As schools close and workplaces go remote to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, parents everywhere are struggling to keep children healthy and occupied. If you’re anxious about how to protect and nurture kids through this crisis — often juggling work obligations at the same time — you’re not alone
Here are a few tips from the Child Mind Institute’s clinicians to help calm fears, manage stress and keep the peace.
Keep routines in place
The experts all agree that setting and sticking to a regular schedule is key, even when you’re all at home all day. Kids should get up, eat and go to bed at their normal times. Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. Kids, especially younger ones or those who are anxious, benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and when.
The schedule can mimic a school or day camp schedule, changing activities at predictable intervals, and alternating periods of study and play. Many activities that kids do after school have set up virtual classes. Mathnasium of Wolfchase offers math tutoring thru video-conferencing with the same instructors your child is used to seeing at the center. A great way to keep routines running during this time.
Be creative about new activities — and exercise
Incorporate new activities into your routine, like doing a puzzle or having family game time in the evening. For example, my family is baking our way through a favorite dessert cookbook together with my daughter as a sous chef. These are not only fun, but they also build math skills.
Build in activities that help everyone get some exercise (without contact with other kids or things touched by other kids, like playground equipment). Take a daily family walk or bike ride or do yoga — great ways to let kids burn off energy and make sure everyone is staying active.
David Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, recommends brainstorming ways to go “back to the 80s,” before the time of screen prevalence. “I’ve been asking parents to think about their favorite activities at summer camp or at home before screens,” he says. “They often then generate lists of arts and crafts activities, science projects, imaginary games, musical activities, board games, household projects, etc.”
Limit consumption of news
Staying informed is important, but it’s a good idea to limit the consumption of news and social media that has the potential to feed your anxiety and that of your kids. Turn the TV off and mute or unfollow friends or co-workers who are prone to sharing panic-inducing posts.
Take a social media hiatus or make a point of following accounts that share content that takes your mind off the crisis, whether it’s about nature, art, baking or crafts.
Stay in touch virtually
Keep your support network strong, even when you’re only able to call or text friends and family. Socializing plays an important role in regulating your mood and helping you stay grounded. And the same is true for your children.
Let kids use social media (within reason) and Skype or FaceTime to stay connected to peers even if they aren’t usually allowed to do so. Communication can help kids feel less alone and mitigate some of the stress that comes from being away from friends.
Keep it positive
Though adults are feeling apprehensive, to most children the words “School’s closed” are cause for celebration. Parents should validate that feeling of excitement and use it as a springboard to help kids stay calm and happy. Let kids know that you’re glad they’re excited, but make sure they understand that though it may feel like vacations they’ve had in the past, things will be different this time.
Accept and ask for help
If you have a partner at home, agree that you’ll trade-off when it comes to childcare. Especially if one or both of you are working from home and have younger children. That way everyone gets a break and some breathing room.
Everyone who can pitch in, should. Give kids age-appropriate jobs. For example, teens might be able to help mind younger siblings when both parents have to work. Most children can set the table, help keep communal spaces clean, do dishes or take out the trash. Even toddlers can learn to pick up their own toys. Working as a team will help your whole family stay busy and make sure no one person (Mom) is overwhelmed.