Sesame Workshop's Tips For Parents During The Coronavirus Pandemic Many parents are struggling right now — juggling kids at home 24/7 and coping with their own losses. In this episode, Rosemarie Truglio, a developmental psychologist and senior vice president of curriculum and content at Sesame Workshop, offers helpful pandemic parenting tips.
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When Will This Be Over? Sesame Workshop's Tips For Parenting During A Pandemic

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When Will This Be Over? Sesame Workshop's Tips For Parenting During A Pandemic

When Will This Be Over? Sesame Workshop's Tips For Parenting During A Pandemic

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KIM: Hey, y'all. This is Kim from Charlottesville, Va. I am calling with an idea that I've been putting into practice. I have scheduled a FaceTime call or Zoom call with each of the grandparents and uncles and aunts who can spend a little bit of time with one of my four children to do a worksheet or read a book. So if you have not done so already, I highly recommend enlisting for other family members who are also quarantined at home to spend some time virtually babysitting. Thanks.

CORY TURNER, HOST:

Hey. It's Cory.

ANYA KAMENETZ, HOST:

And Anya.

TURNER: And this is NPR's LIFE KIT.

KAMENETZ: Cory, I have been locked down with my two girls since March 13. That is two months with no school, no after school, no playdates, no grandma hugs. And I know it's pretty much the same over there, right?

TURNER: It's the same thing with my two boys. You know, I've gotten a lot of extra time with them, which, sometimes, is good. But let's be honest - sometimes, it's frustrating. It's hard to be a reporter and a dad and a husband and a teacher and a school counselor. I have been eating a lot of rocky road ice cream. And so, Anya, I am super excited. We're going to do a check-in for parents today.

KAMENETZ: That's right. We're going to talk to one of our greatest friends of the podcasts, Rosemario Truglio. She's vice president of research for Sesame Workshop. And as you'll hear in this episode, she is also deep in it right now. She is sheltering in place with her husband and her teenage son.

ROSEMARIE TRUGLIO: As a developmental psychologist, I know a lot. I've been telling everyone how to manage their emotions and all the various strategies that you could engage in to manage your emotions. But you lose it. I lost it.

TURNER: But the good news is she's also going to tell us what to do after you lose it.

KAMENETZ: So we want to start by acknowledging that this pandemic is so, so big. And every family is experiencing it a little bit differently. You know, we both know families that are suffering job losses and even more who are worried about a job loss.

TURNER: Yeah. You might be going to the food bank for the first time or going on unemployment. Too many of us have lost loved ones. For those families, Rosemarie says, of course, it's hard because you can't even get together to mourn. And that can feel really hard to explain to kids. I mean, where do you start? Well, Rosemarie says you don't have to completely try to hide this from them, either.

TRUGLIO: It's OK to show emotion, right? It's okay for you to cry and even be angry.

KAMENETZ: This is so big for so many people. And then, you know, for the, quote, unquote, "lucky ones" - the rest of us - we're still dealing with stuff. We're dealing with unprecedented levels of uncertainty, with dread, frustration and, frankly, sometimes, boredom. So with all of that in mind, you know, we brought all of our concerns to Rosemarie. And we asked...

TURNER: What do you think is foremost in kids' minds at this point that might be keeping them up at night or that might be confusing them now in a way that didn't six weeks ago?

TRUGLIO: Yeah. I think now it's, when is this going to be over? When are we going to do the things that we enjoy doing. When are we going to see grandma and grandpa and give them a hug? We all need hope. We need hope that this will get resolved. And there will be a time that we can go back to a new normal. And what is that new normal?

KAMENETZ: So what do you say to your kids when they ask you, when will this be over?

TRUGLIO: You have to be honest. We don't know what's going to happen. And even the states that have opened up - we don't know if they're going to have to start closing down again if these numbers go higher.

TURNER: Once you say to your kids, I'm sorry, sweetie - I don't know - what's the magical but dot, dot, dot that we can say to them that will pull us all back into the moment and make everything OK?

TRUGLIO: Right. The magic dot dot dot is, what can we do now? What do we have control over now? And what are the things that you're looking forward to that - maybe we can figure out a new way to do those activities?

