands.
- This board book goes through the process of becoming sick and recovering—perfect for older babies and young toddlers.
- This book is great for preschoolers who need to learn how and why to keep their germs to themselves (that’s all of them, right?).
- This engaging lift-the-flap book is great for older preschoolers and young school-aged kids; it goes into more detail on viruses and bacteria, as well as hygiene and staying healthy.
- This clever storybook dives into what exactly happens to your community when you don’t isolate yourself when you’re sick (currently only the Kindle version is available).
2. Structure the day (for everyone)
For children who are used to being in school or a structured childcare setting (like daycare or preschool), it can feel out-of-sorts to have no routine all of a sudden. Keeping a loose structure to the day (and posting it for older kids) can help keep everyone feeling secure.
For older babies and toddlers, this might look something like:
- Playtime (inside or out)
- Parent-led art or sensory activity or game
- Playtime (inside or out)
- Reading or independent play
- Bath, books, bed
For older preschoolers and school-aged kids, a schedule could look like:
- Independent play/quiet reading (if you have early risers, like me)
- Get dressed/brush teeth
- Morning meeting (talk briefly about the day and anything special the kids would like to do; check in on how they’re feeling and what’s on their mind)
- Movement break (freeze dance, Simon Says, obstacle course)
- Schoolwork (make sure they tend to the day’s lessons from their teachers; use printable worksheets, workbooks, or apps for those who don’t have set lessons)
- Free play (inside or outside)
- Quiet reading/activities (puzzles, art, journal)
- Screentime (tablet games or educational TV show)
- Free play (inside or outside)
- Help prep dinner
- Movement break (GoNoodle and Cosmic kids are good video options)
- Free Screentime (whatever they want to watch while you cook)
- Family game time
- Bath, breathing exercises, and bed
If you’re working from home, schedule in times where you think you can work during their days. If your partner is home too, split available times into segments so you both can get at least a few hours of uninterrupted work time during the day.
I will note that, at this point, I think it’s best to accept that you will not be anywhere close to as productive as you were before. That is OK.
3. Get outside
Being holed up for an entire winter and then practicing social distancing is not a great combination. Making it a priority to get some fresh air each day is going to be vital for both you and your kids.
If you live in a warmer climate, keep the windows open during the day and get outside in the yard whenever you can. For those who live where it’s still cold (ahem, Chicago), even 10-15 minutes in the morning and afternoon can make a difference. Take a bike ride or a nature walk in the neighborhood (use what you find for an art project later) or romp around aimlessly in the yard.
Do what you can, but remember to be safe. Experts recommend staying at least 6 ft. away from others and avoiding playground equipment altogether (or sanitizing it before use, at the very least).
4. Create some hands-on learning
There is nothing kids love more than a fun, fresh new activity. Even the simplest things can offer opportunities for learning and excitement. And doing something novel each day can help keep everyone refreshed.
Try making baking soda and vinegar volcanoes in the sink (science). Sort all of those loose buttons or beads you have by color (math). Play with shaving cream (sensory). Bake something tasty for no reason at all (math and chemistry). Build a fort (physics). Make a dreamcatcher with twigs and yarn (art and mindfulness).
It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, if you have all the materials or not, or how great/terrible it comes out. Your kids will enjoy doing it regardless, especially if you are there with them.
If you’re not sure where to look for activities, try Scholastic’s Learn at Home site, where day by day lessons are set up with books, videos, and supporting activities (from Pre-K to grade 6+).
5. Give up on screentime rules momentarily
This is a time we’re all still figuring out day by day. If you have a meeting or deadline you can’t miss or you desperately need some time to lie down or shower, don’t hesitate to do what works. It doesn’t make you a bad parent and your kids are not going to suffer as a result. Watching Frozen 2 twice in one day has not hurt us yet.
Repeat to yourself: This is temporary. I’m doing the best I can.
6. Everybody breathe
If you’re like me and your anxiety is through the roof, it’s important to stay grounded and present—it’s the only way to keep the rest of the family calm too.
What’s working for us right now is family yoga and mindfulness breaks (we use these cards as prompts). We set a timer and adhere to it—when it goes off, the whole family takes a break for a pose or a card. You’ll be surprised at how much good a simple stretch or breathing exercise can do. It doesn’t have to be extensive, even five minutes works.
If you’re really struggling, try one of these apps or put in a call to your therapist. This is a truly overwhelming, confusing time, and there is no shame in needing help to get through it.
Take one day at a time, and remember, we’re all in this together. If we make decisions based on the good of our community, lend a hand where a hand is needed, and approach this ordeal with hope, we will get through it together.