Parenting During the Coronavirus: How to Manage with Kids at Home
With a growing number of schools closing nationwide because of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, you may be one of the many parents attending Ashford University who are left wondering what to do while your kids are at home with you 24/7 for the next several weeks.
We’ve got several tips to help you remain focused on your own schoolwork, while keeping your kids engaged and entertained. Whether you have elementary school-aged little ones at home, or older high school teens, we are here to provide you with the support you need:
- How to talk to your child about COVID-19 and minimize anxiety
- How to structure time for school, fun activities, and family
- How to protect yourself and your family from the virus
- Remain calm and reassure kids in simple terms
COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented health crisis in our country, and while having kids at home may be an inconvenience you hadn’t planned on, it’s out of an abundance of caution to help prevent the spread of the virus. Stress is also contagious, and you don’t want your kids to worry. Limit the information they are exposed to, and provide reassurance that everything will be OK. Use simple terms for younger kids to let them know they are safe, and you will take care of them if they get sick.
“Remain positive and calm,” says Dr. LaTonya Santo, MSN, RN, and Chief Nurse Administrator of Ashford University’s RN-BSN program. “Avoid coronavirus overload, which can lead to stress and panic, by only monitoring the news or websites once a day,” she cautions. “Stress weakens the immune system and makes you more susceptible to the ill effects of any virus, bacteria, or illness,” Dr. Santo states.
Review proper hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and rules for preventing the spread of germs by limiting contact and cleaning surfaces regularly. Remind kids that they need to eat healthy, get daily exercise, and get plenty of sleep. There have been very few pandemics in the past 100 years! Luckily, public health systems are much better prepared these days. Ask teens how their friends are doing, which can help them to open up about how they are feeling. You can also text chat with them to encourage communication.
Every child has unique needs and desires, so you’ll have to tailor the next few weeks for your family dynamic. Let kids know you have a plan and that everything will be back to normal soon. But for now, everyone needs to stay home and stay as healthy as possible and prevent others from getting sick.
To see the most current information regarding COVID-19, please review this FAQ from the CDC.
Have a Family Meeting to Discuss Your Plan of Action
If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to have a family meeting to talk openly about what’s happening (in simple terms) and make plans for the coming weeks.
Next, create a household plan of action together, and discuss what the new normal will look like. Let kids know what your expectations are for completing school work, and remind them that you need time to complete yours as well. Allow everyone to weigh in on activity planning, meal planning, and important quality family time together. Get your new daily routines going ASAP. The less you have to think about what to do next, the better.
If you have family rules, now is a good time to review them. If you don’t, you might want to consider setting up a few expectations in advance to avoid conflict.
• Establish rules around screen time, cell phone use, and exposure to social media
• Establish a schedule for school, play, mealtime, family time, and bedtime
• Make a list of things to do when your child gets bored and have supplies ready in advance
Time for Homeschool
Since you are already a student taking online classes, you know how to structure your time to meet your deadlines. (Riiight?!) You’ll just need to add extra structure for the whole family now. “Kids thrive on routine,” says Dr. Allison Rief,” Lead Faculty of the Department of Education and Liberal Arts at Ashford University. Set up some working hour boundaries if you’re working remotely. Try to schedule school time in the first half of the day when brains are better able to focus, and kids have more energy.
“As an educator, I cannot stress the importance of reading, regardless of their age,” Dr. Rief added. “If there is anything you can be hyper-vigilant about (besides your health), it is making sure they have multiple opportunities to read daily. You can switch it up — read aloud, read silently, read as a family — just read!”
If your child has been given homework, make sure they complete assignments during your scheduled “school” time. If younger kids haven’t been assigned any work during the closure, you can provide grade-appropriate workbooks to keep their brains active. Change up the type of activities and lessons, so they have a shift in brain work.
Younger kids will need you to guide them through their school work. Keep lessons short. If something isn’t working or is frustrating, take a deep breath and move on to something else before it gets stressful. Take a break. Read a book together and snuggle and come back to it later. Or have an older sibling, friend, or relative step in to help you. Sitting down and just reading to your child will be greatly appreciated. It’s also a good idea to set aside some books for them to find on their own.
Older kids might have textbooks or library books with them at home, so they can work more independently. Encourage working ahead if they have online access to their assignments or email instructions from their teachers. During the closure, some cable companies are offering free limited-time access to broadband and Wi-Fi to households with K–12 and/or college students who do not have a subscription.
Encourage your child to stay current with emails and class assignments and to work ahead whenever possible. Are there any books they could be reading ahead of time? Book reports they can be doing? If your child knows of any upcoming tests, have them study ahead. Use the time you study and work on papers to model good study habits for them.
