It’s a lot, so we put together some of the many questions parents are asking. We will be updating this page with more expert advice and links to coverage as things develop. In the meantime, settle in, parents, because it’s looking like life, at least for the immediate future, is going to be anything but usual.
We’re all cooped up together. How do we deal?
As the days of social distancing turn into weeks, people are facing stress, boredom, anger, anxiety and many more emotions. Craig Knippenberg, a licensed clinical social worker in the Denver area and the author of “Wired and Connected: Brain-Based Solutions to Ensure Your Child’s Social and Emotional Success,” likened it to the stages of grief and said many parents and kids are struggling to find their way in the new normal.
“The first phase of this was a lot of anxiety, and this week has been a lot of sadness and loss,” Knippenberg, a father of four, said in a phone interview March 19. “The next wave is going to be getting irritated. As this goes on, it’s going to get old. It’s a chance to say to kids, ‘Even in bad times, we have to keep a positive attitude. We’re in this together.'”
Knippenberg, who is hosting weekly Facebook Live conversations Tuesdays at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time about parenting during the coronavirus pandemic, said the most important thing is to set up a family routine to create structure and boundaries. Designate blocks for chores, reading, school work, family games or activities and, importantly, alone time for each person.
“We have very structured lives, but in this situation so much is unknown,” he said. “It’s changing every day, and we’re all just waiting for the next announcement. … We’re trying to add some normality with structure.”
It’s also important, he said, to keep a spirit of adventure and fun. Spontaneous activities such as roasting marshmallows and telling stories by the fire in the evenings, or driving to a waterfall to fly a drone (with appropriate social distancing, of course), can make the current situation feel less daunting and isolating.
Now is not the time to obsess about how well you’re doing at this parenting thing. “Everyone knows they’re supposed to be consistent in their parenting. What I always tell parents in normal times is that you just have to be 80 percent consistent. It will drive your kids nuts if you’re 100 percent consistent,” Knippenberg said. “In these times, I’m saying be 60 to 65 percent consistent. … And if you’re a parent of a preschooler, shoot for 51 percent. We’re all just trying to hang on."
“This is the time to let go of parenting guilt,” he added.
When it feels like the walls are creeping in, or the noise of bickering kids is getting you down, take deep breaths, take a walk, take a break. And read this piece from Kate Rope, who spoke with several experts for advice on how not to lose it with your kids. (No. 1: Lower your expectations.)
Good luck out there, parents. We’re in the same boat. And we’re rooting for all of you.
School’s out for — who knows how long? How are we supposed to help them learn?
If you are like many parents, your kids are on an unexpected extended break or trying distance learning for the first time. Wondering what this will mean for them (and you)? Even if the schools provide online learning options, will you be able to wrangle them to the computer each day (if you even have a computer)? What about standardized testing? (President Trump said his administration is waiving federal requirements for standardized tests for K-12 students, and face-to-face AP testing will be replaced with shorter online exams.) What about kids with autism or other disabilities? How can we help them cope with the disruptions to their routines?
Melanie Auerbach, director of student support at the Sheridan School in the District, has ideas about how to keep the kids on track. Her main advice? Make a schedule and stick to it.
Although it is important to keep up with your children’s schoolwork, either online or on paper, it’s even more important to keep them on a routine. Have them get up at the same time Monday through Friday, Auerbach says, and keep a reasonable bedtime. Set a schedule of when they will read, when they will do math, when they will have free time, meals and physical activity. Be realistic and build in breaks, because sitting and working for three hours in a row isn’t a recipe for success for most children. And although many kids will need to spend some time on screens to complete their work, try to limit exposure where you can (and yes, this could be a battle).
Auerbach suggests taking a page from teachers’ playbooks to set up basic expectations. At the Sheridan School, teachers and students sit down during the first week of the school year and create a classroom agreement that everyone signs. That outline of what is expected is posted in the room where everyone can see it. Parents can do the same to establish structure at home.
Remember to consider kids’ mental health. “Everyone is so focused on the physical aspect of this, but we cannot underestimate the mental impact. … Spend time talking as a family about their concerns,” says Jeanna Pignatiello, chief academic officer for K12, an online public school program. “You can put all the books and supplemental programs in front of them, but if they’re overwhelmed by this, none of that is going to make a difference.”
Can they have play dates?
Coronavirus cases in children mostly have been mild, but according to a study out of China, “children may play a major role in community-based viral transmission.” (For more on what the virus looks like in children, read this story by Post health reporter Ariana Eunjung Cha.)
As the days tick on, kids are getting more eager to get together with friends. Parents need to hold strong on boundaries. That said, “it’s a work in progress,” said Jack Maypole, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and father to three.
“Kids will swear up and down they won’t touch each other, then you see them sharing a lollipop,” he said. Don’t go fearmongering and don’t lecture, he said, but be clear about appropriate distances. (The Post’s KidsPost section has a kid-friendly explainer here.)
Create block schedules so they are busy with a project or game for a good amount of time, then move them along to the next thing. Maypole, who also is a cartoonist, has been illustrating tips and advice about the virus that can be found on Twitter.
Maha Mahdavinia, a physician in allergy and immunology at Rush University Medical Center, says play dates are on hold for her 9-year-old and 6-year-old. She considered letting them have up to three friends at a time in the house, but after watching things unfold in Italy, and now that she has a positive case in her ICU, she is leaning against it. “It’s a disaster, and children are in the mode of transferring it now.”
