How to manage staying home with kids while practicing social distancing

Healthcare   |   Age: 8 days

How to manage staying home with kids while practicing social distancing  

The coronavirus outbreak is tough on all of us, and for parents or other caregivers who are home with children at this time, it can be particularly tough. Every family is different, and everyone will be managing under varied circumstances, but we have some ideas that we hope will help you and your family get through this challenging time.

Make sure your child feels safe and loved 

This is the most important thing. Children pick up on our cues, hear the conversations we’re having with other adults, and can sense when we’re stressed. Whether your child is old enough to really understand what’s going on or just only enough to be confused about why their birthday party has been cancelled, many kids will understand that something is going on. Try to remain calm, as best you can, so they can be calm. Be aware of what they might be hearing about the coronavirus from other sources — like other family, friends, or media —  and answer questions they have in a way that is age-appropriate so that they can understand it. If, say, your child knows you had to cancel their birthday party, you can tell them about how a lot of people are canceling events like that and staying home right now to keep from getting sick and spreading germs because there are some icky germs going around. You can also remind your child about what they can do to help prevent the spread of germs, like washing their hands and covering their coughs or sneezes. Reassure them that you’ll do all you can to keep them, yourself, and your family safe and healthy. 

Stick with a schedule — of some sort 

Depending on your family’s circumstances — whether you normally work outside the house, have a babysitter, if your child attends school — what's a “normal” schedule for you may have been thrown out the window at this point. You family may find that it’s helpful to stick with some sort of a schedule, even if it’s different than your normal one. Make time to sit down and have regular meals together. You might even have your children help with food prep and cleanup more than they normally would. If you’re working from home, do what you can to figure out a work from home schedule that works for you and any other adults in your home and your childcare needs. A lot of this will, of course, depend on your child’s age. Some children of school age might be happy to play, read, or color beside you while you work on a computer, while a toddler might have a tough time with this since they need more of your attention. If you have an older child, they might be expected to continue on with their studies. It might take some time to figure out a schedule that works best for everyone. But once you can find a rhythm that works, you may want to stick with it so that everyone in your home has a clear expectation of the typical rhythm of your days. And remember to stick with a normal bedtime and normal naps. You may even want to create a simple list or chart that helps everyone stay on the same page. 

Make time for learning, but don’t suddenly feel the need to take on the role of teacher 

If your child normally attends school, you may want to reproduce some of that at home. A lot of this may depend on their age and the expectations from their school system and teachers. Some kids might have virtual classroom time, homework to do, or use online educational materials shared by their teacher. You might find that you’d also like to have your child keep in the rhythm of their studies and make use of online learning resources for part of the day. As you work to figure out what exactly this looks like, don’t feel the need to entirely reproduce what your child would normally do at school or dedicate all of your time to playing teacher. No matter what your child’s age, there are plenty of easy, fun ways to work learning into your day that allow you to connect with each other and keep your little one learning and exploring — but only if that won’t cause you additional stress. If it’s going to be stressful, let it slide. You need to do what works best for you. That being said, here are some ideas you could try: 

Make time for open-ended play and fun, focused, distraction-free, connection

Give your child plenty of time for independent open-ended play. What’s great is this will also allow you to step away just a bit and attend to other needs as they play. (Though if you have a very small child at home, they should be supervised even as they play independently.) You should also be sure to engage in fun quality time with your child — meaning time when you’re not distracted by listening to the news or working or doing any number of other things that pull your attention. Play a board game or do a puzzle together, play pretend and ask your child to lead the way, have a dance party to your favorite album or let your little one play DJ. Watch a favorite movie, have story time under the covers with a flashlight, or take a walk (though keep your distance from people — at least 6 feet away) and count all the birds you see. This is a unique time, so you can also get really creative if it suits you. Make a short, silly movie together as a family, turn your living room into a campsite and picnic on the floor, play dress up and wear silly clothes all day long, have an at home spa session together and listen to relaxing tunes, or look out the window at night and make up stories about the stars. You might find yourself stretched thin during this time, and it might feel hard to make time for this sort of thing. So keep it simple if you need to. And know that it’s good for both you and your child — it’s a meaningful way to connect, decompress, and get creative in a way you might not normally. Once you get back to your adult responsibilities after, say, crafting colorful clay monsters, you’ll probably feel refreshed and better able to take on the rest of the day. 