Schools will continue to communicate what (if any) assignments students should be working on at home. Take the time to read any communication from your child’s school. If you ever feel like you have to choose between being their parent and being their teacher, be a parent first. They can always catch up on anything academic that gets dropped or missed.
Keep Their Minds and Bodies Active
You’ll want to have a wide variety of activities on-hand to get your child’s mind off the outbreak and help reduce anxiety. Keeping kids active helps reduce stress and get endorphins flowing. See our list below of “72 Suggested Home Activities for Kids of all Ages” for lots of great ideas! You can even create an activity jar and a chore jar with activities written on separate pieces of paper, and anytime you hear your child whine, “I’m bored,” (or if you just need a break) have them go to one of the jars and choose a piece of paper. Have any necessary supplies ready to go in advance to avoid delays. Remember to allow downtime each day for your kids too, when they don’t have to do anything at all.
For teens, don’t be tempted to let them stare at a screen all day—whether it’s the TV, gaming console, computer, or cell phone. There is always plenty of work to be done in any household. Put them to work, and challenge them to learn something new around the house. Remind them to use disinfecting wipes to regularly wipe down their cell phone (where viruses love to live) and other frequently used devices.
You can also encourage your child to cook dinner for you for once. Have you seen how young some of the kids are on Chopped Junior and other cooking competition shows?! Your child can easily make a healthy fruit smoothie for everyone in the family during the day when you might be busy studying. They can also play waiter and take dinner orders like they are working at a restaurant. Sit down as a family each week and meal-plan, allowing them to choose their favorite foods to prepare. Celebrate meatless Monday, taco Tuesday, fish Friday, etc.
Outdoor air is a natural disinfectant, and the sun is germicidal. It’s important to make sure your kids spend as much time outside as possible! Bike riding, skateboarding, going for a walk, and playing any kind of sport is encouraged. If your child is a competitive athlete and is used to practice after school each day, encourage them to continue with their chosen sport at home if possible, or go for a run or get other forms of exercise so they stay in shape. Exercise is a beneficial distraction that helps keep all the body’s health systems functioning properly.
Playdates are not recommended right now, but social distance doesn’t mean social isolation. Kids can contact friends and relatives via Skype, Facetime, and old-fashioned phone calls. However, avoid allowing them to spend too much time engaging in social media, where the news tends to be inflated, and hysteria abounds.
Limit yourself and your kids to TV news exposure, as it can increase anxiety. “Rely on scientific experts who are well-known for informing the public on situations like this, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC,” says Dr. Tim Rice, Lead Faculty, Sport and Performance Psychology.
He added: “Control what you can control (such as washing your hands often, steering clear of places with large crowds, getting enough rest, staying home if you do not feel well, getting proper nutrition to keep your immune system strong, and having a good attitude by turning negative self-talk into positive thoughts).”
Dr. Rice says, “Stay in touch with those you care about (this can be helpful for you and them collectively) and do the things that you do to help you relax already, such as listening to music, reading a book, or meditating.”
Take Care of Yourself, Too
Self-care is important right now as well. Take really good care of yourself, and give yourself credit for doing a great job! It’s not easy being a parent or a college student, and if you’re doing both, you deserve an elbow bump! Everyone should try to get plenty of sleep, but that’s especially true for you. Forgive yourself if you get frustrated, angry, or discouraged. Look for moments of beauty during this crisis and you will find them. Ashford’s Facebook groups are also a great resource for support.
Minding usual bedtimes will allow you needed time to study, or just relax. You deserve down time just like your kids. Take advantage of the school closure by getting your kids to help you in areas you wouldn’t normally. They can handle it! Kids often want to help!
Protect Yourself and Your Family
Know the Symptoms: Review the CDC resources to see what the symptoms are. If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, get medical attention immediately. Consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.
Stop the Spread of Germs: Avoid close contact with people who are sick. People who are sick should stay home, except to get medical care. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw it away in the trash immediately. Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched frequently. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (scrub for 20 seconds!). If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick. According to the WHO, proper hand washing kills viruses that may be on your hands. This is something to stay on top of and make sure everyone knows they need to do after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing, going to the bathroom, and before eating. Remind kids not to touch their face, especially around their eyes and mouth (and nose!). Teens especially need to be reminded to heed this rule.
