Parenting during a pandemic

Three-year-old Odette Sestito of Frederica plays with her toys while staying inside due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (Special to the Delaware State News/Dee Marvin Emeigh)

Whether we were ready or not, parents, children, and in some cases, extended family are in hiding during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re all seeking answers. Not only are we wondering when all this will end, and what it will do to us, but many of us are wondering what effect prolonged social isolation will have on our children.

For some, like 3-year-old Odette Sestito of Frederica, not much has really changed. True, she can’t attend her pre-school class or go to the park or museums because of the virus, but as an only child she is accustomed to interacting with adults and entertaining herself.

Other kids may have siblings to play with, but being home with them all day, every day can stretch even the best familial ties to the breaking point. That goes for parent-child relationships as well. Added to the strains of health and financial concerns, parents are now having to meet the needs of their children 24/7.

“The main thing is trying to keep them occupied with something other than their electronics,” said Larry Normile of Camden. “My kids are 17, 12, 11, and 3, so it’s hard to find stuff that they all want to do.”

The older ones have been able to continue schooling with Zoom and programs like Clever and Schoology. For that, Mr. Normile is grateful.

“I feel sorry for the school districts and teachers. I can only imagine the hours and planning that went into getting the kids back into school so quickly,” he said.

Planning is more important for parents now, as well. In fact, Justin Linefsky, a licensed clinical social worker and the CEO of Mind Mechanix in Milford, recommends a three-part plan. Likening the first step to an emergency procedure on an airplane, he says, “You must put on your own (oxygen) mask first before you put on anyone else’s. If we aren’t able to cope, nothing we do will be effective.”

While self-care may be counter-intuitive in the face of responsibilities that scream for attention, it is nevertheless essential. Our ability to get everyone through this hijacking of life as we knew it to a safe destination depends on us being dependable.

The second thing parents can do to help their children is to maintain a consistent routine. They may not need to get up quite as early, but what happens after that should be fairly predictable and stable.

“When kids cannot predict what happens next, it causes anxiety,” Mr. Linefsky explains.

Anxiety can lead to attention-seeking behavior, which can quickly spiral into negative actions and reactions by both children and parents.

This leads to the third piece in Mr. Linefsky’s guidelines.

“We need to model the right attitude, parent with love and compassion, and be the anchors for our children when the world is unpredictable and out of control. This means recognizing and balancing both our own and their needs,” he said.

Parents who need to focus on working from home need to focus on their children’s needs first, or frustration will result. Routines can be adjusted to meet your needs as well as theirs. Some teachers have even sent home information on what the school day is like, so parents can plan to include some things their children are used to doing.

As comforting as routine can be, we also need variety to keep from becoming bored. Let Google help. There are unprecedented amounts of cultural and educational activities available on the internet right now. Educational organizations and publishers are making materials available for no cost, museums all over the world are hosting virtual tours, zoos are conducting informational and entertaining programs, symphony orchestras and musicals are streaming productions, and the list continues to grow.

In addition, there are many “no-net” ideas requiring little or no money. The A to Z list that follows can help keep children active, engaged and safe at home. Let the children incorporate some of their own ideas to add to the list.

The best news of all is the very act of sheltering at home can be the best therapy there is if we keep the relationships healthy.

According to Turn Around for Children, founded after Sept. 11, 2001, to help children suffering from PTSD, “The most powerful tool that we as adults have to manage stress and to help our young people manage stress is the human relationship. Because relationships that are strong and trustful release the hormone oxytocin and oxytocin can restore a child’s sense of safety.”

For more tips on helping children through the pandemic:

Dee Marvin Emeigh is a freelance writer and photographer from Milford. She earned an M.Ed as Reading Specialist and English to Speakers of Other Languages from Wilmington University, and is a former high school English teacher and reading interventionist. She also holds life coaching certification from the International Coaching Federation.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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