COVID and the School Decision: One Mother’s Struggle

Dr. Corinne Masur


In late August and early September when schools finally decided about how they were going to open, many of them then passed the decision making on to parents: in school, out of school, or hybrid?

How were parents supposed to decide?

There were so many factors: what is possible for our family given our work and child care situations? What is safest for our family? What do our children want? What do we want for our children?

Parents had to weigh one important aspect of their children’s wellbeing against another.  These were impossible choices. What was more important, caution in the face of COVID, the children’s social needs, or the financial needs of the family?  In some cases, parents had to choose between their own jobs and becoming distance learning aids. In other cases, parents had no choice: they had to work so their children just had to go back to school.

One mother called me for advice. She had two sons, one in first grade and one in fourth.  She was very worried about the children being exposed to COVID for two reasons. One son had a respiratory vulnerability and secondly, the children’s grandfather had recently had cancer and was immunocompromised following a transplant. What if they went to school, were exposed to COVID and then exposed him either directly or indirectly?

On the other hand, she wanted her children to be able to build relationships with their new teachers and classmates.

As a person who likes to make her decisions carefully and in an informed way, she felt overwhelmed both by too much information and too little.

By late summer, we knew a great deal more about the transmission of COVID than we had in March at the beginning of the pandemic.  This mother understood how COVID is transmitted and as a result, what the school would need to do to keep children and staff safe. They would have to provide good ventilation and air exchange inside the building and they would also need to provide the possibility for having as many classes outdoors as possible.  But her particular school was not giving parents information about their HVAC system and they did not have a plan in place for outdoor learning.  When this mom went over to look at the school, they only had one small tent standing – which of course would be totally insufficient for the hundreds of children attending school in the fall.

What were they planning for outdoor learning, anyway?  And what would they do on rainy days? She could not get answers.  And through a friend she heard that the school had told one parent that if they had so many questions, they should just do the at home option – as if these questions were not the school’s responsibility to answer!

This mother had enjoyed a feeling of connectedness with her children’s school and now she felt isolated and alone.  As the deadline loomed for making her decision, she learned that very few parents in either of her son’s grades had chosen the at-home schooling option.  Why did so many parents feel it was safe to send their children to school when she did not? She wished she could ask them.

This is what went through this mother’s mind: if her children got COVID, she would be the one to take care of them as her husband simply would not be able to take time off from work; she would have to quit her job or take a leave.  If she got COVID, she had no idea who would take care of the children.  If the virus was transmitted to her mother either through her (this mom’s) infection or her children’s, she would be the one who would have to take care of her ill father – thus necessitating her quitting or taking a leave from her work. If her younger son got COVID he might be at risk for the more severe complications of the illness given his respiratory vulnerability.

She thought about the decision a great deal. She stayed up nights wondering what she should choose. She discussed this with her husband, with her friends, with her family.  She received all sorts of input – both conflicting and agreeing with her own thoughts. And in the end, she felt that her family was just too vulnerable.

The risks of illness were too great for this mother.  She decided on doing school from home.  She altered her work schedule and began being her children’s distance learning aid.  Her older son was okay some of the time but at other moments, he hated the arrangement. He screamed and cried and melted down. Her younger son was fine with online school.  And this mother? Well, she felt stressed, wondering every single day of the new school year if she had made the right decision.

Will the Pandemic Ruin my Child?

Part 3: Worrying About COVID

Dr. Corinne Masur

What effect does the constant worry about illness and safety have on children? 

There is no doubt that the worry about COVID and how to stay safe from contracting it is affecting all of us – including our children.

Kids of all ages pick up on their parent’s anxiety.  When we are worried, our children are like sponges – they know we are worried and they may get worried too.

And, of course, we are all worried about getting sick, about infecting others, about how best to protect ourselves, etc.  We are reading the latest information and watching the news.

And regardless of what we do or do not tell our children directly, by age two to three they know about some of the things we are worried about. They will have overheard our conversations, they will have heard some news from the television or radio, and for older children, they will have learned things from their friends about what is going on. 

Children of all ages will be worried about what is safe and what is not – and at the same time they may be unhappy or downright resistant to wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing. 

After quarantining at home, they may want to go out to their favorite places – but at the same time be worried about going out and going to places they haven’t been for a long while.  Even older kids and teens may feel this way – although they may not admit it.

