Committee for Children Blog

Real-Life Parenting Tips for a Pandemic

I’m what some might call a worrier. It’s not apparent. I have a very calm exterior honed through years of practice and—if my son is any indication—some sort of innate genetic predisposition of appearing unaffected in even the most dire of situations.

So when the outbreak of the novel coronavirus led to the shutdown of schools, bars, restaurants, and daily life as most of us know it here in Seattle, I didn’t panic. But my brain began to detour into what I like to call “COVID math.” I’d be on a conference call with colleagues or trying to help one of my kids through a meltdown and all of a sudden I’d think:

  • It’s only day six of school shutdown and we’re at an average of three tantrums per day. Maybe I should make an “X days without tantrums” board like they have “X days without injury” boards. Come to think of it, knowing my daughter, I’ll probably eventually need an “X days without injury” board, too.
  • I bought enough food for at least two weeks, but the children are eating snacks like cheese crackers grow on trees, so I’ll probably be out of snack options in half that time. I can get creative. Kids love dill pickles and croutons.
  • And my most terrifying equation: If I’m infected, I’m likely to show symptoms in X number of days and the period I was contagious extends back Y number of weeks, so I may have exposed Z number of people. Why, oh why, couldn’t I resist going to the store for that last bag of tortilla chips?

At least COVID math doesn’t require me to be up on Common Core math methods. But how am I supposed to homeschool my kids, while working at home, while managing both their social-emotional well-being and my own? I work in education for the leading provider of social-emotional learning programs for the last 12 years. I work with amazing psychologists, researchers, educators, product developers, and content creators. Working with these folks and interacting with parents, teachers, and advocates every day has made me feel like I’m better prepared to face what’s ahead and support my family and my colleagues. And yet, my daughter decided to throw her blueberries at the screen and refuse to participate during her virtual circle time with her preschool class this morning. I should be better at this.

Right now, most of the people I know are still weathering the storm in their homes. Schools in Seattle will not reopen until fall, so those caring for children are going to be in close quarters with their families for an extended period of time. Working parents and caregivers, in particular, have been sharing the difficulties of managing work and family priorities. Kids are already going stir-crazy, and many of my colleagues feel like they’re working all day because there’s no differentiation between their work and home life. Worries are high and folks are struggling to manage their own stress, let alone their kids’ big feelings.

Here are a few things that are working for me right now as a parent. I say “right now” because each day brings something new and I, for one, am focusing on enhancing my ability to adapt and remain mentally and emotionally healthy.

  • Prioritizing my social-emotional well-being and practicing self-care. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it can be easy to put your family’s needs before your own. But I’m trying to remind myself to put on my oxygen mask first. Before you can truly help others, you need to make sure that you’re healthy and happy. For me, this means making time for myself, trying out mindfulness, and limiting my consumption of media.
  • Practicing social-emotional skills. In times of crisis, it can be particularly hard to access your social-emotional skills and model them for your kids. I’ve been using art time and reading time to practice my self-awareness and talk with my kids about how to calm down, solve problems, navigate challenges, or build relationships.
  • Building good habits and routines. I say habit- and routine-building instead of schedule-building because, realistically, my schedule might be interrupted—by a kid who’s bored, a dog that won’t stop barking during a video call, or a partner who needs help with the remote. What we really need are reminders that perfection is unattainable and all we can do is try our best at any given moment. These weeks, I’m focusing on getting dressed in real clothes, having meals together, and cleaning up as we go. The exact times these happen aren’t as important.
  • Trying to answer the hard questions. My oldest child is 6 years old and he has been asking me hard questions from the moment he could talk. When he starts asking hard questions about the pandemic, I try to remind him:
    • We’re safe and we’re doing what we need to do to stay safe.
    • It’s okay to feel scared. All feelings are okay. What we do with our big feelings is important and we need to practice some skills to help manage our big feelings.
    • A lot of things in our daily lives have changed and there may be more changes we need to make, but we can work together as a family to make sure everyone understands the changes and is able to feel safe and comfortable with any changes.
  • Being kind. My grandmother always tells me, “Be kind. Just be kind to one another.” That’s what I want to leave you with. Empathy and kindness are more critical than ever during times of crisis. Let’s try to practice empathy. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Take care of yourselves, think about others, do what you can. I’ll be here in Seattle, dodging food fights, desperately searching for kids’ craft ideas, thinking of days when the words “toilet paper” didn’t trigger me, and cheering you on.