family wellness

Parenting Through a Pandemic

When I first started this blog, I wrote about how I wished we’d all stop the mom shaming. (And yes, for some reason it’s always mom shaming, not dad shaming!) So I was thrilled when I heard that Lindsay Powers, who was editor in chief of Yahoo Parenting when they created the #NoShameParenting movement, wrote a book. Called You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids, the book is a research-based, judgment-free look at hot button parenting issues, from breastfeeding to daycare to sleep training.

Lindsay spoke to dozens of experts, ranging from doctors (including the pediatrician who co-wrote the American Academy of Pediatric screen-time rules), to researchers, social workers, and more—she’d basically an encyclopedia of parenting information. Since we’re all learning as we go while parenting through a pandemic, I asked Lindsay to answer some questions I’ve had about how to keep yourself and your kiddos happy and sane during these crazy times.

Keep reading for her level-headed tips on everything from screen-time restrictions to how to help anxious kids cope. And then let me know in the comments: What’s been your biggest parenting win and biggest struggle since having to quarantine at home?

Covid-19 has changed the world—and parenting—in a matter of weeks. Since kids are home 24/7 now, how important is having a schedule?

Research shows that when kids have a routine in some part of their lives, they tend to be more agreeable. It’s tempting to just let everything go—no rules, because life is confusing right now; no bedtime, because we’re not rushing to school in the morning. But try to stick with a few basic features of your daily routine, such as going to bed at the same time every night. We still need to discipline our kids (we’re the adults, and boundaries make them feel safe), and sleep is still important.

Working from home while juggling kids can feel impossible at times. Any tips on balancing work and childcare?

Parents should be as involved as they have the bandwidth to be, and not feel guilty about it. Help your kid learn how to play solo by giving them more opportunities to do so. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes, and tell your child they have to play alone that long. Extend the time by a couple minutes every day. My sons have gotten really good at playing together without adults for a pretty long time—but that’s a new skill, learned by necessity, because my husband and I are working and can’t always get on the floor to play with them. And I also let my kids whine about how they’re bored without intervening. Boredom is a good thing. It fosters creativity and resourcefulness. Parents today are under a lot of pressure to fill up every minute of our kids’ days. I think a small silver lining from this pandemic will be parents feeling less pressure to cart our kids around to every single activity and constantly enrich them.

Not only are parents feeling pressured to keep kids entertained, but some also feel like they’re expected to homeschool to keep them on track and it’s causing stress for parents and kids. Is it OK to lower expectations on that too?

Oh yes, lower expectations when it comes to home school. Teachers aren’t expecting us to raise geniuses right now, they’re expecting us to keep our kids safe. Teachers also know and will take into account that kids are going to be in different places when they do return to school, so you don’t have to worry about your child being “behind.” Lean into life skills. Kids can learn a lot from cooking, for example: math, measuring, order, following directions. And how many people stuck in quarantine right now wish they’d learned how to cook as a kid?

Everyone says parents can loosen screen-time restrictions during this time, but is there a limit? Five hours a day can’t be good, right?

All things in parenting are best served in moderation. But these are not normal times. There’s no way we’ll look back at this time and say, “I wish my kids watched less Peppa Pig during that global pandemic!” Try to think of moderation over the course of a week, not a day. If you watch five hours one day, set a timer and turn it off after an hour or two the next day. Try to keep shows relatively age appropriate, and try to connect what you’re seeing on the screen to real life, like “Remember how the Paw Patrol worked together to help their neighbors? We can be community helpers by washing our hands.” Also, not all screen time is technically created equal. There are more opportunities to learn and connect via interactive screen time, such as a virtual art class, a math app, or FaceTiming with family. But don’t discount all screen time. Anything can be interactive if you ask a question or connect it to real life.

Do you have any advice on how to explain coronavirus to preschool and elementary school kids, who know they can’t see friends or family but may not get the bigger picture of why?

When your kid asks questions, ask them questions back. Sometimes our inclination is to over-explain things when they’re asking something very simple—which can insert more fear. Try to be age appropriate, emphasize how parents are here to keep them safe, and tell them we can help by washing our hands. Having an action to help gives us some feeling of control back, whether we’re 3 or 30.

