Last week as I was preparing for our team to begin working remotely, I was thinking about how this might work. 

I am an empty nester, so working from home is not nearly as complicated now as it was when our daughter was underfoot. However, many of the FTF team members have small children and spouses who are also providing essential services during this time. People are trying to navigate multiple roles – parent, teacher, team member, spouse, adult child to an aging parent and more – but in a much more chaotic environment.

It is not lost on me that there is no way it can be business as usual for the next four to eight weeks. I literally can’t expect that team members will be at their desk from 8-5 when they are trying to feed children meals and snacks (then help with cleanup), put younger kids down for naps, provide assistance or direction for schoolwork, break up the latest spat or make sure their kids are not occupying themselves with screens all day long. And laundry. Don’t forget the mountains of laundry.

They’re also spending their energy trying to nurture other relationships in their lives and help family members/friends who have lost jobs, are ill or very susceptible to Covid-19 who may need their help in this challenging landscape. Not to mention, everyone is trying to keep surfaces wiped down to prevent the spread of sickness.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from leadership guru, Patrick Lencioni, that I think is worth sharing. 

He reminded us that right now, all of us are in uncharted waters so we need to be exceedingly human. As in, as leaders/employers, we need to demonstrate real concern for the fears and anxieties people are experiencing both professionally and personally. A lot of people, including those of us who lead companies, feel like we have been punched in the gut.

Next, he pointed out that now is the time to be especially communicative with our team members. Check in on people. Share what you know even if there isn’t a lot of new information. Pass along resources that you think might be helpful to them. (First Things First actually created a page with resources for self-care, marital care and parenting specifically to help people during these uncertain times.)

Lencioni also encouraged us to lead with creativity. There is no way we can do things the way we have always done them, so try new things. It’s likely you have already created regular check-in times with your team members. Instead of only talking about work, allow them to share how they are being creative at home, give them the chance to share stories, movies, games and resources they have found particularly helpful. Your team needs to know you get it. This kind of bonding will bring the team closer long after this crisis is past.

In my experience, great leaders do not see themselves as better than the people on their team. In fact, they surround themselves with team players who are passionate about the mission and understand that the success of the work is dependent on the success of the team. Now is not the time to only look out for self, but to recognize that we are all in this together. Even in and especially in times of unprecedented loss, the leader sets the tone for how the team moves forward. 

Truth be told, probably all of us who lead are concerned about how we are going to pay bills and make payroll over time. No doubt, income and donations will be less and billable hours will decrease, but in the midst of this, we absolutely cannot forget the human factor. Pushing people harder will not make things better and they will certainly not forget how they were treated in the midst of this crisis.

Lencioni closed his email with these wise words: 

“What you should avoid is seeming cold or impersonal in the name of ‘business as usual,’ or being absent or inconsistent in the name of ‘giving people space,’ or being afraid to try something new. These unprecedented times call for you to stretch beyond your normal comfort zones and be even more vulnerable than usual. Six months from now, you’ll look back and be glad you did.”

As the CEO, I know the FTF team is looking to me to lead through this time. I honestly have no idea what the future holds. I do know for this moment in time, I can be gracious with folks as they try to figure out how they will juggle everything. Nobody’s schedule is going to look exactly the same. I have to recognize that some of our team members are early birds and some are night owls. Some people need total quiet to work and others can work through the noise, no problem. Giving them some flexibility to accomplish tasks is key. People are already super stressed, weary and anxious. Adding to that will only make them more unproductive and decrease the bottom line. With these things in mind, I am looking for ways to help bring calm as we continue to serve people through our work by making one wise decision at a time.

Managing Change Successfully

"It's NOT business as usual". We talk with Julie Baumgardner about dealing with the fear and anxiety associated with the major changes to our business and family lives during COVID19. Learn more at firstthingsfirst.org .

Posted by CWLI – Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute on Friday, March 20, 2020

Breakfast. Check. Son’s Math. Check. Respond to emails. Check. Help daughter with Reading assignment… Lunch… Complete project for work… Dinner. Check. Check. Check. Check. Whew. This was a good day. We got it all done!

Hold on! Wait a minute! You’re missing something. In fact, if you keep up this schedule, the morale in your home is going to drop, the productivity is going to drop and the opportunity before you will be missed. How do I know you’re missing something?

You’re missing something BIG! You’re missing out on an opportunity to increase your kids’ academic, social and emotional skills, their ability to deal with stressful situations and anxiety. You’re missing out on an opportunity to learn about your kids or your spouse, develop deeper connections and create lasting memories. Still don’t know what you’re missing?

SCHEDULED PLAYTIME. Yes. That’s the thing. SCHEDULED PLAYTIME.

Unfortunately, you may also be missing out on a way to make your life easier while you’re home with the family for the foreseeable future. Who doesn’t want that?

This is a MUST. We can’t leave play to chance and hope someone says something funny while we eat lunch or while they’re working on Math. We can’t just hope that the adventurous person in the family brings some excitement. And we sure can’t minimize its importance. 

We must add play to our checklist. Why?

