All Together Alone: Parents, Don’t Worry! You’ve Got This

After several days of staying at home to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, I optimistically ventured out in search of that prized commodity—toilet paper. When I scored one 6-pack of Charmin, I felt ridiculously happy. It was yet another example of how, in difficult circumstances, we often find a renewed appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.

I was thinking about this as I headed to the store’s toy department, looking for a jigsaw puzzle to help pass the time at home. No luck. But the board game aisle was well stocked with parents cautiously spaced five or six feet apart. After one week at home with their kids, these parents had already discovered that they aren’t set up to be teachers and were looking for ways beyond online distance learning and homework sent from school to keep their quarantined kids stimulated. And they sounded as happy as I felt squeezing my Charmin.

Adversity or setback nearly always offers us a gift. In this case, it’s the gift of unexpected time to connect with our children in simple yet meaningful ways. It’s the chance to show our children healthy models for handling uncertainty and boredom. It’s the opportunity to help them learn new expressions of compassion and ways to practice optimism. Being at home together with our kids offers us the chance to play a more active role in their learning, and, while this instruction will certainly look different from classroom instruction, it can be effective and valuable.

Understandably, many parents are deciding that they don’t have the confidence, desire, patience, energy, or resources to oversee an ideal learn-at-home situation. This is especially true for those working from home offices. But the good news is there’s no single right way to manage these circumstances. You can be any kind of teacher to your kids, and they’ll not only survive, but they’ll also learn and grow.

Lessons can be both taught and “caught.”

Here are a few thoughts you may find helpful:

  • You don’t have to be Super Parent. Discard any notion you may have about keeping the household running smoothly—and, while you’re at it, throw away the guilt, too. These are trying, uncertain times. Accept a little disorder as you aim for a realistic routine. Get your kids out of their pajamas, and set regular meals and bedtimes, but rule out a rigid schedule. We’re going to be in this for a while, and a fixed daily agenda may become a grind. The more you persist, the more they may resist.
  • Hold sensible expectations about keeping your child’s education on track with store-bought workbooks and lesson plans sent home from school or created by you. Sure, a little structured time at the kitchen table where you oversee some formal instruction isn’t a bad idea, but don’t try to sustain that for the length of a typical school day.
  • Remember, reading can take you anywhere. Books and magazines transport us to different times and places, even when we’re stuck at home. What a great time to practice or introduce the habit of reading for pleasure. Think beyond bedtime and consider setting aside at least 15 minutes once or twice throughout the day when the whole family drops everything to read. (Ring a bell or set an alarm to add to the surprise and heighten anticipation.) Even children who are reading independently love hearing books read aloud. Kids’ listening levels are often higher than their reading levels, so it’s possible to find an exciting book the whole family will enjoy. Choose a book with chapters that are cliff-hangers, leaving listeners starving for more.
  • One of the best ways to keep your kids’ brains engaged is with informal, hands-on activities. Let your kids cook with you, and sneak in some math and science lessons. Take a nature walk and identify trees and flowers. Do some spring gardening, or some bird-watching. Share one of your hobbies with your child. Teach them to knit or let them build something with scrap wood in the garage.
  • Encourage creative self-expression. Set out the art or craft supplies, and don’t worry too much about the mess. Urge your writers to compose their own stories. Let your divas record themselves singing, playing instruments, or acting. Join in, if you can. It’s both fun and therapy.
  • Do break out the board games. Word games like Scrabble and Boggle can build vocabulary and spelling skills. Games like Yahtzee give kids practice in basic math. Many games, such as Ticket to Ride, teach strategic thinking. Almost all games designed for two players or more—both tabletop and digital—can bolster kids’ social skills.
  • Use digital devices wisely. We suggest, especially for younger kids, that parents load their devices with some of the many fun, educational games and puzzles available. Discourage kids from spending too much time passively watching videos. When the family gathers around the TV, consider watching some of the great nature documentaries available, and check out the kids’ movies based on award-winning children’s books.
  • Encourage your children to think about others. Health officials say that it’s safe to open mail, so invite your kids to write to family and friends who are social-distancing in other locations. I call handwritten letters “hugs we send in the mail,” and we could all use more hugs right now. Thank-you notes mailed to first responders at police stations and fire stations are always appreciated. Encourage your kids to FaceTime the people they love and miss.

Chances are we’re going to be All Together Alone for a while. It won’t be easy, but we don’t have to make it hard, either. What we’ll need most is the ability to see the upside and celebrate it. If we can backburner our fear and focus on hope and optimism, we can teach kids an important life lesson about managing strife. And we’ll all discover that unexpected opportunities are often the sweetest.

You’ve got this.

Christine French Cully

Christine French Cully is Chief Purpose Officer and Editor in Chief at Highlights for Children. As Chief Purpose Officer, Cully’s focus is on growing awareness and implementation of the Highlights purpose, core beliefs, and values—to help actualize the organization’s vision for a world where all children can become people who can change the world for the better....