Children of all ages may be worried about germs and about contagion, they may be confused about how this disease gets communicated and how it does not.

So, what effect does all the worry have on kids?  And what effect does it have on them to live in a world so different from what they were used to?

Well, I have a point of view that may be different from much of what you have read.  From my training as a child psychologist and a child psychoanalyst, this is how I see it:

For the most part, children (from 0 – 9 or so) live mostly in the present moment.  That is why, when older relatives ask, “How was school today?” they often don’t have an answer.  They are usually thinking about what is happening right now.  For example, “There are cookies on the table, when can I eat one?” or “Why does grandpa have strange ear hairs?” NOT about school – that was HOURS ago.

So, in this changed world, young children often are just taking in what is happening in the moment.  “OH?  We have to wear masks? Why?”  With a good explanation, they may rebel or they may move forward but they are not thinking as much about how weird this new world is as you are.

And for older children and teenagers, well, they will have lots of questions. They will want to know how long this is going to last and whether life will ever go back to the way it was; they will worry about what effect not seeing friends and not doing school in the regular way will have on the friendships and on their futures.  They will chafe at the restrictions and be irritable and frustrated and angry. They will worry about what happens if they DO get COVID, or if you do.  

And the problem is, that we as parents, are also worrying about the very same things.

But the most important thing in this whole chaotic nightmare of a year is this: if you are able to manage your worries as a parent and if you can help your child to talk about his or her worries and if you are able to soothe your child when he or she is scared or overwhelmed or angry or feeling hopeless about the future, your child will be OK.  

That is not to say that this is easy.  In this pandemic, in this political climate, there is a lot for us as parents to worry about.  Containing our own anxiety is not simple.  With the 24-hour news cycle it is common to feel anxious and oversaturated with bad news.  

But it is important for us as parents figure out how to manage our anxiety so we DON’T pass it all on to our children. For some, this means limiting news intake.  For others it means having frequent talks with a partner or friend about all the frightening things going on.  For others a daily run or yoga session is mandatory. Whatever you need to do to tamp down your own anxiety, this will be helpful for you in being the best parent you can be.

And this is also not to say that if we can manage our own anxiety, this pandemic experience will not affect our children.  It will.  But the truth is that we do not know yet exactly how it will.  Your child is living through an historic and unprecedented event.  There will be stories to tell for years to come.  But as to how much damage is being inflicted on children by this experience?  I suspect less than we think.

In part 1 of this series I spoke about the protective effect that having parents present and emotionally available has on children even during the worst that life has to offer.  This is an enduring truth. When children have parents available to them who are able to be reasonable and rational about the risks and the danger (at least most of the time) and to talk about these things openly, generally children will be OK. This does not mean that you cannot be irritable, that you cannot have a lapse in patience, that you cannot shut your door and need a break on a regular basis – all those things are normal – it just means that if you can be there for your children when it really counts – when they are frightened or need to talk – you are providing a vital and protective function that is more powerful even than COVID.

Will the Pandemic Ruin my Child?

Part 2: Intellectual Development

Dr. Corinne Masur

Parents are SO worried that this pandemic year will interfere with their children’s intellectual development and academic progress. So let’s talk about that according to your child’s age and stage of development:

0 – 2

Infants and toddlers will in no way suffer due to increased time at home: IF you talk to them all the time, if you read to them at least once a day and if you provide reasonable amounts of play time (with you, your partner and their siblings).

And at this age, babies and toddlers will NOT suffer from missing the programming provided at daycare or pre-school. PLEASE, do not feel the need to fill in for the curriculum that might be in place were they attending a program. What babies and toddlers need to learn, they learn in the course of normal interactions with family members, during play and during story time. Whether your two year old knows his or her shapes is actually irrelevant – no matter what you hear. At this age what is needed is basic human interaction, hearing lots of words and being able to do lots of play, both alone and with others. At this age structured classroom time is neither necessary nor optimal. And screens of any kind are not needed either – but a little bit of screen time (an hour or less a day) may not hurt.

3 – 11

Older children of all ages are having their school routines and their learning processes disrupted. This is hard for children and parents. Everything is different. Online school is extremely hard to manage – especially for parents! There is nothing optimal about the compromises that have been made in setting up virtual school, hybrid models, shortened school days, etc.

