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  • Writer's pictureDr. Amy Fan Conrad

What kids really need during the quarantine

As quarantine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape the new normal for our daily lives, the landscape of parenthood has taken drastic changes that might not be as obvious as other headlines in this chaotic time.

Schools are closed, nannies or grandparents are often unable to continue helping, and parents are suddenly have to take on all the caretaking and educational roles left behind by these gaps, all while scrambling to meet their own professional obligations.

In an area already fraught with expectations, this can be a source of relentless pressure on families.

The most common questions I have gotten include:

  • Are my kids ruined by so much screen time? It’s the only way I can get anything done!

  • They’re so sad about not playing with their friends, I’m afraid they’ll get depressed.

  • The virtual school work for each kid takes so much time and juggling, I’m afraid we’re not getting enough done. We couldn’t finish the homework yesterday!

  • How will kids be permanently affected by all this?

It is my theory that children and dogs might think back to this time fondly as a stolen period of extra time with the adults, and parents have the power to frame this time with lifelong positive memories not by doing MORE, but by doing LESS.and being present.

Instead of being driven by expectations of perfection, let’s shift the focus to CONNECTION instead.

If there is one thing biologists, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologist (etc. etc., you get the idea) agree on, it’s that humans are wired for connection. Children, even more than adults, are sensitive to their attachment patterns with parents.

It’s inevitable for children to feel the anxiety of their parents, which is why we have always recommended talking to kids about COVID-19 in a way that keeps the dialogue open. But there are also things in the day-to-day that can be framed as increasing connection with children, and letting go of distracting expectations of all that’s supposed to be accomplished right now.

More concretely:

  1. Be gentle with yourself. If you need to increase screen time a lot to get work done and take physical care of the family, that’s perfectly okay! By the time this is over, I bet it will be difficult to keep kids in front of a screen when they are finally allowed to play outside. It’s okay to let them (and yourself) watch something interesting and use it as a mental break. You can always trim back these patterns later when things go back to normal.

  2. Let go of angst for academic expectations. If we look back at our own schooling, was there a 2 month period that was really crucial to becoming the kind of learner we ultimately became? Do as much as you can, and also take a moment to get to know your child’s learning style (new opportunity that might not otherwise be available!), but don’t let it become a source of stress if not all the course work is possible for your family right now. Remember, it’s not worth losing connection over.

  3. As we recommended in the video about how to talk to kids about COVID-19, continue to be available if kids want to discuss their feelings of sadness with you. You don’t have to fix these feelings, but it’s great practice for both of you to practice holding space.

  4. Intentionally pursue activities that provide some levity, teamwork, and perhaps feelings of accomplishment as you share connection-promoting activities.

Many years down the road, children will mainly remember how they felt during this time. Connection during this time is not only important for feeling safe, but might actually shape your relationship in positive ways for the future.

When they look back on this time, what would you like them to remember feeling?

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