As the novel coronavirus spreads, the United States has declared a national state of emergency today. Many parents are facing school closures and the reality of needing to spend the next couple weeks – at minimum – with children at home. I have received several texts from friends jokingly suggesting that they’ll drop their kids at my house, since we homeschool and I’m used to being with my three kids all day. I get it! If I had stayed with my career in journalism after becoming a mother, I can easily see myself in the position many parents find themselves in today … feeling a bit panicked and wondering how to fill the days.
I thought perhaps it might be helpful for me to share some thoughts on how to navigate life at home with kids.
A couple things to note: my kids are 10, 6 and 3 so what I share will be based on my own personal experience. The way we structure our days may not work if you have older kids, but hopefully you will still get some helpful ideas. Also, I am sending this out into the world with *zero judgement* of your parenting choices or whatever you need to do to get through the day. We are all doing our best with the resources we have.
Preview big changes
Kids thrive with a clear sense of structure and they can relax when they understand what is coming next. Previewing is something I do a lot with my kids. Every night at dinner we preview what is coming up the next day. You can walk your kids through tomorrow’s plans (and plans aren’t limited to out-of-the-house plans, but plans like “we’re going to play board games in the morning and bake cookies in the afternoon”).
You will also want to sit down with your kids and preview this whole school closure experience for them. Explain why it’s happening, why it’s important and what it will generally look like for your family. Will caregviers’ work schedules change? Will important events the kids have been looking forward to be cancelled? What will education look like for the next couple weeks for school-aged children? During our conversations with our kids we also previewed how we plan to make the next couple weeks special. We’re planning some fun movie and game nights and special treats like hot chocolate and homemade popcorn. We likened it to a snow storm we had a couple of years ago where our city shut down and we stayed home and cozied up.
Plan for a loose structure
Deciding on a basic flow for your days at home will help your kids from stressing out from uncertainty. Kids who attend school are used to a lot of structure, and that can be comforting. The vast openness of the next couple weeks might make them panic just as much as you. Think about your day as a series of pockets of time and decide how you might like to fill those pockets. Begin with meals and rest times and then fill in the open pockets from there. Here is an example of our bare-bones daily rhythm, which is like the scaffolding that holds up our days in good times and bad.
- Wake, get ready for the day
- Breakfast clean-up and chores
- Learning time
- Quiet time
- Free play
- Dinner clean-up and a quick tidy of living spaces
Learning time could look like lots of different things. Maybe your school has sent home some suggestions for reading or projects for your school-age child. Maybe your child has online learning commitments through a closed school. For younger children this could look like getting out the play dough, kinetic sand, baking a loaf of bread or reading a stack of picture books together.
Creating a visual is helpful.
Being with children 24/7 can get very overwhelming, especially for introverted parents (speaking from experience here!). It is absolutely OK to require that your kids spend an hour of quiet time in the afternoon. We have been doing quiet time since my 10.5-year-old dropped her nap many years ago. Ideally this would be screen-free time but of course do what works for your family. You may be surprised at how engaged your child can get with LEGO or Playmobile or a puzzle or whatever their favorite toy is. Google “quiet time activities for kids” or “quiet time activities for three-year-olds” for an endless supply of ideas.
Try to spend this time truly taking care of yourself, an not getting bogged down in overwhelming news. Snag a square of dark chocolate from your stash, crack open a good book or even try to take a nap on the couch. Of course if you’re working from home, this is a great opportunity to get some focused work done. On that note, I have found that pairing quiet time with an afternoon movie is a good strategy for getting myself a solid three hours of focused time, so if you are working from home a quiet time paired with a movie might be a great afternoon strategy.
Set some expectations
One thing I have found as a family that spends most of our time at home is that the home gets used a lot and things get dirty fast. It can be overwhelming. It is 100% appropriate to ask your kids to pitch in. I know that when I was growing up and attending public school, my parents didn’t ask much of my brother and myself because we were so busy with school. This time at home could be an opportunity to teach your child how to unload the dishwasher or wash and fold their own laundry. Not sure what your child is capable of? There are lots of age-by-age chore charts online – here’s one list to get you started. Young children learn by imitation and will love to sweep alongside you or fold napkins while you fold laundry.
Pick a project
I find that my children devolve into fighting and less-than-ideal behavior when I am spending too much time on my phone or laptop. They are much more settled and calm when I am up and about and doing things that they can observe. So if your kids are bouncing off the walls, try picking a project and maybe even getting them involved. For myself, I’m thinking about the outgrown kids clothing in our basement that needs to be sorted through and donated, the pantry that could be organized, the recipes I’m always saving on Pinterest and the backlog of photo albums I could make. Not to mention the dust under my furniture. Stay active yourself and you can model for your kids how to occupy yourself and be busy without the constant need of outside stimulation.
I hope these thoughts have been helpful! If you have other suggestions I would love to hear them in the comments!
Wishing your family good health.
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