Some children in this age group will be excited about online or in person school and they will be cooperative. But if they are attending school online they still will need help choosing a place to be each day for school, getting online, having supplies and worksheets ready and staying organized – and this is very hard for parents, especially working parents. You will find that your child misses some things due to technology problems, confusion about schedules, forgetfulness, etc. TRY not to stress over these. They are inevitable. Everyone is experiencing them.

And if your child is going to in-person school – even some of the time, he or she will need help remembering to wear their mask, to socially distance and to go by all the safety guidelines in place at school. Your child may also need help understanding why it is safe to go to school now when it wasn’t a month ago. And of course this is a difficult question. But remember, at this point in the pandemic we have learned that what we need to do is minimize risk. We can not eliminate risk altogether but we know more now about how to lessen the risk of contracting COVID than we did at the beginning. You can explain this concept to your child, no matter what their age, and you can encourage them to think of ways to minimize their own risk.

No matter how much we try to prepare them, however, some children in this age group will have trouble getting used to online school or a hybrid model, When they are online, they may have trouble paying attention, they may intentionally “forget” to log back in after a break or they may do other things while class is in session. This too is hard for parents because we cannot be there at every moment to check up on what our children are doing. Especially for working parents, this is a dilemma. Again, try not to stress too much when these things happen. Young children have naturally shorter attention spans. Having to look at a screen for learning purposes for more than a couple of hours a day is very very difficult for them. Getting anxious about your child’s school participation is natural and getting angry with your child is, at times, inevitable – BUT –

Remember, all children are going through this right now. It is not just your children. Everyone’s learning process has been compromised. AND a year of this will not ruin any child’s chances at getting a good education. Children will catch up, they will make up for what they did not learn this year. They will learn again how to be in a classroom. This is important to keep in perspective. This situation is NOT forever.

11 – 22

Children of this age are hungry for learning and for the social interaction that takes place at school. Online school, hybrid models and in person school with masks and social distancing will be very very hard for many of them.

Parents, however, are not teachers and we cannot expect ourselves to make up for all that children of this age are not getting at school.

This is extremely hard. Parents are worried about standardized testing, SATs and college admissions. But again, remember, everyone is going through this. Colleges will understand this when it is time to apply. And intellectual development proceeds – school, no school, or limited school. Remember, intellectual development and academic progress are two entirely different things.

What parents can do:

Parents are overwhelmed right now. I actually think that the effects of the pandemic may be worse for parents than for many other segments of the population.

But if you CAN, supplementing your children’s school time learning to promote their intellectual development can be helpful at this time. If you do not have the time or the band width, that is totally understandable and feel free to ignore what’s below.

BUT IF you CAN:

  • Encourage your children to read more.
  • Make frequent trips to the library if your library has good Covid safety.
  • For kids under 14, start reading to your children for a half hour to 45 minutes a day on weekends. Reading aloud does not just have to be for bedtime. Pick chapter books with engrossing stories – or books of interest to your particular children. Iceland, which has a long winter with very few hours of daylight was, for many years, the country with the highest literacy rates – because reading is what children and adults did during those long dark hours.
  • Encourage teens to read fiction AND non-fiction.
  • Have discussions at dinner time – current events should provide plenty of material! There is a civics lesson in every day’s news. Talk about the electoral process, the constitution, the Supreme Court, the way Democracy should work, etc. Ask your children their opinions.
  • Encourage teens to also have some social down time (ie something other than playing video games or looking at social media by themselves), for example, encourage them to set up game nights with friends online or to do group chats.
  • Encourage younger children to play games online with friends – and actually support their doing so rather than nagging them to get off the computer!
  • And parents, use the time that your children are online with friends to do what you need to do. One of the hardest things about enforced togetherness is the lack of privacy and downtime for PARENTS.
  • Encourage your children to start or continue playing a musical instrument. Lessons can be online.
  • If your children are interested, take some virtual tours of museums – science, art, whatever they like. And don’t ask them if they want to – because they will often say “no” especially if they are busy playing video games! Perhaps there can be one dinner a week when the family take a virtual tour during the meal.
  • And try throwing a documentary or Broadway play into family movie night.Many of these things can be streamed for free. Sweeten the deal with snacks: popcorn, pizza, brownies, anyone?
  • If you enjoy games such as Chess or Go, teach your children to play if they are interested. For younger children, intellectually stimulating games which involve matching, making pairs, memory skills and using numbers are also a possibility.