TURNER: I told my family, like, we don't know if there's going to be summer camp, but we can camp out in the backyard. And they are super excited about camping out in the backyard. And I think the whole idea of having a plan in their heads - and they know what's going to happen on a certain time - like, when it gets warmer, when we have a sunny night. It's not if. It's when. It's going to happen. We're going to do this. We're going to roast marshmallows. It's happening.

TRUGLIO: That's exactly it. So you have a plan. And now you're - like, what you just said. It's not if. It's when. The more control they have in the moment is going to help them. So what about the kids who don't have an opportunity to pitch a tent outdoors? So for those families, maybe it's about building a fort in your living room.

TURNER: That's what we did this weekend (laughter).

TRUGLIO: Right, 'cause it's fun. It's different.

TURNER: Yeah.

TRUGLIO: And it gives you something to get excited about. And I think that's what we all need.

TURNER: You know, it seems to me, as a parent myself - and I lost my cool just yesterday - one of the things we should really throw out here that's central for all parents is absolution, forgiveness. Like, we have to accept that we're not perfect. And we're going to lose our patience. Can you please absolve us?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUGLIO: Absolutely. And I think forgiveness is the right word. And we have to - as I said, we had to be kind to each other. And forgiveness is part of that. We're human beings, and we're going to lose it. And all of us, even myself - I lost it when middle of week six, we lost our Wi-Fi.

KAMENETZ: Oh, no.

TURNER: (Laughter).

TRUGLIO: That's a tough one.

KAMENETZ: Oh, no.

TRUGLIO: That's a tough one.

TURNER: That's a tough one.

TRUGLIO: It's a tough one when you have two working parents and a 16-year-old in school. And I went into panic mode. And my son was trying to be the parent in that case. And I needed to calm down and recenter. And at that point, he's saying, oh, let me just give you a hug. And at that point, a hug was not going to help me because I needed space. So when I reemerged from my quiet space, the first thing I did is I went to Lucas (ph), and I explained what was going on and what Mommy needed in the moment. And I'm sorry. And we have to, you know, use those words. I'm sorry that you tried to help me. And thank you for that - to show gratitude. But that's not what I needed in the moment. And so we had an opportunity then to talk about it. And, of course, we ended with a great, giant hug.

KAMENETZ: Wow. So, Rosemarie, it sounds like you really were working hard to balance your kids' needs with your own needs in that moment.

TRUGLIO: Yes. We have to take care of ourselves. So how do we practice being kind to ourselves knowing that we do need some time to buffer so that we can move on from that state, which is that state of unrest, and figure out how to problem solve?

KAMENETZ: So I do want to get to kind of the practicalities of how we balance our days, right? I mean, I got my husband with the kids downstairs right now. So this is happening. And one thing I've been reflecting on is this question of, can we nudge our kids to become more self-sufficient during this time? Are there parenting strategies we can use so that we're not, you know, either handing them a screen or feeling like we have to entertain them every minute when there are so many demands on our time?

TRUGLIO: Yeah. And I think that's a really important message, I think, to get out there. We're all together. And this is not a time for kids to think that they could have their parents' 100% attention. 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. You want to do something now with mom or dad, and you can't because they're busy. And for them to be able to understand that and manage that emotion and be able to be flexible and to switch - we call this cognitive flexibility. So we talk about the importance of how children learn through play. And we also know that in play, problems arise. The fort falls down. Or the siblings are getting into an argument.

Parents, I think, in a way, are helping their kids because they are so busy that they can't always run in and solve the problems. This is a really important message for parents. Let kids have this space. Let them have the space to create. Let them 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. And you're empowering them to be problem solvers because one of the things that we know in education is that kids are so reliant on the adults in their lives, they will - they're afraid to make a mistake because they're - they think that mistakes are bad. And we need to flip the script on that, as well, and say, that's how you learn.

TURNER: We've heard a lot at this point in the pandemic about the shortcomings of remote learning. I mean, Anya and I have reported on them. Parents are frustrated. Kids are frustrated. Teachers are frustrated. I would love to hear what you can tell us about learning without Zoom or a worksheet.

