As the reality looms that in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, schools, community centers and businesses may be closed for an extended period of time, the fear is beginning to set in. This fear cannot be easily categorized because it derives from so many source. For some of us it is about the deep emotional fear we and our kids may be feeling in response to a pandemic. For those of you parenting kids who are feeling a lot of anxiety during this time, I refer you to Lisa Damour’s excellent piece in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/well/family/coronavirus-teenagers-anxiety.html
There are a lot of other worries that stem from the potential impacts the virus may have on our lives and our communities. Many of us are worried about our financial situations if we are unable to run our businesses as usual and about the larger health of our economy. For others, we fear not for ourselves but for the most vulnerable people in our communities who are immunocompromised or at risk of going without food or safety. Personally, I worry a lot about running out of food (I take a duffel bag of food on regular airplane flights) so I am obsessively replenishing the non-perishables in my cabinets. And lots of us, to name the elephant in the room, are worried about what it will be like be home with our children hours and hours a day for an indeterminate period of time. Essentially the “I didn’t sign up for homeschooling” reaction, to which I totally and utterly relate.
I know many schools are hard at work setting up online learning capabilities and my kids’ school successfully ran a morning of remote classes today, but it still leaves us with A LOT of the day to fill without the usual activities — sports teams, after school classes, social plans etc. On top of that, many of us are trying to get our regular work done with our kids bouncing around our houses. To be brutally honest, and I will speak for myself, I am afraid that without lots of structure imposed from the outside world, my family will turn to excessive amounts of television, Xbox and social media or risk tearing each other apart. I am scared we will turn into zombies who don’t connect to each other and most of all, I’m worried I won’t be able to get through the day without completely losing it with my kids.
So with that in mind, here is my first installment of Quarantine Parenting: a series (that will hopefully have a short life because we will all get to safely go back to our normal routines) about parenting our kids in tight quarters. This first installment of Quarantine Parenting offers some basic tips on how to institute some structure during highly unstructured times so that our children continue to develop their brains and we maintain a semblance of sanity. These are some practical steps I’m going to take in my own family so that our days don’t become 12-hour Netflix binges (no judgment here if they do.) My philosophy on parenting, and basically everything else in life, is that we begin as we mean to go on.
STRUCTURE AND LIMITS
Most of us need structure in our lives to help feel in control, understand expectations for our behavior and increase our productivity. (My husband is a blessed exception to this as he requires no structure to be productive, but I drop immediately into the fetal position without structure.) Hopefully, if your kids are home from school but not on spring break, they will have some kind of structure instituted by their schools during the school day either via remote learning or assignments. However, as I learned today, that will still leave you with A LOT of free time left before bed. Here is my plan for my family — I hope you find it helpful.
- Put a cap on screen time not involving online classes or schoolwork.
My temptation, when my family has a lot of unstructured time or I’m trying to finish a work assignment, is to give my kids unfettered access to electronics so that I can have some peace and quiet. While I think that will be a reality to some extent in the coming weeks, my goal is to not totally give into the power of the iPad for a couple reasons:
- When I take them off electronics after they’ve been on them a long time, they get MEAN and CRANKY and I don’t like that version of them.
- I don’t want them to get out of the habit of learning, reading, problem solving and being creative during this limbo time because it will be that much harder to get them back on track when they do go back to school.
Tonight, I am going to sit down with my kids and ask them what they think would be a fair amount of screen time and appropriate times during their waking hours for screen time. I am not going to just tell them what I think because I’d like them to get there on their own, however my end goal is this: no screens for entertainment purposes from the time they wake up until the time that all online learning and homework is done. And a limit of an hour of screen time during what would normally be a school day/night. Let’s see if that’s where we end up. N.B. These limits will not count for weekends in my house!!!
- Put a cap on time spent on social media.
This is a tough one because if our kids are not socializing in person due to social distancing, they are going to want to socialize online. There is some recent research that shows that certain kinds of online socializing can be healthy and nourishing for kids. However, the same research shows that there can also be lots of unhealthy effects for certain kinds of kids from long periods of time spent on social media. I am not going to solve the social media question tonight, but what I am going to do is to ask my two teenagers, who have access to social media, what amount of time on social media will allow them to feel connected to friends without going overboard. I want to get their insights into what is a realistic daily limit and then ask them to put that limit into their phones under the screen time limits. I am then going to institute the same limits for myself, partially so it’s a family wide policy and partially because I could use the same brake on my own social media use. I will report back on their answers.
- Involve my kids in the daily chores and routines in our home.
If your household is anything like mine, I spend much of a normal weekend when my family is home and hanging around, doing laundry, loading the dishwasher, washing pots and tidying up while the rest of my family CHILLS OUT. I don’t recommend this model in the best of times and I certainly don’t recommend this model under quarantine conditions. I didn’t do so hot in this category under the philosophy of “begin as you mean to go on” (sigh) but the upside of extreme conditions is that they allow for resetting old habits. I am of the belief (some of my friends disagree) that our kids need to participate responsibly in the running and functioning of our homes so that some day, they can successfully run their own homes. What better time than a quarantine to institute a chore chart? Partially to inculcate domestic responsibility for kids of all genders and partially because without sharing the load, those of us in charge of keeping things neat and tidy will wind up feeling resentful and angry. So my last task for tomorrow night is to have my kids come up with an initial list of responsibilities that need to be accomplished in our home each day and then divvy up those jobs amongst themselves. Tomorrow, they will be responsible for designing a visually appealing chore chart for us to use on a regular basis. Fingers crossed on this one.
I am accepting requests for potential topics covered in Quarantine Parenting. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please avoid topics like: Is it safe to eat raw brownie batter on a daily basis? Is this a good time to start a juice cleanse? Can I get my child certified as a massage therapist?