Homes across North Carolina are becoming workplaces, schools and daycares as families make plans to shelter in place for the next month.
As if parenting was not already hard enough, this new normal means many adults are taking on additional roles and responsibilities. Some parents are assistant teachers for the first time. Some are struggling to build a schedule that engages both a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old. And teenage angst has taken on a whole new meaning.
Parents and caretakers weigh in with their stories and questions. A mom with a teenage daughter on the autism spectrum asks how to talk to anxious kids. A dad expresses difficulty in finding uninterrupted work time, and a mom with joint custody of her child wonders how other separated parents are coping. Host Frank Stasio shares these stories and more with Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist and professor at Duke University, and Amy Scott, an eighth grade English teacher at Durham’s Voyager Academy and a contributor at Slate.
Parenting in a Pandemic: A Tipsheet
Tip #1: How To Talk With Your Kids
Robin Gurwitch: One thing to do is to truly sit them down and to just start the conversation with: There's been so much talk about coronavirus or COVID-19. Tell me what you know about it. That way parents can hear where their children are starting from. They can hear the accurate information as well as the misinformation related to COVID-19 and can begin the conversation from there.
Amy Scott (referring to conversations with her son, Patrick): One of the things about parenting is … always answer the question they asked and not, you know, more than what they asked necessarily. And so that's what I'm doing. I'm just leaving it at the question that he asks. I answer it, and then we go on about it.
Tip #2: How to Deal with Anxiety in Kids
RG: We ask children: Tell me how this is making you feel. Validate those feelings of anxiety or worry or fear, or even anger. What we need to do is let them know sometimes we have lots of those feelings, even grownups have those feelings. Here’s what we’re doing about it: We wash our hands. We’re staying home to not only keep our family well but to make sure our friends and their families stay well. So giving them some ideas of why we’re doing it, but recognize and validate.
Tip #3: How to Find the Right Routine
AS: With all kids, be flexible with the schedule. Play time is learning time. Don’t interrupt free play if they are very much engaged in what they’re doing. I’ll put off chore time for half an hour if my kids are really focused on an activity that they’re doing.
RG: Structure with flexibility is probably the watch word. Having some consistency makes a big difference in terms of coping, resilience and anxiety management. In that schedule, include time for family activities, include time for calm and quiet and alone activity, include exercise.
Tip #4: How to Get Work Done at Home
AS: I’ve had to make peace with being interrupted. I’m teaching on Zoom, and sometimes my kids jump into the Zoom class with me. As long as I’m getting some work done, I’m considering it a victory.
RG: You’re going to have children who want to be more present with their parents.You could easily set a timer for an hour, hour and a half: I’m doing my homework, let’s talk about what activities you’re going to do. But at the end of when that hour and a half goes off, then I’m giving you undivided attention — for even just 20 minutes — to do something together.
Tip #5: What to Think About All that Time Your Kid is Spending On Social Media
AS: One thing about teenagers: let them grieve these experiences that they were expecting … They were all expecting sports seasons and proms. They're very much social animals. They care a lot about what peers think, and they're starting not to care so much about what mom and dad think. They do need to interact online to socialize.
RG: It’s also important that all of us think about two things. One: Where are we getting our information? Make sure it’s a trusted source, i.e. the CDC, our State Department of Public Health. Two: It is imperative that every one of us, including our teenagers, take a break. That means absolutely, positively stepping away and taking a break, doing something completely unrelated to coronavirus.
Tip #7: What to Do If You are Separated from Your Spouse
RG: I wish there was a one size fits all, but there is not. Families truly have to negotiate this together. Think through Skype and FaceTime. Think through what are the precautions in each home that are being taken to keep children safe. And if you are ever unsure, make sure that you contact your attorneys that have helped with visitation if you're ever concerned about a child's safety. Those systems are still in place.
Tip #8: How to Make Sure Struggling Kids Get Help
RG: Children need to know: How do they call for help? Who can they reach out to? What we know is children that have been through trauma, the more stress and trauma that we add, the more at risk they are for mental health problems as well as physical health problems. I know in North Carolina, shelters are still functioning. Welfare workers are still providing child abuse investigators. We just need to make sure that we can connect families with a system.
AS: Sometimes kids feel safer communicating by email than they do in person. They're able to share struggles that they're having that maybe they wouldn't in person. So keeping those lines of communications open, being available to them, making sure that you’re listening and paying attention to the signals that they’re giving.