Parenting During a Time of Physical Distancing

Part of Strategies

By Evin Carvill Ziemer

Two children in the woods playing with bug boxes

Children spending time in nature.

As a parent of two young children, our looming school closure is on my heart and mind. It may be on yours too. Here’s some advice I've compiled from religious professionals for all of us!

Set up a Routine

Routines Help Children Feel Safe

They help us fit in what we need to for a balanced day. And it will be much harder to impose a routine a few days in. What to include?

  • Keep bedtime and wake up. A steady sleep schedule helps everyone.

  • Exercise and fresh air! Get outside every day if you can for fresh air and to move your bodies--away from playgrounds (virus can live on the surface) and large groups (stay 6' away from others). If you can, garden. Dirt is good for everyone’s mental health and tending to a garden is a good way to cultivate hope in hard times.

  • Include education. The more life is “normal”, the less traumatic this disruption will be for your kids. Focus both on your children’s interests and places they may need a little help. Do some social justice education the school hasn’t done. Have your kids keep a journal--they’re living history right now! Do some science. Research viruses. Take an online class. Practice second and third languages. Don’t forget the arts, music, and recess--all the things our schools have cut back on!

  • Connect. Our children need to connect and need to have this part of their routine. Plan to connect online with your family, people from church, and your children’s friends. Have play dates on video chat. Show each other art. Read to each other. Teach your family members how to connect with your kid via video: toddlers love silly songs and finger plays, preschoolers love to be read to, elementary students can tell jokes, read, play their instrument, sing, listen to a chapter a day.

  • Sibling Rivalry. Some of the sibling stuff is going to be no joke. Plan for it by making one on one time with your kids part of the day.

  • Include your kids in the chores. Teach them to cook (practice fractions!). Have them do laundry and cleaning. Feeling accomplished and competent helps them feel less powerless.

  • Include rituals. Now is a good time to do your meal blessings, light a chalice, and create other family rituals. Rituals ground and center us and we'll be missing the embodied rituals that are part of church in person. Here's a video of Annie Scott singing a song for your families as a possibility as a home chalice lighting ritual.

  • Adult routines. All of this goes for adults too especially if you're working from home. Structure will help you know when you're paying attention to work, to home, to children.

Resources for Education at Home

Find Things to Look Forward To

Even if this isn’t the family time we’d choose, we are getting to be together as a family. Find some things to look forward to about this.

  • Brainstorm together all the things you could do. Your kids probably have a lot of ideas.

  • Encourage each kid to pick a “passion project” -- something they really want to learn about to research and teach the whole family about.

  • Take on some projects that need doing--spring cleaning, garden start up, etc. Accomplishing big things makes everyone feel good.

Take Care of Yourself and Other Adults in Your Household

The more grounded and resilient you are, the more grounded and resilient your children will be.

  • Make plans to regularly connect with adult friends

  • Make plans to connect online with parents from church.

  • Set aside at least a little time each day to be alone.

  • Set aside a little time each day for the adults to be adults together.

  • Know the signs when you need help--and reach out to friends and to your congregation.

  • If you're sick and having to care for your kids too, be patient with yourself. The routine and whatever the usual limits on screen time might go out the window. That's ok.

Structure Your Space and Limit Your Electronics

  • Help each member of your family create a space in the house that is theirs that they can go be alone in. Use noise canceling headphones or music on headphones to get away from everyone else.

  • Staying on top of the clutter and chaos is probably well worth it even if like me you struggle.

  • Have a conversation about screens. Screens are good for entertainment, education, and connection. But they can also take us away from the present moment, feed us stories of despair, and over-stimulate our brains. Be honest with your kids about your own challenges with screens. Talk together about what good boundaries are and help each other use your screens in ways that enhance well-being.

Care for Bodies, Minds, and Spirits

  • Let it be okay if your children (or yourself!) are feeling loss, frustrated, sad, or worried.

  • Recognize those moments when kids are struggling are natural and will pass. Don’t pressure them to “snap out of it” or “stick to the schedule.” Instead, slow down, get quiet, and be a non-intrusive, non-anxious, loving presence as they ride it out.

  • Music can shift moods especially when we get cranky--play music, dance, sing!

  • Remember laughter is good for all of us. Silly books, jokes, and funny movies are good medicine.

  • Help yourself and your children name their feelings. Naming feelings helps tame them.

  • Be clear with yourself and your kids about when you need to pay attention to work. Make some time each day when you are really present to them.

  • Move bodies! Have a dance party before some school work. Include proprioceptor stimulation as breaks between activities: balance on one leg, walk like a crab or bear, stretch! Let your kids have a turn to lead you in exercises.

  • Resources for talking about COVID-19 with kids

A Few More Thoughts

It’s likely that you’ll be talking about death with your children sometime in the near future. If this feels hard, set up a time to talk with your religious professionals and other parents from church. Here is a resource that may help and “Breaking News” and “A Terrible Thing Happened” to listen to with your kids. 
I know it's hard to be so isolated. Our role in slowing this virus down is to stay away from public places, resist dropping our kids off at other people's houses, and severely limit who we come in physical contact with. Most of us are only seeing older family members over the internet. It's hard. There will be another side to this.

Look for something to be grateful for every day. Even if it’s just that you don’t have to rush the kids out the door. Breathe. Notice the world’s beauty. Remember you love your children and they love each other even when it doesn’t look like it.

Additional Resources

About the Author

Evin Carvill Ziemer

Evin serves as the Developmental Lead for the New England Region. Evin holds a Masters of Divinity from Earlham School of Religion and Bachelor of Arts from Carleton College.

For more information contact .