TRUGLIO: You could learn so much with these everyday moments. And I think that parents underestimate that, especially with really young children. So we talk about, you know, cooking together. You have a literacy component because we're reading the recipes. We're reading ingredients on different items. It's a math moment, as we're measuring. It's a science moment, as different substances are changing because of properties of matter. There's the setting of the table. We have patterns. And I think that parents need to see how we as educators are connecting those dots, even when we're playing board games. I mean, there's the rules of the board game. But there's also the social and emotional components to a board game. Getting back to, it's not fair. Why do you keep winning? - especially if it's a game of chance. Or if it's a game of strategy, I can't do this. I'm not good at this game, you know? So think about the resiliency skills that you're playing during these game times. And then think about creativity - I mean, all of the arts and crafts that are happening and the use of technology people are putting these wonderful videos together. They're making their own songs. And the same thing with exercise here - like, we need to figure out better ways of exercising while we're in the home. And so what better way than a dance party to get the heart rate up? And all you need is just turn on some music.

TURNER: And courage.

TRUGLIO: And (laughter)...

KAMENETZ: I mean, the best thing in our house is when Elvie (ph), our 3-year-old who's a super fashionista - when she makes us get dressed, and she picks out the outfits, it's always magical. So it's like, what about this ball gown in the back of your closet? Why are you not wearing that?

TRUGLIO: I think that's great. And that's a great - another example. It's like you're taking her lead, right? Parents are always thinking that they have to set everything up. Well, take a step back. See what they're interested in. Take their lead and be open, right? And don't shut it down because you're going to think it's a lot of - it's going to make a mess or it's going to take some time. They have the extra time. Let them go, and let's see what they create.

KAMENETZ: Different families are following different versions of the rules. And even parents might disagree about some versions of the rules about, you know, small things like whether to get takeout. Or, you know, what do you do at the grocery store? But then bigger things like, I go to the park, and then there's a group of children playing. I don't know if they know each other. How do you talk to your kids about the fact that there's different rules? I mean, that seems to cause so much conflict, even among adults.

TRUGLIO: Absolutely. And when you think about really little kids, they don't understand that. And so they think of that rule as, this is not fair. You're being mean. Why won't you let me play with my friends? And so it does require a lot more talking about the situation and explaining why the family has these roles. But once again, it's about putting a positive spin on this. These rules are in place by our family because we need to make sure that we're staying healthy, right? And some families - they may have someone who has an underlying condition or is older. And you have to take extra care. And they need to hear that. But it's not - they - a child may still say, this isn't fair. But if the more you could say how you are helping - so put that - you know, going back to that empowerment message, we need everyone in the family to do their part. And so this is why you're playing such an important role, right? Well, it helps it a little bit.

KAMENETZ: I was at the park with my 3-year-old. And she was avoiding other children, which is basically what I have - you know, we talked about doing. But it really gave me pangs because this is her time to be socialized. And how do we transition them out of this time when we're all taking these extreme precautions? How do we mitigate the fear that comes from - we're teaching our kids to fear strangers and even their friends.

TRUGLIO: Yeah. This is a hard one. And I think we're going to have to always remember these routines, all right? So remember not to touch your face, right? We might be - we can play, but we might be wearing masks for a while. The importance of having these hand sanitizers and wipes and the importance of washing our hands properly - I don't think we're going to be able to escape that. But what we don't want to lose and what you just said, Anya, is this human interaction and that we can still play, and we can still enjoy each other. It might be at a distance - and that there are gonna be times that maybe we can be a little closer with some extra precautions because these human interactions are so important. And we don't want to have children become so fearful that they don't want to have a play date. But I think that with time, it's going to be OK. This is not going to last forever.

KAMENETZ: Your mouth to God's ears, Rosemarie.

TRUGLIO: (Laughter).

TURNER: For more NPR LIFE KIT, check out our other episodes. We even have a special episode of LIFE KIT just for kids with Grover from "Sesame Street." He told us all about what he is doing to keep busy in quarantine.

KAMENETZ: It is awesome. And you can find it at npr.org/lifekit. And if you love LIFE KIT and want more, subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/lifekitnewsletter.

TURNER: If you've got a good tip, leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823. Or email us at lifekit@npr.org.

KAMENETZ: This episode was produced by Sylvie Douglis. Meghan Keane is the managing producer. And Beth Donovan is our senior editor. I'm Anya Kamenetz.

TURNER: And I'm Cory Turner. Thanks for listening.

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