Good luck, stay safe, and please, do not despair.

Will the Pandemic Ruin My Child?

A Three Part Series

Dr. Corinne Masur

Part 1

Parents are all worried about what effect this pandemic year will have on their children’s development.

And of course, it’s complicated.  There’s the concern about how children will be affected by all the health worries.  And then there’s the worry about how they’ll be affected by not being able to see friends easily.  And THEN there’s the worry about how disruptions in their educations will affect their academic and intellectual progress.

So, let’s break it down:

The effect that the social limitations and the school interruption will have on your children will depend on their age and stage of development. So, we are going to talk about this by age group – and in this part of the series we will talk about:

Socialization

0 – 2

Babies do not require social interactions outside the home. 

You will often hear people say that they are sending their babies and toddlers to daycare because they need the socialization.  Well…this is not exactly true.  Older babies and toddlers often enjoy seeing other babies and toddlers.  They will be interested in them, laugh at their antics, cry when they cry, etc. but actually, they do not NEED to be with other babies and toddlers to develop well. What you provide for them as loving parents is what they need.  Babies and toddlers require their parents’ love and attention and social feedback. What you provide at home for them is what babies and toddlers need the most.  Talking to your baby, reacting to your baby’s facial expressions and verbalizations, playing with your baby, reading to your toddler, setting normal limits and teaching basic rules is what children of this age need.  They are FINE at home.  In fact, some parents have noticed that they are getting to know their babies and young children better than they did before when daycare or babysitters were involved – and they have found this to be a good thing – for themselves and for their children.

2 – 4

You will be surprised to know that what was said above is also true of older toddlers and young children.  

At this age, interaction with family members, play with family members and learning basic rules of socialization (what hurts another person, what’s fair, etc.) is what your child needs.  Is it fun to see other young children?  Does it give Mom or Dad a much-needed break to get together with families of other young children? Yes, of course.  But remember, for millennia there was no school at all and up until recently, very few children went to daycare, and many children did not even go to preschool or nursery school – and they did fine. 

At this age, children want their parents’ approval.  And if they say “NO!”, it’s the parent they are saying it to.  At this age toddlers and young children are just beginning to develop a sense of themselves as separate and independent human beings – and they do this best in the context of the family!

So, in essence, if you are not feeling safe about sending your children to daycare or preschool or setting up playdates, this is FINE.  You may have to spend extra time on the floor or outside playing – but you are NOT damaging your child in any way.

4 – 7

Children of this age love to play and socialize.  

Starting around age 4, most children love to have friends.  In fact, they start to create their own small worlds with their friends – and this is the beginning of being able to operate as people separate and apart from their parents.  As children get to be 5 and 6, they often develop best friends and are pleased to play with these friends without the intervention of their parents. Socializing at this age is an important part of their development.

As a result, even during a pandemic, it is helpful to allow 4 to 7 year olds some time with other children if you can do so safely and comfortably.  Playing outdoors, going to a local park, riding bikes and scooters, playing running games with masks can all be possibilities. And if you can find one or two children whose parents’ views on COVID safety are in line with your own and regular play get togethers and be managed, even better. HOWEVER, again, what you can comfortably provide for your children is what is most important. Children of this age are hungry to learn about the world – and if you are not comfortable organizing play dates or pods, if you can take them on outings, read to them, play together for an hour or two a day and teach them the rules of interaction with others, they will be getting most of what they need socially.  You may not believe that this is true – but again, in many societies, children do not even start school until age 6 or 7.

7 – 11

At this age the peer group is what kids really care about. By this time children are keen observers of other children and their behavior.  They know who they like and who they do not like.  Their relationships are complex and alliances can be strong…until they shift. Children of this age generally love to be with other children they know.  Games with rules are of great interest and playing games can take up hours.