What can parents say to kids who are feeling anxious? And how can we not transfer our own anxiety onto our kids?

Understand that kids may be throwing more tantrums because it’s how they express fear or uncertainty. Spend more time cuddling or offer hugs to help them feel better. It’s OK to show a little emotion in front of our kids, or say that we’re disappointed or upset. This gives kids permission to feel all the feelings, and shows that we can experience setbacks, keep going, and recover. But if you’re feeling weepy or angry, try to take breaks, whether that’s by leaving your kids with a partner, if you have one, or setting them up with a game or in front of the TV.

Since you’ve talked to tons of experts, break it down for us: What are the most important things parents can be doing for their kids right now?

Overall, science finds that kids need three things: love, something to eat, and a place to sleep. All the other things, like all-organic food, designer high chairs, infant flash cards, and whatever else we stress about are just extras—during a pandemic or not.

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  • Robin Wilburn

    This was helpful to me as a grandparent Being under quarantine with my grandkids and daughter. Definite increase in moodiness and agitation with the 9 yr old girl. Thank you for so much I formation

  • JC

    The hardest thing has been being a healthcare worker and terrified to bring this home to 2 high risk kids. So when it seemed temp my husband took over and I quarantined away from kids. Now that it is long term we are trying to change this because the distance is hard on everyone. The other hard thing is our kitchen was ripped out before all this. You would not believe how hard it is not having a kitchen through a pandemic 🙂 and above all is the judgement from others- some kids didnt do online mtgs, other kids are outside, others are inside, where are parents? Etc. I hate shaming anyways and it is all intensified now given everyone is stressed. 🙂


    Hi Gen,
    Thank you so much for this during a really crazy, uncertain time. What a great topic! I’m an Auntie but more than usual. My brother and his kids live with me as he just got a divorce. My nephew 4yrs old and neice 12yrs old. I’m working from home and her home school and watching him as my brother still works outside the home. I’m always so tired and really struggling with energy. It’s so nice to hear that not everything has to be perfect. We are taking lots of walks but I do feel like I need to limit screen time too so it’s good to hear her put that in perspective too. I guess we just have to remember what we did as kids lol. We played cards, board games, colored and read books and played outside alot. Thank you so much for all your ideas! They are always comforting and practical 🙂
    Take care,

  • Charla Reaves

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s an important message for any parent. Being a grandmother now, I have often looked back over the years of raising little ones and how my friends did things so differently. At that time I often wondered who was right and how different our kids would turn out as adults; hoping I was always making the right choices. But the reality is, if your children feel loved and respected as humans, they have all they need. Those choices I stressed over as a young mother didn’t really matter in the end. My greatest accomplishment in life is that I brought two absolutely amazing, loving, kind humans into this world. ❤️

  • Jennifer

    This was a great article and really helped me feel better about the additional screen time and anxiety and tantrums since COVID19 has taken over our lives.

    Thanks Gen!

  • Heather Gossett

    Thank you for posting this, it was helpful. I have been sooooo stressed with the homeschooling part, my daughter is a straight a student and have been afraid of messing that up. I feel better about it now.

  • Jessica Graziosi

    Thank you sooo much for this!!! I have 3 in 3 different schools ( high school, middle school and 2nd grade). Their schools have set up mandatory online schooling that includes Maoism meetings, teacher hours online, and class work. My 2nd grader is special Ed. She is dyslexic, has reading and writing comprehension issues and was receiving speech therapy through school. We have a total of 11 zoom meetings a week for her alone. I’ve been more relaxed with wake up time. As long as my boys are up by 9 I’m good. None of their meeting start until 10. We’re taking it day by day. And their teachers have been amazing. I don’t think they are getting enough praise for all they’re doing right now. On the other hand, I didn’t go to college to become a teacher, especially a special Ed one!!! This is so hard. And my husband is an essential worker so he’s not home to help. So I’m doing this myself for the most part. I do not count my kids’ schoolwork as screen time. So if they want to watch tv or play video games after their work is done I let them. They are cut off daily at a certain time. Just thinking of all they are missing with their friends makes me a little more lax in this part. They also HAVE to get atleast 30 minutes of some type of physical activity in a day. So we have a routine. It’s flexible but it’s there. Glad to read this. It makes me feel like maybe I am going a good job. Just maybe. Thanks Gen!!

