Parenting During the Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need To Know Now

Q. How do I get my kids to STOP TOUCHING THEIR FACES?

Sorry. This is one of the few questions to which we have no good answer. Because I (Cory) have not yet figured out how to stop touching my own face.

As an experiment, maybe try making them wear scratchy mittens. Or do what I (Anya) did and paint your child’s face — so you can catch them red-handed, though this could also lead to unwanted faceprints on walls and windows.

Q. This health crisis can be scary. How should we talk about it with kids?

Keep it simple, age-appropriate and fact-based. For example, don’t tell your child they won’t get COVID-19; you don’t know that. Instead, the CDC suggests telling children that, from what doctors have seen so far, most kids aren’t getting very sick. In fact, most people who’ve gotten COVID-19 haven’t gotten very sick. Only a small group have had serious problems. And, channeling the great Mr. Rogers: Look for the Helpers. Assure your kids, if they (or someone they love) do get sick, the world is full of grown-ups who will help. And be sure to check out this incredible comic by our colleague, Malaka Gharib. She made it specifically for kids who may be scared or confused about coronavirus.

Q. With racist incidents toward Asians and Asian Americans, is this a teaching moment for social justice?

Absolutely. We must remind the children in our lives that viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity. No matter where scientists first documented COVID-19, this outbreak isn’t anyone’s fault. Similarly, just because someone looks different or talks differently, doesn’t mean they are at a higher risk of getting the coronavirus or spreading it. And let children know that if they hear language in school or on the playground that suggests otherwise, they should be sure to let you know.

Q. Why is/isn’t my school being closed?

Closing schools is a complicated decision. Many school leaders and public health officials seem to be waiting for an infection or potential infection in their immediate school community before closing. While the science suggests closing schools earlier is more effective at slowing the spread of disease, it’s important to understand why so many school leaders are so reluctant to close schools.

For one thing, parents should understand that for many kids in the United States, being sent home from school is also a public health risk. Many children may not have parents who can take off work, or work from home, if school is canceled. They may also live in unsafe neighborhoods. Millions of U.S. children rely on schools for free or reduced-price meals, too, and 1.5 million schoolchildren nationwide are housing-insecure. For many of these kids, having to miss several weeks of school could be incredibly destabilizing.

One more thing: Rest assured that the decision to close schools is not being taken lightly and is being made in conjunction with local public health officials. Emphasis on local — this decision is being made school by school, district by district.

Q. What do we do if school is canceled?

Many parents and caregivers will have to scramble for child care, especially low-wage workers who may not have vacation or sick leave. If you’re not one of those parents, try to do something to help those who are. School closure can last two weeks or more; flexibility and empathy will help us all through this.

For parents who can stay home, many are wondering: What exactly is “social distancing?” Can my children still go on play dates? Or is it screen time, all the time?

The idea with closing schools is to limit the number of social contacts. That is what is going to be most effective in slowing the spread of this disease. But we want to acknowledge that staying with immediate family only might be hard to enforce for more than a few days.

Luckily, public health officials in King County, Washington, offer this helpful guidance:

“Social distancing doesn’t mean you have to stay stuck in your house. … The current recommendation is to avoid large groups. That mostly means groups over 50 people but conservatively means anything more than 10 people. However, if you don’t fall into the high risk group, you can still certainly visit each other.”

Think of it as a good opportunity for one-on-one hangouts.

Also, be extra mindful of grandparents, neighbors, friends and people with compromised immune systems. They are the most vulnerable in this outbreak. Instead of a face-to-face visit next week with Nana and Papa, try starting a video-chat habit: Try coloring together, cooking or reading aloud.

Q. What does it mean to work from home and parent young (preschool and elementary) kids that are home as a result of school closures at the same time? Disney+ all day everyday???

Common Sense Media is a great resource for quality screen-time recommendations both free and paid, educational and purely recreational — including privacy tips. I (Anya) like Duolingo for language learning, Tynker for coding and Khan Academy for academic subjects. Epic is a subscription service with endless books and comics for tablets, searchable by age.

As we said, you can also get creative with video chat. In addition to checking in with grandparents, try setting up a remote play date for your kids. Some long-distance families stay connected with a Zoom or Google hangout portal that just stays open. Try playing hide-and-seek by carrying a laptop around the house!

Also, if school’s been canceled, think about using video chat to continue learning opportunities: piano lessons, tutoring or Sunday school with your child’s regular teacher. A company called Outschool does live online classes for kids.

There are even physical screen-time options. GoNoodle offers both physical dance/movement and meditation videos, and this is a great time for everyone in the family to learn TikTok dances like the Renegade.

Special note on teens and screens: Online spaces are their social spaces and it’s good to respect that. Take this as an opportunity to learn more about their online worlds. Help them bust rumors and disinformation. (Check out this free online module to become an expert detector of coronavirus hoaxes.) Check in with their mental health. Be a media mentor.

Q. What about non-screen activities?

Yes! Getting outside isn’t just a good idea, it’s good for your physical and mental health. Go for a walk, a bike ride or, if possible, a family hike.