Simple Ways to Provide Your Kids With a Sense of Normalcy

kids handwashing

An editor from Scary Mommy opens up about parenting during these uncertain times

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, parents around the country are adjusting to a new reality of school closures, work-from-home directives and shelter-in-place orders. When so little is know about the virus itself — Covid-19 — how are parents expected to navigate this crisis, much less explain it their kids and protect them?

To find out, we turned to Samantha Angoletta, a managing editor of parenting website Scary Mommy and has four kids of her own. She laid out some ways to help protect your kids and help them get through this crisis.

Wake-Up Call: Many parents have now found themselves in the unexpected position of having their kids home all day. What advice would you give for a parent trying to navigate this time — and how do you create a sense of structure?

I think that the theme of this uncertain time is to give ourselves grace. I am not going to promise myself that I’m going to adhere to any sort of rigid schedule or heightened expectations. I definitely want my kids to engage in moving their body and learning new things and skills and making sure that they keep the skills that they learned in their classroom.

But I’m also not having them sit down for five to six hours a day at this point. So, grace for us — and grace for the teachers who did not plan on this happening. And due to unforeseen circumstances, I have to totally pivot and plan home learning and things like that. So I think that we’re leaning into the whole spring break vibe now and in the next couple of weeks, we’ll move into the more structured home learning.

Children — especially smaller children — may be asking why people are wearing face masks or why they aren’t able to play with their friends. How do you go about addressing these questions without necessarily frightening them?

You want to keep this balance of making your kids aware of what is going on in the world, because they obviously know something has changed, right? You’re not allowed to go to school, you’re not allowed to go on playdates. We can’t play at public parks. They know something has changed, but you don’t want to give them so much information that they can’t sleep or they’re worried about something terrible happening to grandma and grandpa.

I’ve leaned into a lot of books explaining various things, like how germs work in your body, what a virus is and how it spreads. NPR has some child-friendly podcasts —we’ve been listening to those, and they explain the importance of hand washing. But are they bored? Yes. Are they asking to leave the house daily? Yes. That’s the hardest part of all of this — they’re like, “That’s great. Now when can we go to the park?” And we can’t give definite answers.

Along those lines, what sort of information is appropriate to share with children about the coronavirus? How much is too much?

With my older kids, I will explain that there are people in different risk categories and those are the people that we are trying to protect. With my younger kids, I’m explaining germ prevention — make your “cough pocket” is what we call it, and cough into your elbow. Wash your hands after you sneeze, use a tissue, things like that.

I do avoid using like doom and gloom type terms… But I can tell them that these precautions that we’re taking are so that we protect people whose immune systems aren’t as healthy as ours, and who are older like grandma and grandpa.

There are a lot of PSAs right now emphasizing the importance of hand-washing and warning against touching your face. How can we teach these important hygienic practices to kids in a fun way?

My two youngest kids love “Baby Shark.” We showed our preschooler that you can wash your hands to “Baby Shark.” He used to brush his teeth to it, now we wash our hands to the song because, what is 30 seconds to a preschooler, right? It’s like, sing “‘Happy Birthday” twice. They’re like, “I’m over that.” They don’t understand.

We also put a tub by the door for each of them and they dropped their shoes and their coats into those tubs when they come into the house, so that we don’t have shoes on the carpet and things like that right now.

There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty right now, how would you go about reassuring kids and providing a sense of normalcy?

We’ve kept a lot of our normal routines that we can in place. We still do our storytime every night before bed. The kids are waking up kind of on their own at a normal hour, so we’re still doing breakfast together in the mornings and things like that.

Anything that we can keep the same we are. And we are also very honest with our kids when we don’t have answers to questions.When we say, “‘You know, this is new and scary for mom and dad too, but we’re in this together” — I think they find comfort in knowing that we can admit to not having all the answers.

Lastly, are there any traditions or routines you’d like to keep while staying indoors amid the coronavirus?

It’s funny because my husband and I were just having this conversation last night. There are two things that have naturally fallen into place that we love and hope to keep. We have made the living room (that doesn’t have the TV) into our no phone zone. So we don’t take phones or screens into there. Each kid picked out all of their favorite books and put them into their own basket. And that’s our quiet reading area. So anytime that you want to, you can go in there and you have your books and quiet reading area.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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