Given this, allowing your children, if they are at home for school, some time to play with other kids each day is important.  If you are not comfortable allowing them to get together with other children this often, then allowing them to play video games with other kids can fill the bill during this unusual time.  Zoom conversations and virtual play dates are also an option if your child likes them. And if you can manage to allow your children to get together with friends outside once in a while, even better. It may not feel like enough to them or to you – but a year spent this way will not ruin their social development.  Learning social skills is a lifelong process – and again, do not underestimate what you provide at home. When you say things like, “No, we cannot play that game AGAIN” or “No, you cannot have the last donut” or “Figure out what to do when you’re bored” you are providing your child with necessary social feedback. These are basically the same things they learn from their peers when they play together. At this age children are learning what is fair and how often they can expect to get their own way.  They are taught by their peers what they can and cannot do if they want people to like them, what is right and wrong, what rules are and how often they have to stick to them.  When you interact with your children at home you are also teaching these things just in the normal course of everyday life.

11 – 20

Kids of this age often seem to care more about interacting with each other than they do with you. 

Social contact with others their age is important. This time of limited social contact is especially hard for this age group. 

Parents will need to work on their own flexibility and patience with children and teens during this quarantine/pandemic time because kids of this age will feel deprived and angry if they do not get to see their friends.  

 If you feel comfortable allowing this, perhaps you can let your child get together with certain friends at your house – or you might allow them meet up outside at a park.  But if you do not feel comfortable with this amount of contact then in this case, technology is your friend. Perhaps some loosening of limits on phone/pad/computer use will be necessary. Kids need to be able to text and Instagram and Facetime and IM for at least a few hours every day. Most will want to have their phones with them all the time.

Summing it Up

So – in summary, from a social standpoint, the pandemic and the quarantining required is NOT ruining your child or his/her social skills.  It IS hard; it IS limiting and frustrating. It DOES require us as parents to do more than we ever thought we could.  But a year of limited social contact will not stunt the development of your children.

*****

What can parents do?

– When you are not working, play on the floor and outside with your babies, toddlers and young children as much as you can manage.  

– If you have reached your limit with meeting your children’s needs and feel you just cannot do it all, bringing in an older teen or a babysitter or nanny (whose COVID safety you trust) to help at home may be necessary and may ease your burden.

– If you are working either from home or from your work place then day care or a sitter may be the only way your family can realistically manage AND allow your children some socialization time. Parents who are trying to help their children with virtual school while working are finding that this is just not possible.

– Set reasonable limits on device use for older children.  These can include no phones during school or homework and a set bedtime after which no phone use is allowed – but otherwise?  Let them go for it!

2020

Dr. Corinne Masur

People say this is a lost year.

People say we are living in the Twilight Zone.

But this year is not lost and it is not science fiction.

We are living through a very difficult time – but it is a time we will always remember and which our children will always remember. It will have been a year of having to adapt to strange and new circumstances, a year of worrying about our safety, a year of mourning those who became ill or died.

But humans have always suffered. We have had wars and epidemics and pandemics and natural disasters throughout history and pre-history. Now we are the ones suffering.

We are worrying and missing the things we cannot do and the people we cannot see – we are worrying about the effect that all this will have on our children, we are enduring deprivation in so many forms.

AND we are figuring out how to survive it.

The fact is this: we just need to do the best we can each day. And maybe this means letting the kids stay online for 6 hours while we get a job done. Or maybe this means letting them go OFFline for an hour even while school is still in session because they simply cannot pay attention for another minute. Maybe this means having pizza for dinner again or maybe it even means breaking down in tears or shouting at somebody.

None of these things will ruin our kids for life.

And neither will missing a normal year of school and friends. This will not ruin our children’s futures.

A whole generation of children is going through this pandemic – they ALL had a disrupted spring, a different kind of summer and now a disrupted and in some cases, disorganized school year.

But parents forget that this is the experience of this entire generation and think that their particular child will be the only one who gets behind in what he or she is supposed to be learning.

But it’s everybody. Everybody is going through this. Everybody’s year is different and disrupted and strange. We will have many stories to tell in the future about this year.

And all our children will make up what they did not learn this year. AND they will have learned some things we did not expect them to learn.

Their tech skills will be better. Their ability to tolerate change and uncertainty will be better. Their ability to figure out how to occupy their time will be better. And their confidence that they can live through difficult times will be better.