Outdoor activities where there isn’t shared equipment or contact should be fine, like riding bikes, she said. Playground equipment should be avoided, and children should be reminded to maintain good hygiene: Remind them to wash their hands, not pick noses and avoid touching faces.
The key is to slow the spread of the coronavirus. As parents, if we don’t take it seriously and curb face-to-face interaction, we defeat the purpose of closing schools and workplaces.
How do we entertain kids as we’re trying to stay away from others?
This may not be the time to ban screen time. But you can set it up so kids won’t get completely sucked in. “Routines will help to avoid power struggles,” says Devorah Heitner, author of “Screenwise.” “Collaborate with kids to think about the best uses of tech during this unusual time in all of our lives. Is this a good time to download a new game? Learn a new skill together on YouTube? FaceTiming, texting, gaming with friends and social media will help keep kids connected to the friends they would usually be seeing.”
Find educational games, if you can, for your child’s age group. Common Sense Media is our go-to for good suggestions and reviews of apps and games.
- From a colleague of ours: “My kids will do anything for a dollar,” she said. Chores, laps around the house, helping a sibling with homework — it can all take up a lot of time, and they earn their keep in the meantime.
- From Valerie Ritchie, a parent coach and psychologist in the Netherlands: theme days, like Lego day, where you dump all your pieces on a table and have at it; mealtime planning, where each child gets one evening to come up with and prepare (with help) the meal and, more important, the dessert; audiobooks; sports competitions outside, preferably with as little contact as possible, or siblings only.
- From Brent Curran, who is working at home alongside his wife and has an eighth-grader and fifth-grader who are distance-learning: “Being deliberate about physical activity has helped us all,” he wrote in an email. This is a good time to go on a hike, nature scavenger hunt, walk around town (avoiding people!), have the kids create an obstacle course or even rediscover the joy of sidewalk chalk.
- From Emily Prucha, an English teacher in Prague who has three children home from school: Two boys spent a good portion of a day creating a movie with the iMovie app on their phones. She stocked up on ingredients, so now they have been cooking and baking. (Minute Mug Cakes are her daughter’s favorites.) She has a game cabinet that has not been touched in a long time. They live near woods and spend a lot of time on “adventure walks.” They aren’t going to movie theaters, so her children set up a theater in their house, with popcorn and chocolate. And they talk to their grandparents and friends in the United States via Skype. (Speaking of which, don’t forget to call the people in your lives who really may be feeling isolated now. Who doesn’t love to talk to kids? Those calls can take up a good amount of time, giving you a break that you may need.)
- In the past, we have suggested podcasts for kids, including “Circle Round”; plus things to do indoors in midwinter. Maybe the weather is nice enough to let them go dig outside. Have more suggestions? Email us.
Working from home, with kids
Remember the viral interview of Robert E. Kelly (also known as BBC One Dad) in 2017, where he was on live television and his two children burst through the door behind him? As we navigate working from home while schools and day-care facilities are closed, Kelly’s experience may look increasingly familiar.
“We’ve all been thrown into this situation where we have work, school and day care under one roof right now, and none of us were really expecting that,” says Emily Paisner, a workplace expert for Care.com’s care@work, a program that partners with businesses to provide employees a network of backup child- and adult-care options.
Paisner, who also hosts the podcast “Equal Parts,” and her husband are both working remotely and sharing care of their 8- and 10-year-old children. She says they discuss ahead of time what their scheduling needs are for the next day, blocking out times for meetings or other tasks that require their undivided attention, or they alternate days so each one can get in a chunk of uninterrupted work time.
She also points out that many people who are out of work temporarily and college students who are home from school may be looking for a way to earn money. “It may be a good opportunity to match people who are experiencing economic hardship who could help with caregiving while parents are strapped trying to watch kids and work,” she says. Both parents and potential caregivers should make sure to follow current CDC recommendations on distancing, though, and look into travel history and other risk factors to minimize exposure.
More on working at home with kids:
- Veteran remote worker Marie Elizabeth Oliver spoke with Daisy Wademan Dowling, chief executive of Workparent, who says clarity is crucial, especially with young children: Whether you promise to set a timer and check in every hour or schedule a snack date, set their expectations and know sometimes the clearest signal you can send is shutting yourself behind a closed door.
- For more on coping with feelings of isolation and as if you always are on duty, check out this story from Masha Rumer.
- Carla Naumburg wrote this piece about the perils of multitasking and distracted parenting.
- Sara Rhein’s essay about feeling guilty for staying home with a sick child could be helpful to those who are new to teleworking.
- And just last week we had this general advice piece on working from home during the coronavirus.
What about their anxiety? (What about mine?)
For younger kids, it is best to avoid specific information about the virus, says Elizabeth Meade, a Seattle pediatrician. “Keep the news and radio off when young kids are around. They don’t know how to interpret” the details. Older children probably know more, she said, and this is a good time to ask what they have heard about this and go from there.
“It’s helpful to set a calm tone,” said Jamie Howard, a clinical psychologist in the Child Mind Institute’s Anxiety Disorders Center and director of its Trauma and Resilience Service. “So if parents are anxious, we usually say that’s totally understandable. But just take a minute and don’t have a conversation with a child when you’re feeling particularly anxious or annoyed.”
It’s easy when we’re hunkering down, she said, to watch news channels on endless loops. Don’t do that. Take breaks, get outside, and make sure your children (and you) are eating healthful meals regularly.