March 14: Adjusting to Quarantine
Below are some thoughts and suggestions about talking with your children about the quarantine and organizing your children's days at home.
Talking to Your Child
First and foremost, it’s important to keep in mind the developmental age of each of your children in thinking about how to address their concerns. As we often discuss in my office, remember that typically even children with advanced verbal skills still have thinking and reasoning skills that match their developmental level, so while some children might ask questions that seem sophisticated, I recommend that you ask a few clarifying questions in response to try and understand what is really behind your child’s concern.
Explanations should use language that each child can easily understand. In addition, it is important to follow your child’s lead and answer questions as your child raises them. Resist the urge to provide more information than your child is requesting. As we know, children take their cues from us, so when we speak in a calm voice, it helps children to be reassured. Remember that children often look to adults to know how to feel – they take their cues from us. It is really important to remind children about all of the things that people are doing to help keep them safe. For some children, it might be helpful to remind them, ‘it’s an adult’s job to worry so children don’t have to’. That said, many children will still experience considerable anxiety and it is important to validate your children’s concerns and let them know that they are free to express them. Child Mind Institute has a nice article about talking with children about the virus.
Schedule and Structure
Most children thrive on structure, so I highly recommend having a schedule for the day, much like school, and posting a visual schedule in a central part of the house, such as the kitchen. You can write this on a whiteboard or just post it on a piece of paper. Children should get up and get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, etc., just as they would do on a school day. Many schools may be sending work home and/or giving parents recommendations for websites to download lessons. Blocks can be scheduled for reading, math, and writing. Consider having your child keep a simple journal to write about feelings and document this unprecedented time in history. Hands on science lessons and experiments will add interest to the academic part of your day. Check out Bill Nye the Science Guy or NASA Kids Club. Since it’s an early spring in New England, if you have a backyard bird feeder or bird bath this could provide a great opportunity for some observational science – for example, watching the feeder for 10 minutes every day and making tally marks to indicate how many of each type of bird have visited, then researching the different types of birds if you want to take it a step further (do they migrate? what do they eat?). An interesting science resource for older children is the online science journal Frontiers for Young Minds.
I strongly recommend planning at least 2 blocks of time outdoors – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. During this time of increased stress, movement activities throughout the day will be particularly important. In case of inclement weather, you can stream videos such as Go Noodle when movement breaks need to be indoors. Lunch can be scheduled at the same time as your children have it at school. Schedule in creative time for building, crafts projects, and/or cooking – there are some great recipes for kids at raddishkids.com. Consider scheduling in time for board games and or puzzles. Make sure you have plenty of free read books available for children, including fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels. Structure time for chores such as wiping surfaces, emptying the dishwasher, and putting away laundry.
Realistically, parents may have to be more flexible about screen time over the coming weeks. I recommend adjusting your Family Media Plan accordingly and clearly communicating your family rules in advance so that everyone is one the same page. I’d also suggest being clear about separate time for use of school-related apps vs. games and shows.