By Allison Amy Wedell
I don’t know about you, but when I signed up for this whole parenting thing, I didn’t think “keep her safe and sane during a pandemic” would be part of the job description. And yet, here we are, and like everyone else in the world, I’m trying desperately to navigate my family through this crisis with absolutely no road map. It’s “fake it ’til you make it” on steroids.
Fortunately, I’m not alone—and if you’re a parent trying to help your kid(s) stay safe, sane, and busy right now, neither are you. I have put some measures in place to check in with my daughter, limit her screen time, and give her some agency and control, but I wondered what others were doing. So I put the question to my friends and found that the responses fell largely into four categories: emotional check-ins, moving (inside or outside), family fun, and routines.
Parents are finding that their kids need to be safe not just physically, but emotionally. Many parents have started having deliberate conversations with their kids about how they feel and why. Emily checks in with her first grader using the same five-point scale his teacher used every morning, where 1 is “worst” and 5 is “best.” The mom from Fishers, Indiana, takes about 10 minutes a day to talk with her son about his feelings and remind him that it’s okay to feel emotions such as sadness.
Machelle, whose son is at the opposite end of the school journey, told him how sorry she is that he’s having to finish his senior year under lockdown. This led to a conversation with the Seattle senior about control: “not getting worked up about things we can’t change, so we can focus on things within our control.”
Katie is a single mom in Cheyenne, Wyoming, whose second grader has preexisting emotional issues, including anxiety. “To help her, I’ve given her the freedom and space to feel how she feels. No judgment. No questions,” says Katie. “It’s helped her know that her feelings are okay and valid.”
Anyone who has ever witnessed an elementary school class right before the recess bell rings knows that this opportunity for kids to move their bodies and get a change of scenery goes a long way toward helping them focus, deal with big emotions, and just blow off steam. And with varying versions of stay-at-home orders in place around the country, parents are finding ways to make that happen.
Chris has been taking her tenth-grade daughter on day trips to historical monuments and other landmarks (ones that don’t require any personal interaction, of course), such as part of the Oregon Trail, near their Cheyenne home. The wide-open spaces help break the daily grind, and Chris and her daughter often learn something new together. Pam, another Cheyenne mom, takes her twin seventh graders on nightly drives. They crank up the radio and sing together at the top of their lungs.
Rachel takes to the sidewalk in front of her family’s Seattle home with chalk. She draws what she calls a “circuit”: sort of an elaborate game of hopscotch that directs you to hop on a certain foot, skip for a certain number of squares, run, walk, or do any number of other physical activities. She has her preschooler and first grader complete the circuit a certain number of times to earn tablet time, or just when they’re getting grumpy from being inside for too long.
Jenny and Rick have a fifth grader and a seventh grader who aren’t used to spending so much time together. So to get the kids working together, these parents set up a scavenger hunt across their Cheyenne house. They also gave the kids yarn and tape and let them turn the hallway into a laser maze obstacle course. “They are competitive with each other, and it brings out their creative spirit,” Jenny says.
Suddenly finding themselves without busy schedules to work around, many families are scheduling time for fun together, especially in the evenings. Sabine, who lives with her family outside of Kaiserslautern, Germany, lets her kids pick a board game every night, which they all play together. “It seems neither special nor spectacular, but usually we lack the time to do that often,” explains Sabine.
Inga lives in Kittery, Maine, with her husband and four kids ages 8 to 14, and they’ve been playing charades together every night. She finds it “helps to end the day on a positive note, connecting and laughing together.”
Greenwood Village, Colorado, mom Melissa has combined family fun with a reward system. She suddenly finds herself dungeon master for her three teenagers’ new Dungeons and Dragons game. They only play once a week, which helps “discourage procrastination and gives the kids something to look forward to,” says Melissa. “We only play when all are done with their homework for the week.”
Tawnya is a mom to a preschooler and a fifth grader in Laramie, Wyoming, both of whom were allowed to turn their rooms into blanket forts. Tawnya didn’t mind when the kids refused to take them down, because she found that the blanket forts were not only fun for the kids, but also added an unexpected layer of security.
Some parents have found that their kids are more comforted by keeping a strict routine, while others find it better to play things by ear depending on what the day brings. Kate, whose family was evacuated from their overseas posting due to the virus, is now working hard to keep her first and third graders’ routines steady, with a definite start time for “school” and set times for meals and bed. Tonje is doing something similar with her fourth grader in Vancouver, British Columbia, except she has scheduled “connect time” every day—an hour for her daughter to video chat with friends and family from all over the world.
Meredith, on the other hand, found that a stricter schedule was causing her daughter to struggle socially. So the McKinney, Texas, mom decided “chores can wait. If she is FaceTiming friends, Zooming with peers, or group chatting with loved ones, I’m letting it go.”
The Best We Can Do
The biggest takeaway for me, in reading all these coping strategies from my friends, is that we’re learning that we don’t have to be perfect and that we’ll fail if we try to keep everything the same as it was before the pandemic. There’s never been a situation like this in our lifetimes, and if we don’t acknowledge that and make our peace with it, we’re doing our kids and ourselves a grave disservice. The best we can do is to see this upheaval for what it is—unprecedented—and help our kids feel safe and supported despite it.
Allison Amy Wedell is a writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on sexual abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social and emotional learning, public safety, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at babycenter.com, MomsRising.org, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.
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