The important thing to remember is that our children can manage if we manage. Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud, studied the children who went through World War II in London. She compared the children who were sent out of the city to live with families in the countryside (where there was less bombing) to the children who stayed in London and had to run to shelters with their parents when there was an air raid. And what she found was that the children who spent the war WITH their parents in London (often just with their mothers and siblings) fared MUCH better emotionally than the children who lived in the countryside with host families. Even though the children in London heard sirens and bombs falling and saw neighborhoods destroyed, they actually felt safer than those who were without their families. Children whose mothers could tolerate their own fear and their children’s fear and provide soothing and reassurance provided enormous protection from traumatization for their children.

So this is one thing that is important to recognize now. We do not have to be perfect as parents. In the long run, it really does not matter if we ate take out or pizza four times a week for a year. And while it is strange and different to have to wear masks and socially distance and talk about how to be safe, this will not hurt our children as long as we, as parents, can tolerate it and manage it ourselves and reassure our children that we are doing the best we can to keep them safe.

Even if we cry or feel irritable around our children, even if they cry or fight or feel irritable around us, as long as we can talk about our feelings with them and let them talk about theirs, as long as we can soothe our children when they feel scared or defeated, as long as we can figure out MOST of what we have to do each day, and as long as we realize that 2020 was not a lost year, it was just an incredibly difficult year, we will all come out of this OK.


Concrete suggestions for parents:

  • Eat at least one meal a day together with your children
  • For children over 3 or 4 bring up topics at the table such as what was the hardest thing that happened today? What was the weirdest thing that happened today?
  • Some families like to go around the table and have each person tell a “rose” (good thing) and a “thorn” (bad thing). This encourages and facilitates children talking about what is hard right now and what is OK right now.
  • Conversation and interaction with each other and with our children is an antidote to all the time they are spending online. Real in person human contact at home is more important than ever – and this is true even if the time spent interacting includes fighting or disagreeing with one another. Having to negotiate in person is a skill that we all need to improve on.
  • Keep a routine. It’s harder now than ever but regular mealtimes and bedtimes help in an unstructured or scary time.
  • Inaugurate reading to your children again – even if they seem too old. Reading is not just for bedtime! Pick a really good chapter book and on weekends or on afternoons when your children are done with school (if you have time) spend a half hour or 45 minutes reading a chapter out loud. Snuggle on the couch or let everyone sit where they want and draw or fiddle around while you read. Your children may resist at first but this often becomes a favorite activity – especially if the book is suspenseful or an adventure tale.
  • Schedule breaks so that you can have time away from your children: whether you take turns with your partner, let the children watch an hour of youtube or a movie, etc., you need at least one hour each day to yourself. (And this does not mean folding laundry).
  • Get outside at least twice a day and make sure your children get out too. Take a walk, mail a letter, ride bikes or scooters, whatever. This is necessary for everyone’s mental and physical health. And remember, there is no such thing as bad weather – there are only bad clothes. Make sure right now that each of your children has rubber boots, a raincoat, a parka that fits for this year, a hat, gloves and snow boots. You can go out no matter what the temperature or precipitation – and you’ll feel better if you do.

Back to School 2020

Karen Libber Fishbein, LCSW, is a therapist and mother who lives in Philadelphia with her husband and two daughters. As a licensed clinical social worker, Karen specializes in counseling college students and young adults with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating issues, relational challenges and difficult family dynamics.

It is Back to School Season 2020! What does that mean this year amid the coronavirus pandemic? It certainly is different than other years. I can think of numerous possibilities and options for school, and none of them are ideal.  Five options are listed below.  Each option has its own risks and challenges for children, families, and teachers. 

Option One: Our children go to school daily in person, like all other years, and we worry for their safety, their teachers’ safety, and the safety of their parents and caregivers.  

Option Two: Children go to school two or three days per week, or alternatively each day but for less time than usual. This option likely involves fewer students in each class. Yes, exposure to COVID is theoretically reduced in this model, but there is still some risk, and what are parents and caregivers supposed to do if they work during the days/times their children aren’t in school?

Option Three: Children engage in entirely virtual learning. Of course, this greatly reduces the risk of the virus inflicting students, families, and teachers, but how much learning can children actually absorb via Zoom, online programming, or Google chat? Also, who is supposed to coordinate and supervise this learning? I have you in mind, parents and caregivers who are lucky enough to be able to work from home, but also have demanding jobs. For parents who work on-site, this scenario is even more challenging. Also, what about socialization with other children? I find it hard to believe that virtual school can provide the adequate level of socialization children need to develop into their best selves.