Let your little one move

Growing kids need to stay active. It helps them stay strong, feel good, better handle stress, and even sleep better. While spending so much time at home during social distancing, it’s important to find safe ways to allow your kids to move their bodies. If you have a yard where they can play, let them spend time outside each day. If you can take a walk, run, hike, or bike ride where you live, do so. As you do these things, remember to stay 6 feet away from other people. If you need to stay inside most of the day, have a dance party to favorite music together, play hopscotch marked off with painter’s tape or foam floor pads, play red light green light or similar games, have them use their imagination while they move their body in creative ways — stomp like a dinosaur, twirl like a ballerina, or gallop like a horse. Check out Cosmic Kids Yoga for kid-friendly yoga practices. Search YouTube or local dance studios for online dance lessons. If you have a teen, you can exercise together, doing Yoga with Adriene or any number of other online exercise practices. With just a quick internet search, you can find a wealth of other fun ideas to keep your kids active indoors.  

Carve out time for yourself and prioritize your own self-care  

This is a strange time, and we’re all adjusting to a new “normal.” It makes sense that you might be finding it hard to prioritize things that you know help you feel your best. That’s actually why it’s so important to prioritize those things. Make sure you get some downtime everyday, whether that’s by doing shifts with a partner so you can step away and have some alone time, letting your child video chat with a family member or watch an episode of a favorite show so you can do something nice for yourself, or making time for self-care after your child is asleep. Self-care looks different for everyone, so you should do what brings you joy and provides pleasure. This might mean watching a favorite show, taking a warm bath, doing an at-home workout, playing video games, doing a face mask, or reading a book. It also might mean connecting with family over the phone, video chatting with multiple friends at once, or having an at-home date with your partner where you spend time doing something extra special together. And make sure you get enough sleep too. It’s important to prioritize the things that will refuel your tank and lift your spirits right now.

If you’re working from home, do the best you can and don’t burnout 

Many people who can work from home are doing so right now. But if you’re doing so without childcare, this could mean extra stress added to an already stressful situation. If it’s possible for you to still work during your regular hours — assuming you have another family member in your home who can watch your kids or children who are old enough to entertain themselves — then maybe it’s best for you to stick with that sort of a schedule. If you can't do that, you might try to split your work day into chunks, working when you’re able to while still caring for your kiddos. And if you have a partner who is also working from home right now, you might try to work in shifts, with one of you working while the other handles childcare, and then switching roles. One thing you should try to avoid is letting work creep into all hours of your day. This can quickly lead to burnout. It may take some time to adjust, but be honest with your employer about what your home situation is like right now and see how they can help, be flexible, or make adjustments that make your life easier.

Get creative about childcare and playdates

Even if you can’t visit with grandparents or gather with friends, do what you can to stay connected. Certainly, many smartphones and video chat apps make connecting virtually face-to-face really easy these days. But you might also do a video call with your child’s grandparents to have them read your child a favorite book while you cook dinner. You might do something similar with your kid’s friends so they can have a virtual dance party, ballet class, or tea party together. Older kids who are already incredibly adept at connecting online may be able to play video games with friends or write a story together via a shared document. They can even work together virtually to make digital art, craft a short film, or build a website or video game.  

Go easy on yourself

It's a hard job being a parent on an average day — this is not an average day. These are challenging times, so don’t hold yourself to an unrealistic standard or to standards of what other parents are doing. Remember, more than anything your child will remember what it feels like to be at home during this time, and it won’t matter as much if they had limited screen time or did creative crafts or had the same schedule everyday. If your little one ends up watching their favorite movie everyday just to keep everyone happy, that’s fine. More than anything, your child needs to know they are safe and loved. Prioritize what feels most important for your family, and know that what feels right might change from day to day. Just do your best, and be gentle and forgiving of yourself in the process. We’re all just trying to make it through.

Learn more about the coronavirus

Updated March 20, 2020

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