12 tips for parents with kids at home during the coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus has affected people across the country in many ways. With more than more than 22 million Americans dealing with unemployment, 66% of U.S. employees working remotely, and millions of schools experimenting with online learning for the first time.

At least 27 states and three U.S. territories have recommended that school building closures remain in affect for the rest of the academic year. As a result of the coronavirus shutdowns, at least  55.1 million students have switched from in-person instruction to online learning at home, according to Education Week. Some states have closed schools into May, while some, like New Mexico, Vermont, and four others, have closed the schools for the remainder of the academic year.

Whether you are navigating online learning for the first time as a parent, or dealing with having younger children at home around the clock, here are 12 tips from experts with how to best navigate these new and uncertain times from  Children and Screens, non-profit organization that aims to understand and address compelling questions regarding media’s impact on child development.

1. Video chat games

If you aren’t living in the same house as the child, you can try video chatting with them. When you call them, it’s key to keep them engaged so that they get the most out of it.

You can try rhymes, songs, dancing, finger plays, and games like peek-a-boo and hide-and-seek.

2. Screen time is sharing time

Ellen Wartella, the director of the Center on Media and Human Development, Northwestern University, recommends that parents become a part of your child’s screen time.

Wartella recommends not only sitting with them and holding them, but most importantly talking to them, are important ways to help children learn and feel safe. Parents can make games out of describing what different characters on the screen are doing and labeling the objects and people that appear in the videos you watch.

“Sharing screen time can be an excellent opportunity to talk with and engage your toddler,” Wartella said.

3. Remember repetition 

Your days might feel repetitive, but that’s how routines get set. And it’s okay if your child’s interests seem repetitive, too, according to Alexis R. Lauricella, Associate Professor and Director of the Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center, Erikson Institute.

If your child wants to watch the shame show over and over, that’s completely fine. Children learn more each time they hear a song or have a book read to them, and the same goes for onscreen media. The more a child watches a show, the more they understand the content and storyline.

4. Don’t feel guilty

If you are working from home, you might feel pressure to give your all to work, your significant other, and your child. Dr. Sarah M. Coyne, PhD, Professor Associate Director, School of Family Life Brigham Young University, urges parents not to feel guilty during this time

“We know you’re stretched thin and doing your best to manage a whole host of issues, so please don’t feel guilty if your kids are engaging in more screen time than you’d typically allow,” Coyne said. “There are so many wonderful educational resources out there, even for very young children, and we recommend making the most of them (and getting other family members involved where possible).”

5. Define new roles

Most people are experiencing a completely new situation right now, and it may take some time to get used to.

“In one fell swoop, you’ve become a stay-at-home parent, a teacher, and a frontline responder,” said Kara Bagot, MD, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Department of Psychiatry. “Be patient with this transition. It may be rocky at first, but children are adaptable and will thrive with well-intentioned efforts.”

6. Being bored isn’t bad

Being bored isn’t bad, but beneficial.

“These days, we’re all so constantly bombarded with stimulation and entertainment that we’re left with little time to explore our own thoughts and dreams,” said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D Temple University, senior fellow Brookings Institution; author Becoming Brilliant. “Let’s use this time to develop that important skill, and to appreciate the healthy power of boredom.”

7. Good, bad, and interactive

Screen time isn’t the devil. What matters is how our children use screens.

“Screens can take us to the zoo, guide us through the great museums of the world, and keep us fit with healthy movement games,” said Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D Temple University, senior fellow Brookings Institution; author Becoming Brilliant. “Make the most of the current situation by finding active, engaging, meaningful, fun, and socially interactive choices to invest in.”

8. Stay connected

There are definite gaps that are presented by social distancing– no one is denying that. But physical objects and activities can help bridge those gaps.

You should encourage your child to video chat with other children, and suggest they read a book together, play with the same toys, or use props like puppets and stuffed animals to engage with one another.

Even eating the same snack at the same time can help your child feel more connected. Any joint activity will help your kids stay connected with their on-screen partners.

9. One size does not fit all

There are developmental differences between all children of different ages, meaning there will be differences between homeschooling a kindergartener and homeschooling a seventh grader.

Younger children will need more guidance and help with technology, while older and more independent kids can set goals and check in with you on their progress.

10. Don’t forget pajama day

Kids benefit from predictability, daily structure, and things to look forward to.

“As best as you can, maintain a basic schedule for things like meals, self-care, schoolwork, and screen time,” Meredith Gansner, MD, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Cambridge Health Alliance. “Invite them to help you make and decorate a weekly schedule, and be sure to include some fun ideas for joint parent/kid break times.”

Schools have events like field day and pajama day to keep kids excited about learning. You can use these same things at home to keep kids engaged.

11. Ready, set, play

This time while we are staying home is perfect for anyone, kids and adults alike, to reengage with play.

It’s a great time to put on music and dance, work on a puzzle, break out a board game, or grab some Legos and create.

“Don’t forget how to have fun with your little ones,” said Elizabeth K. Englander, PhD Director, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, Bridgewater State University.

12. Reach out and touch someone

In the era of social distancing, children aren’t able to get the social interaction that they need to grow. Toddlers also won’t have aunts, uncles, or any other family to pay attention to them.

As a result, parents should schedule face calls with loved ones. Experts also recommend that in order to maintain tactile connections between grandma, grandpa, and others, you should serve as the “hands and heart” for your loved ones while video chatting.

For example, if the child’s grandpa motions to “tickle” your baby’s tummy, you should give your child’s tummy a tickle. Mimicking the actions that the person on the other side of the video call wishes they could do will help nurture the relationship between the child and their loved ones on screen.