Option Four: Parent(s) take(s) time away from the workforce to provide care/instruction for their children at home; for all intents and purposes, this is homeschooling. For the right parent/children this may be feasible, but what will the long-term costs be for the parent who exits the workforce for an extended period? Also, what does socialization look like in this group as well? How can families guiding their children’s learning at home engage in socialization in a safe way?

A final fifth option involves creating a learning pod of a few children and one teacher. This seems like the best scenario to reduce risk and increase learning, but it is not without significant financial expenses and logistical hurdles.  How are parents supposed to achieve a full day’s worth of work while hosting multiple children in their home to learn, especially younger children? Children are hardwired to explore their surroundings physically and cognitively, ask questions, laugh, and learn experientially (particularly through play). I cannot imagine having a teacher and multiple children doing what they are supposed to do in my modest 2400 square foot home, while both my husband and I are expected to work remotely.

I am a mom to two daughters, ages almost five and seven.  They are both terrific kids (yes, I am biased), but I do wonder what kind of long-term impact their recent schooling (or lack thereof) may have on their futures. My husband and I tried to engage our seven-year-old in her virtual first grade class this past spring, but she was way more interested in hands-on learning. We visited a local farm each week, she learned about gardening and baking, she took up singing as a hobby, and she started piano lessons with her grandfather. In the home environment, engaging with her Google classroom or examining different academic materials was very boring, and she would tune out quickly.  

Interestingly, our almost five-year-old has benefitted greatly from the extra time at home with her family and away from a structured school setting. Her appetite and sleep have improved, and her semi-frequent behavioral outbursts have almost disappeared.  What does this mean for her return to school? Well it’s a bit complicated! We currently have her enrolled in kindergarten as one of the youngest students in her class; her birthday is the cutoff date.  Our school’s current plan is to be virtual through the middle of November at the earliest. Given her progress over the last few months, her young age, and the thought of a five-year-old being plugged into a screen for daily learning, we plan to pull her from kindergarten this year and start her next year.  

This is the first time in history when virtual education of our youth is the most viable option. It will probably be one of the greatest social experiments of our time, and our children will be the guinea pigs.   How will this new way of learning influence our children? While they may not be as advanced in reading, writing, or math as their recent predecessors, I remain hopeful that living through the pandemic will develop different skills and strengths that will shape their futures in meaningful, intangible ways.

Anti-Racism Resources for Children and Families

Thoughtful parents are reflecting, protesting, changing, listening, and learning. Here are resources to engage our children in conversation and action:

https://centerracialjustice.org/resources/resources-for-talking-about-race-racism-and-racialized-violence-with-kids/

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/how-white-parents-can-use-media-to-raise-anti-racist-kids

https://www.embracerace.org/resources/supporting-kids-of-color-in-the-wake-of-racialized-violenc-part-one

https://www.charisbooksandmore.com/books-teach-white-children-and-teens-how-undo-racism-and-white-supremacy

Re-Emerging from Quarantine

Dr. Corinne Masur

States are opening up.  Beaches are opening up.  

Camp is cancelled. 

And we are tired of being quarantined.

Parents are asking: 

Can we re-emerge? And how do we do it safely? 

Lots of people have started considering their options. They have started to think about seeing people, about going back to work, about actually eating out. And they feel like they can’t survive much longer without setting up some sort of play dates for their kids or young teens. 

The isolation, the deprivation is just getting to be too much.

Some people have said “To !@#!@ with it, I’ll just get the virus and get it over with”.

Some people have said, “Well I’m just going to just see people who aren’t seeing other people.” They’ve formed “pods.”

Some people have said, “I have to get back to work. I can’t not work anymore. The economy just can’t tolerate it and neither can I.”

Some people have invited a hair dresser to their house to give them and their families a haircut.

It is hard to live lives so different from what we’re used to. It is hard not to see the people we love, the people we have fun with, the people we want to hug and kiss. It is hard to socialize only on screens.

And many of us feel like we’ve reached our limit.

But now what?

Is it Ok to arrange some play dates? 

And how about going to the beach? What about swimming in a neighbor’s pool? Or setting up a baby pool and inviting other kids to come over and get in?

