Parenting in the midst of a pandemic

By Catherine Rose

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word “crisis”. One brush stroke stands for danger, the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity.”– John F. Kennedy

Throughout the world everyday life has been turned upside down in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and families are facing significant disruption. There are financial issues to face along with staying healthy.

Now the kids are home from school for a minimum of two weeks and there are many projections that it will be longer. At this point in time. the silver lining for most families is the knowledge that worldwide children have not been developing serious symptoms from this disease.

The basic structure of family life in 2020 has been disrupted. Overnight, elements of family life have disappeared. With school and regular work routines changing and the loss of child-care options, after-school activities, play dates and friends getting together, families are being challenged daily.

Despite the chaos of now, there is much opportunity for families to grow closer and learn more about each other and the world they live in. Every family has an opportunity to develop a unique family plan to not only get through these times, but to grow and thrive.

Information and structure are both essential elements in developing a family plan.

We are being bombarded by information, most of which seems to be focusing on the pandemic. Adults need to provide factual information to their children in an age-appropriate manner.

Younger children need to know about germs and how they can make people sick. They may become more confused and distressed if they are exposed to the news and adults talking about worries related to the virus and social distancing.

Tweens and teens need good information and opportunities to sort and sift through the information with adults. It’s important for parents to have ongoing discussions with their children about what they are understanding.

Discussing recommendations from scientists and public health officials with children of all ages and emphasizing the importance of social distancing and hand washing helps keep the whole family safe. Parents may be surprised at how thoughtful many young people can be when challenged with information that affects their lives.

Structuring daily routines may pose a significant challenge but it is an essential element for helping children, especially younger children, to feel safe and secure.

1. Bedtime should continue to follow a pattern consistent with a school schedule. (This is not summer vacation; kids will be expected to be right back on schedule and ready to make up for lost time when school opens again.)

2. Family mealtime is a great opportunity for families to sit down with each other and talk about their day. Even though you’re in the same home all day, you might be involved in different activities. (It is a good opportunity to ask the kids to put away their phones for that time.)

3. Learning time will be really important especially since we do not know how long this crisis will last. Many children will lose the gains they’ve made this year if their minds are not moving forward learning new things. In addition to materials sent home by schools there are many web sites available for children to explore and learn. This might be a great

opportunity for children to explore particular subjects that interest them. (Parents may want to bargain with some children: For every 1/2 hour of learning time, they get a 1/2 hour of recreational screen time). Parents may want to plan to participate in their child’s learning time in ways that are very different than reviewing homework.

4. Family fun time is another great opportunity to step away from screen time. Outdoor activities definitely should be a priority for all kids. Life feels way more normal outside on a sunny day. There are many parks and beaches to explore throughout Delaware and a day trip to a nearby new place outdoors for a picnic might lift everyone’s spirit. Again, it’s important to practice healthy social spacing and hand washing habits. And if you or your children are feeling sick, stay home.

 Planting a garden together, or pots for flowers might be fun for all. There are vast numbers of both learning activities and fun family activities on the internet. Families can explore these together to find additional opportunities they might enjoy.

This is a historic time and it will pass. Families might think about creating a family journal together. All members can contribute; young children with stories and drawings, a daily challenge for members to write down the “best of” each day and “most challenging thing” each day. Take some pictures and make videos.

It will be important for parents to stay as positive as possible and humor can go a long way. (Have a family member record how rolls of toilet paper are left each day).

By preserving a record of these times, young people have the opportunity to learn and remember that despite the fears and challenges, they learned much about the world, their community, and their ability to get through difficult circumstances.

Catherine Rose, LPCMH, is a mental health professional involved with Project DelAWARE in Indian River School District, Delaware Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health.