How to Parent During Coronavirus, Without Losing Your Mind
DEAR DR. JENN,
My husband and I are both working from home for the foreseeable future with our two kids whose school has been shut down. We feel lucky fortunate enough to have jobs that allow us to be home right now, but the lack of any routine or structure is driving me crazy — and it's only been a few days. I am freaking out about what the next few weeks or months are going to be like, and am already fighting with my husband over how to divvy up taking care of the kids and the house and get our work done. Help. —Locked in and Losing It
DEAR LOCKED IN,
I feel you. As I write this, I am on day six of our self-imposed locked down with two middle school-aged kids. It's not easy, but it is doable. We have been learning by trial and error. I also have the great advantage of being a shrink who has written two books about child development and parenting. While there is no one set of rules to stick to, here are some tips for finding some normalcy for your kids (and yourself) during this unprecedented time.
1. Get on the same page as your partner.
We are early into this quarantine and I am already hearing a lot of women complaining about husbands expecting them to do all the childcare or housework. What I recommend is that you both sit down and make a list of everything that needs to be done in a given day from housework to childcare and take turns picking tasks. You can even include incentives to make sure you both complete their tasks. Things like a 15 minute shoulder rub or a sexual favor can be fun ways to make sure you're on the same team during this stressful time.
2. Make a daily schedule, ideally involving your kids.
Sit down with your husband the night before to create a schedule for the next day that takes both of your work schedules into account. If your kids are old enough, have them participate in creating it. Kids do best when they know what comes next; this consistency and structure sets them up to succeed. If they know naptime is coming up next, it helps them to prepare for the transition. If they are teenagers and they know that lunchtime is in 20 minutes, they are more likely to finish their work or get off FaceTime with a friend without making a big deal.
3. Find a balance of academic, creative, and physical activities.
Being on lockdown can make everyone a little stir crazy. Having a balance of school work, artistic time, and exercise really helps those jittery feelings. Our brains need balance. It can't be all work or all play. Make sure that in addition to any online schooling or, if you have a little ones, educational activities you may be doing, that you have downtime for your child.
In our home, we all exercise together in the morning. Many trainers and apps (like Peloton) are offering free online classes during this time of crisis. If you can't find an app you like, check out YouTube for yoga, calisthenics, strength classes — or anything else you and your child might enjoy doing together.
4. Allow older kids social time through apps and social media.
If your kids are home from school and away from their usual sports or other extracurricular activities, it's important to allow them time to interact with their friends. Allow your kids time to FaceTime or go on TikTok or Instagram. Connection is key and being able to stay in touch with their world and their friends are important to their emotional health during this stressful time.
5. Come up with household projects to work on.
Little kids can help organize their toy basket. Older kids can go through their closet and get rid of stuff they've grown out of. Projects to better your home together as a family will help you to bond as you work towards a common goal. When your child picks their projects, it instills a sense of self-efficacy and gives them something productive to focus on.
6. Have connected family time.
Be old-fashioned! Pull out the board games, share family dinners, play cards, watch a movie together, look at old baby pictures. We are a very connected family, but this time at home together has taken our relationships to a whole new level. Being trapped in a house all together means we have found ourselves just hanging out, sitting, and talking on a whole new level. That connection is the silver lining in a tragic and scary situation.
Do your best to look at this time as an opportunity to solidify and connect with your family. Develop new family rituals, spend more time talking, and also listening. If all goes well, you will walk out of this a stronger more loving and healthy family.
The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.