Well, states ARE opening up, restaurants and business are opening and the beaches ARE open in some places – but Coronavirus has not gone away.

For those children and adults who have not had it, it is still a risk to socialize with others whose socialization histories we don’t know. According to a former director of the CDC, as quoted in a recent article in the New York Times, “We’re reopening based on politics, ideology and public pressure. And I think it’s going to end badly.”

In other words, we’re opening because we’re tired of this.

And, as a result, according to the article, “The much-feared “second wave” of infection may not wait until fall, many scientists say, and instead may become a storm of wavelets breaking unpredictably across the country.” But we won’t see this wave right away. “It takes two or three weeks for the newly infected who become severely ill to need hospitalization. An initial calm may encourage more Americans to drop their guard or more governors to ease restrictions.”

In other words, we need to persevere with masks and social distances and a certain amount of deprivation.

We need to get out. But we need to get out safely. So here are some tips:

If you want to set up play dates, consider having them outdoors with only a couple of children at a time. Let the children know ahead of time what the rules are for social distancing.        

Try some of the following:

  • Letting your kids ride bikes or scooters with a couple of friends, staying several feet away from each other.
  • Letting your kids play one on one badminton if you have a net or tennis if you have access to a court – being across the net from each other is automatic distancing! Just make sure you let them know that BEFORE and AFTER the games it will be time for 6 feet apart again.
  • Meeting another family at a state park which has a lake and have each family rent a canoe and paddle around together.
  • Meeting another family at a trail and letting the kids hike or mountain bike on a trail, keeping social distance while on the trail and when off the bikes.
  • Getting together with other kids who have been quarantined and whose parents have been careful about social distancing and who are not going to work yet. 
  • Letting teens who drive and have access to a car  get together by driving their cars to a common place (a park or parking lot) and talking to each other from the cars.
  • Having your family setup chairs outside to visit with others that way, being clear with the kids that they must give everyone 6 feet.
  • Going to an older relative’s house and setting up chairs on their lawn or side walk for a short visit.
  • Going to the beach and taking a large beach blanket and it making it YOUR space. Let your children know before you go that they must either stay on your beach blanket or take a walk or a swim with you or each other (depending on their ages) and keep at least 6 feel from anyone else.
  • AND continue getting together online.

But what about toddlers who cannot understand about social distancing?  A grandmother recently asked if she should have a social distancing barbeque with her daughter and son in law and their 18-month-old.  Her husband is dying to hug his grandson and simply cannot wait another month! 

This is tough.  We want to see each other, touch and hug each other – and toddlers, who are often naturally affectionate, will want do that more than anyone!

My advice to this grandmother was to have the barbeque – we NEED to see the ones we love.  But we need to do it safely. I suggested that the toddler be allowed to hug grandma and grandpa around the legs and that EVERYONE keep the 6-foot distance from one another the rest of the time.  That won’t be enough – but it’s better than nothing.  And I suggested having the parents prepare their toddler for what a “grandma and grandpa hug” will be – and to practice it before they go. Again, it won’t be easy – but it will be better than not seeing each at all.

And what about going to restaurants, getting haircuts at the salon and that sort of thing?

Well, social distancing and wearing masks and washing hands frequently are still the safest ways we know to stay well. If you feel you can go out AND take these precautions while being out, if you are willing to take a bit more risk, then do so.  Different families have different levels of risk tolerance.  We will see plenty of people doing things we wouldn’t do or at least that we haven’t done yet. This will challenge our own standards and beliefs about what is safe.  

It’s hard.  We will be tempted to judge other families for their choices and we may feel judged for ours. 

We all just have to make the choices for ourselves and our children that we feel are best for us and let others do the same.

Week 8

georgina-vigliecca-dr1U6IZldVE-unsplashDr. Fran Martin

We’ve been at this, this quarantine for a long time:  Two months now, and still counting. 

I am watching children, and of course their parents, (but I’ll come back to them) lose some of their excitement over the newness of no school.  Like the rest of us, they are missing life as they had come to know it – the routine of school or day-care, days filled with friends and predictable activities, and then time with their parents.  Needing to be home all the time, seeing no one but immediate family is getting old and tiresome.  Fuses are becoming shorter; resilience is diminishing.  What seemed kind of fun at first, now may  feel way less exciting. Continue reading