Your Children At Home: Pandemic Parenting & Creating a Routine

Our local schools are closing. Yours have, too, or they will soon. What will you do with this time?

First, you may ask yourself about your job, your healthcare, your finances. Do I have sick leave? PTO? Does FMLA cover me?

Second, take care of your children emotionally. You tell them that the grown-ups have got this. You will not give a lecture on exponential graphs or stories about how the percentages of fatality vary from locale to locale. Unless your child is under the age of 2, in which case, carry on.

You will tell them that you are going to stay home as a way to keep other people from getting sick. You will tell them that if they do get sick, they will be ok. You will know that statistically, this is true, although you cannot be sure. But you will tell your child that the grown-ups have got this situation, and the grown-ups are doing the right things. Teenagers do not need to hear that Trump should have taken the WHO tests, but you can tell them that. Tweens do not need to hear all of the horrific symptoms; please don’t tell them unless necessary. Please turn off the news on the TV or radio. Even your 7-year-old will understand and be terrified.

Tell the children again that the grown-ups are taking care of everything. Talk about germs, fresh air, vitamin D, contagion, herd immunity, how vaccines are made. Do not talk about how viruses can mutate. Maybe in 2021. If your teenager already knows about virus mutations, tell them that the grown-ups have got this; the scientists are on it. Talk about some of the research being done at Johns Hopkins; veer the subject to how the tests are made, who is funding or not funding the making of the tests. Try not to talk about how long it takes to make a vaccine. Talk about how hard-working and intelligent the scientists are, how much we have learned about epidemiology since 1918. Maybe don’t mention 1918. Just say “in the last hundred years.” Talk about how the benefits of hand washing were discovered, how women used to die after childbirth because doctors didn’t wash their hands.

Third, make a plan with other families to watch one another’s kids, so the parents can take turns working and the kids can get social time. Or don’t; stay home. Your call.

Fourth, make a schedule with the kid’s input. This is not intended to make the day into “school,” per say. It is intended to give everyone structure for their own mental health.

Note: If your teenager is at home latchkey style, totally fine. Make this schedule with them, hang it up, and then ask them to write down what choices they made for each hour. At the end of the day, ask them to tell you their highs and lows (rose and thorn), and share yours with emotional honesty.

Here’s a start:

wake-up time (an hour later than usual — or more. sleep is great right now.)

an hour to eat breakfast, get dressed, etc.

an hour of focused work time in pairs or alone: Kid decides on an activity that involves learning something that they care about. Here are some choices: doing jigsaw or logic puzzles, learning to woodwork or sew, learning how to code or do graphic design, researching a topic that the kid is interested in and has chosen themself.

an hour to play/exercise: Indoors — an exercise or dancing video game, yoga, or any exercise equipment you may own. Outdoors — walk a dog for a neighbor or your own, go for a hike in a park, ride a bike, go for a run, practice soccer or basketball moves, and generally stay away from the playground.

lunch: Decide if it will be a big hot meal or a quick sandwich. Kid learns how to make the lunch, makes it, eats it, and cleans dishes.

an hour of quiet time: Reading a novel that the kid chose, writing a story or a journal, writing related to the student’s research topic (a fictionalized account or a play perhaps), drawing, painting, beading, listening to a book or podcast.

If your kid woke up at noon, it is now 5pm. If your kid woke up at 7am, it is now noon. The kid may now use the time before dinnertime to videochat with friends, play videogames, play with pets, babysit, deliver groceries to elderly neighbors, etc.

30–60 minutes before dinnertime: Learn to cut vegetables/cheese, serve it as an appetizer. Adult names all of the dinner options they can think of utilizing the ingredients available. Then the kid decides on the meal, and adult or older sibling teaches them the skills they need to execute the meal.

rose and thorn: Share your own rose and thorn with emotional honesty. If something really terrifying happened that will spike your kid’s anxiety, make an active decision about whether to share that thorn or a different thorn. The goal is to be vulnerable with your kid in a way that creates two-way trust while also retaining that “grown-ups got it” feeling of security. You may want to choose a thorn related to feeling cooped up in the house or related to your job, but not a thorn about coronavirus itself. Your rose can be open and honest every time. The first day you do a rose and a thorn, go first; model for the kid the kind of raw sharing that you would love to see them do. They may choose not to reciprocate the first day; a teenager may choose never to reciprocate in the rose and thorn format, but they are positively impacted by your own sharing.

after dinnertime: Individual choices (read: screentime) or family activity (game and puzzle night, karaoke night, movie night, playing music together, etc.).

The number one thing you can give your kid is a feeling of security as they share their feelings (or don’t), a time everyday to talk to you (or choose not to), and a sense of a new routine, a new rhythm. When they look back on this time as an adult, what do you want them to remember?