Courtesy of Sesame Workshop
Courtesy of Sesame Workshop
Parents, let's be honest: Many of us are struggling right now.
Some have lost loved ones to COVID-19; many of us have lost jobs. And nearly all of us have spent the past two months juggling new parenting responsibilities as our children stay home and schools shift online.
In March, NPR's Life Kit team put together this guide to help parents navigate the tumultuous early days of the pandemic. But in the intervening weeks, the challenges have changed. So we checked in with Rosemarie Truglio, a developmental psychologist and senior vice president of curriculum and content at Sesame Workshop, to gather wisdom you can use during this current phase.
(And Grover has some advice just for kids, here.)
When is this gonna be over?
At the beginning of the pandemic, kids' questions were often easy enough to explain with a little science. What is COVID-19? Easy. How can we keep from getting it? There are no guarantees, but hand-washing works wonders!
Now, however, the top question in the minds of many kids — and adults — is, when will the coronavirus crisis end? And that one is mysterious and unexplainable. Still, it requires an honest answer, says Truglio, one that's hard for some parents to say: "I don't know."
But don't stop there. Shift the conversation by asking, "What do we have control over now?" And then plan an activity that's fun, that your kids can look forward to and that you can control, pandemic be darned.
One example: Go camping — in a nearby state park, in your backyard or even in your living room. Pitch a tent, roast marshmallows (on the stovetop if you have to) and gaze up at the stars — even if you have to cut them out and tape them to the ceiling.
What matters in this confusing, indefinite time, Truglio says, is that kids feel some sense of control and have something happy they can mark on the calendar. There have been so many great examples of families getting creative to mark milestones and special occasions — drive-by birthday parades, graduation yard signs, even a DIY trip to Disney World.
We all need to forgive our kids when they cross a line now and then. But you also need to forgive yourself if you don't always handle their misbehavior with the optimal amount of patience and grace. Most of us are not at our best right now, and that's OK.
"We're human beings, and we're going to lose it. All of us, even myself," Truglio says. For her, it was when she was working from home and her Wi-Fi went out. Her son tried to console her by giving her a hug, but what she really needed was some space.
To make sure we lose it less often, Truglio says, try to take a breather whenever you start to feel overwhelmed by a situation — just put a door between yourself and your child for a minute or two and practice some deep breathing. Also, be sure to recharge your batteries by scheduling a little me-time here and there; maybe it's watching your favorite show once the kids are in bed or taking a hot bath while another grown-up in the house looks after the kids.
If you've never tried meditation — or you've not made time for it lately — we can't recommend it enough. Even 10 minutes of quiet can do wonders for your pandemic-thinned patience.
(Here's a quick mindfulness tool that Life Kit recommends.)
But if you do lose it with your kids, Truglio says, the important part is that you model the process of making amends. Truglio went back to her son, apologized and got that hug after all.
Build kids' resilience and self-sufficiency
Many of us feel torn and guilty as we try to balance our kids' needs with our bosses' demands. A lot of the time it feels like the only way out is to hand our young ones a screen. But Truglio says this is an opportunity to parent differently, in a way that equips our children with essential life skills.
"This is not a time for kids to think that they can have their parents' 100% attention," says Truglio. "It's so important for children to build what we call resiliency skills. And part of resiliency skills is to have them cope with disappointment and frustration."
It's OK to say, "I just can't be with you right now, and I trust you to figure this out."
"Let kids have the space to be creative problem-solvers. Because when you remove yourself and have them be much more self-sufficient, they are developing these important critical thinking skills. You're empowering them to be problem-solvers."
These days, Truglio says, many kids are so reliant on the adults in their lives that "they're afraid to make a mistake because they think that mistakes are bad. And we need to flip the script on that as well and say, 'That's how you learn!' "
Schoolwork isn't the only way to learn at home
We've heard from many parents concerned that their children aren't learning enough in this time of emergency remote instruction. Teachers and school budgets are spread thin, and often, even the kids who are fortunate enough to have computers and access to Wi-Fi aren't getting more than an hour or two of instruction each day.
To that, we say, focus on the things you can control. Truglio has some good news here: Our homes are already full of potential learning experiences.
Cooking together, for example: "You have a literacy component because we're reading the recipes. We're reading ingredients. It's a math moment as we're measuring. It's a science moment as different substances are changing because of the properties of matter."
Board games — which we've explored before as a rich way to teach math — can also build kids' ever important social-emotional skills, helping them grapple with concepts of fairness, chance, strategy and practice.
Different families, different rules
As lockdowns soften and rules change around the U.S., families might disagree about some things — like whether to get takeout or when to wear a mask.
This can be confusing for children. If your child sees other kids playing together in the park, for example, she may think you're being unfair — or even mean — for not letting her do the same.
When you explain, Truglio says, "it's about putting a positive spin on this: 'These rules are put in place by our family because we need to make sure that we're staying healthy.' "
The more your child hears that these rules are about helping — that they are empowered to be helpers — the easier it will be for them to understand and ultimately embrace them. Truglio suggests something like, "'We need everyone in the family to do their part. And so this is why you're playing such an important role!' "
If you have a life hack on coping with the coronavirus crisis, give us a call at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org. Your tip could appear in an upcoming episode.
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The audio portion of this story was produced by Sylvie Douglis.