It’s a good idea to stock up on 14 days of needed supplies for your family and pets, in case you get sick. A few suggestions include soup, milk, juices, fruits and vegetables, beans, oatmeal, sports drinks, cold medicine, vitamins, and disinfectant supplies like wipes, and bleach. If you’re out of disinfectant or wipes, the CDC offers tips for making your own disinfecting solution to help protect yourself and others.
You may feel like it’s hard to be you right now, and that’s OK. This is a major disruption in your life, the kids are home all day, there are no large gatherings, and anxiety is high. It’s a challenge to be all of us right now. But guess what? We are all in this together, and Ashford University is here for you. Reach out to your advisor if you need help. Be thankful you are already taking online classes! Stay well and take care of yourself. Now go wash your hands, and give your kids some fun things to do to keep them busy!
72 Suggested Home Activities for Kids of all Ages:
- Take the family dog for a walk or offer to take a neighbor’s dog for a walk
- Get ahead of family birthdays by having kids make cards ahead of time
- Send postcards from your town to older relatives
- Go on a virtual museum tour
- Have kids fold the laundry and put it away for you
- Break out the LEGOs, and create a stop motion animation, build a new creation, or have a LEGO Masters competition
- Create a decorative ancestry family tree (simple for younger kids, more elaborate for older ones)
- Brush the family cat, or even teach your cat a new trick, like how to “sit” for a treat
- Plant fruit or vegetable seeds indoors using recyclable containers
- Use a reward system to have kids (actually) do their assigned chores
- Clean out the closet of outgrown clothes to donate
- Take photos of family members (don’t forget pets!) and make a photo book or other project
- Select a classic book that was one of your favorites as a child for them to read themselves, then discuss it.
- Watch videos and web cams of your local zoo, like this giraffe cam
- Order pizza from a place you’ve never ordered delivery from
- Play classic board games like the old days
- Bake a special treat
- Skype or Facetime with friends and relatives
- Write letters to grandparents, friends, or even members of the military
- Have older siblings help younger ones to “play school” at home
- Take a yoga break together with your kids
- Watch dance-along videos
- Practice guided meditation using any number of apps available
- Set up an arts & crafts table by a bright window
- Get (or create) a chalkboard or whiteboard to post daily assignments, chores, or activities
- Encourage kids to make their lunch the night before (to minimize interruptions)
- Use a star chart to track handwashing and other healthy habits and provide rewards
- Make healthy fruit smoothies using milk, yogurt, ice, vegetables, fruits, applesauce, nuts, etc.
- Paint on a small canvas to give away as a gift
- Make healthy stew, chili, or soup for the entire family to enjoy
- Go for a walk outside and collect leaves, rocks, etc. for art projects
- Take photos of interesting finds in the neighborhood
- Assign a book report on a topic special or unique to your family (maybe your area of study?)
- Practice that instrument
- Have kids make a list of favorite things to do (this may spark some additional ideas)
- Have races in the backyard or neighborhood park (like hopping on one foot, Simon says, crabwalk, etc.)
- Let your younger child pick a subject that you can study together for 15–30 minutes each day
- Allow kids to use all their building toys in one large structure
- Encourage your child to write a story and illustrate it (and maybe even make one for a gift)
- Set up a tent inside the house for them to hang out in during the day
- Set up a tent outside for them to play in
- Listen to podcasts (did you know there are many cool podcasts for kids?)
- Create artistic chalk art on the sidewalk or driveway
- Write a poem about the coronavirus
- Learn to knit, sew, or crochet
- Get those unused toys out of hiding or resurrect unappreciated gifts your teen never used
- Watch one of your all-time favorite classic movies together at the end of the day as a family
- Get kids to help complete that long overdue house project
- Build a model car
- Do science experiments
- Use clay to mold a sculpture
- Complete an entire crossword puzzle
- For Scouts, have them work on their next rank or not-yet-complete merit badge that can be completed at home.
- Have older siblings give younger siblings a mani/pedi
- Try a new recipe
- Learn how to say 10 words in another language
- Play croquet, tennis, soccer, basketball, or ping pong
- Set up minute to win it games indoors
- Play your own version of your favorite game show
- Make a list of fun things to do in the summer
- Start a free murder mystery game
- Have kids learn a new skit then perform it for the family
- Play checkers or chess
- Dust, vacuum, and clean and disinfect surfaces regularly
- Make a special kid-friendly bubble bath
- Go through your pantry or cupboards for expired food
- Make healthy homemade popsicles from fruit juice
- Foster a pet (or even a litter of puppies or kittens)
- Reach out to people who might be extra isolated
- Check out the giant list of ideas for being home with kids
- Listen to audio books
- Go ride a bike
Written by Ashford University staff