While the coronavirus (COVID-19) has children and families staying safe at home, it is important to consider the need for structure and routine, education, exercise, reduced social contact, and calm, rational thinking and explanations. Now that kids are no longer in school, what do we do? On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D., director of psychology and neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, offers some advice.
How do we keep structure?
Try to consider this time to be similar to long breaks/summer vacation, and remember that kids may be excited that school is out too! This is an exciting time but is also stressful for parents and kids, both due to the necessary changes to child care, jobs and daily life, as well as uncertainty about the end point.
Set a schedule for weekends and weekdays, and post it in your home. It is helpful for everyone if there are clear expectations each day, and a clear schedule. Try to keep consistent bed-time and wake-up times, and meal times, trying to keep those the same as if they were attending school. Shower and get ready for the day, every day! Eventually we will get back on track, and it will be hard to adjust that sleep schedule.
Try to keep up with information from school, and virtual learning, and provide an ongoing academic schedule, as well as time for a morning walk or exercise, alternating school with a physical activity. Try to build in opportunities for fun that are also learning, such as cooking together, using the internet for lessons, and looking at virtual museums or other videos online.
How do I keep up with school lessons?
Many schools are providing virtual instruction/assignments. Make sure you are keeping up with any virtual instruction, and if needed, there are many good library associations and websites that can be used too.
How do I incorporate exercise?
Everyone will be calmer, and sleep better, if we have physical activity every day. Get involved in walks or runs together. Sprint the backyard, and definitely get active together for some fun, which could include Simon Says, relay races, kickball, etc. Family yoga is a great option and there are great videos online, as well as opportunities for everyone to do some stretching in the house together.
What should parents watch out for?
- Catastrophic thinking
- Increased substance abuse (by adults and teens)
- Sibling fights
- Fights and tensions among caregivers — Parents will probably have more arguments, and conflicts among all of the caretakers are likely, including sitters, nannies, grandparents and other family members. Tight quarters and limited time away from each other can contribute to arguments and even aggression
- Domestic violence/child abuse — Tempers and poor decision-making flair up during times of stress. If you are concerned about your actions or the actions of others, please make sure to rely upon regional resources and hotlines. Find ways to decompress and take breaks. This may mean that you will have to work as a team to relieve one another.
- Demoralization and depression — Watch out for depressed mood and irritability in ourselves and our kids. These are stressful times! Keep up on self-care as best you can, take deep breaths, and reframe negative thinking. Although things may seem bleak, this is a time for us to come together as families and as communities.
What are some ways to maintain self-care?
- Keep in touch virtually with others.
- Take deep breaths, using calming and meditation apps.
- Remember your coping skills, and use them!
- Try to keep as much of a routine for yourself as possible.
As parents, let’s give ourselves a break…
If you are giving your kids some extra screen time so you can get some work done … good for you! We are all going to need to be a bit gentler on ourselves and others. Let’s be kind to everyone and take care of our community. Stay safe.
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital experts. Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report. You also can explore more advice from Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D.