  • Tina Babcock

    Such good info!! I am mom to a child with a pretty significant developmental disability and he thrives on his school routine. The biggest problem I am having is that the majority of our “break” activities ie visiting grandparents, attending local minor league baseball games, visit a hotel, going swimming or bowling, are all things we can’t do now. School is much more of a hands on teaching for him vs learning math problems or reading. We have had some really rough days, but he is adapting more and more as the time goes on, I refuse to feel like a bad mom because I am letting him use his iPad to watch videos or by letting him have an extra juice box. We have gone to the Zoo on YouTube, had Zoom reunions on Fridays with family, started going for long nature walks on Saturdays (he’s still not a fan of snakes 🙂 ) We (well mainly me) sing really loud to Taylor Swift and Bon Jovi and dance around very badly. I know when he goes back to school he will have some regression, but that this time together is a good thing for us too! He misses his teachers, therapists, and classmates, but we have also been making short videos to send to them so that Cordel can still have that connection.

  • Jenn C

    Thank you for this post! The most stressful part has been being a nurse and a mom. Both my husband and I continue to work outside the home, and very early on in pandemic we ended up quarantined and tested due to an exposure, so it started very high anxiety. Hardest part has been having to have some distance with kids when home from work, because they are high risk, and the thought of bringing anything home to them was terrifying. When this was short time it was ok, but now that it’s long term and ongoing- we need to figure out how to keep everyone safe while we both work and still be present for kids, because they are starting to struggle. Especially the 7yo is having some big emotions with this. They are not being expressed how you would expect. But he is a kid that loves school and now you mention doing anything for school and it’s screaming and tears- full on melt down. If he does do it and makes mistakes it is a chorus of “I’m so stupid”. Throw in big disappointments from a HUGE family trip that is now cancelled, and i would say managing the emotions and disappointments has been a HUGE challenge. My 7yo loves to be outside and active, and these days it is hard to get him to do anything, nevermind get off the couch. we turn off the tv and it’s melt downs. Also you would not believe how hard it is doing this without a kitchen! You do not realize how central your kitchen is to your every day life until it’s gone. The lack of counters, storage, sink, and stove has been an extra layer of stress and craziness.
    Wins have been some of the instagram accounts and websites we have found (, farming ig accounts, gardening, etc). It has given us things to watch as a family and find positivity. We now have time we don’t usually have so my husband has been able to get some stuff done around the house. our yard looks better than past years, and we are finally going to be starting a garden in the upcoming days (once it gets warmer in new england). Oh and of course we did at home haircuts! They are not perfect, but they are ok, though both my 7yo and 4yo say they hate home hair cuts 🙂
    It has also given us time to reflect on what our careers and family look like. our living arrangements, our life, etc. And what do we want it to look like? Are we living out our passions and our best life? And we look forward to heading to the mountains when this is over!

  • Dacia

    Thank you Gen, for asking the exact questions we all need to hear the answers to right now. I will admit, the wheels came off this bus completely once Week 2 hit. I am working from home, but my job requires me to have a level of attention to detail that I’m finding it difficult to maintain as a single parent of a Kindergartner. It’s just the two of us that have sheltered in place and alone time for me is only when I’m working. TV time had become somewhat limitless, but there’s a positive to be found there too — TV is now somewhat boring to her as well, which has prompted self-imposed limits. My daughter has broken one of the stairwell balusters from using a fabric “rope” to rock climb it, has “cleaned” the carpet using buckets of water and handsoap, and my living room has become an ever-changing fort. One thing I can say about the pandemic is that we’ve both learned to chill out just a bit. I didn’t get mad about the floors. I was thankful she found ways to get creative when she was on her own for a bit. I’m still working on finding a routine that we can get into a good rhythm with. Suggestions for activities this past week got eye rolls and tantrums as responses and I know she’s tired of me being her only human contact. I needed the reminder that flexibility is important for sanity, but so are boundaries. I’m confident we’ll get the wheels back on the bus sooner rather than later. But, I also needed the reminder that if I’m not doing the best job right now, I’m not in too much danger of f*cking up my kid. Ha. She has food, shelter, and love. We’ll figure out the rest.

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