  1. Let’s start with all the reasons I mentioned earlier. No need to rehash those.
  2. Brings positive energy, creating a more conducive environment for the work that follows.
  3. We’re a family. We do life together. We laugh together. We cry together. We play together. We feel each other’s stress and we feel each other’s joy. (I can feel it in my home when someone is really stressed out about something.)
  4. When we play and laugh, our brain releases dopamine, a chemical that lets us know that we like what we’re doing. We connect that joy and pleasure with the people we are doing it with, making us want to repeat it. 
  5. We’re living in stressful times. Laughter truly is the best medicine. 
  6. Play strengthens our relationships.
  7. Strengthens children’s academic skills. (I know I said it earlier, but it’s worth mentioning again.)

I get it. You’re the adult. You have to be the responsible one to make sure that everyone gets all their work done. That everything stays orderly and structured. And if we get everything completed, then we’ll play. Because play is the reward for finishing everything, right? Besides, how will it look if it’s 10:30 AM and we’re playing a game and they haven’t read their English homework yet or you haven’t quite finished that project? You don’t want to be that parent.

Think of the other side of being the responsible parent. The responsible parent who helps to increase their child’s ability to achieve academically and improve communication skills. The parent who builds their kid’s confidence and their immune system. The parent who’s reducing the stress level in the home and creating a positive, energetic homework environment. That’s what you’re doing when you schedule time to play. You’re scheduling all those benefits, which might make it a little easier to get through each day.

There are tons of lists of ways to play. Keep it simple. It can be just a few minutes as a study/work break or a designated 30 or 45 minute recess. Whatever you do, don’t not schedule time to play while you’re home. One could say, you’re not being responsible.

Ideas for Play at Home:

  • Ball up some paper, get a trash can and start close, seeing who can make the shot. Keep inching your way back. Add some flair. Celebrate creativity in shooting styles whether you make it or not.
  • Turn on an upbeat song and dance. Use a hat and whoever is wearing the hat, dances for about 20-30 seconds and then puts the hat onto someone else who then begins to dance. Profusely cheer on the person dancing with the hat on.
  • Draw designs on the driveway using sidewalk chalk.
  • Do impersonations of one another, other people in your life, or famous people.
  • Build a fort in the house using couch cushions, pillows, and bedsheets. Then let someone do their school/job work inside the fort.
  • Start making up a story. Speak for 30 seconds and then have the next person pick up the story from there for 30 seconds and then someone else for 30 seconds and keep going around as long as you can. The story may become outlandish, but who cares? 

Look at all the smiles, laughter, and imagination taking place. Check. Check. Check.

The rain let up and the sun peeked through the clouds in the early afternoon on Day 2 of Social Distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Already a little stir crazy in the house, I directed my 4-year-old, Jackie and 2-year-old, Maddie to get socks and their rain boots on. We headed outside to our driveway, where a couple of fresh puddles lay, just waiting for eager feet to jump in them. 

Jackie looked back at me with an inquisitive look in her eyes. “Is this ok?” she silently sought permission. I smiled and nodded with an emphatic, “Go for it!”

She timidly stepped in the puddle, while Maddie watched, waiting for her big sister’s verdict. A little jump. A smile. A bigger jump. A laugh. Soon, both of my girls were jumping and splashing and kicking up muddy water all over their clothes. I stood back, watching them bask in the joy of a carefree childhood activity. 

We needed this. I needed this. With the stress of a global pandemic, trying to work from home while parenting two kids under 5 as my husband delivered essentials to businesses and hospitals as a FedEx driver, I needed a distraction. Some sort of stress relief. And this was it. A little break from the juggling act I was attempting to do between projects and snack times, diaper changes and refereeing sibling quarrels. The excitement and simple pleasure of getting dirty outside were exactly what we all needed. 

The significance of jumping in muddy puddles dawned on me, as I really stopped to savor the moment. I had NEVER let my girls jump in puddles before. I rarely even let them get dirty. It’s not that I’m a clean freak, there’s just never enough time. There’s always something to do, somewhere to go, a nap to be had, a meal to prepare and eat, a bedtime routine to stick to. 

In the hustle and bustle of life, I had unknowingly been robbing my kids of an essential childhood need: to play outside, explore, get dirty, discover and learn. 

As the stress and anxiety of our new (temporary) social distancing norm was threatening to hit hard, getting outside to play provided much-needed benefits for both myself and my kids. Not only did my kids get exercise from all that jumping and running, but they were also soaking up that vitamin D that strengthens their bones and keeps them healthy! Being outside improved all of our moods and gave us a much-needed break from the stuffy indoor tension that was building. 

And just like that, my perspective on our situation shifted. I could view quarantine as an inconvenient nightmare OR I could see it as an opportunity: to slow down and appreciate the little things in life, to let my kids be kids, to minimize the stress of social-distancing by taking the time to enjoy the moments of uninterrupted play.

Most mornings, we wake up with little time to spare. Get dressed, shower, wake up the kids, get them dressed, tell them to make up their beds, brush their teeth, comb their hair, brush my hair, grab their things, grab my things, fix a cup of coffee, get ready to leave, oops, I forgot to brush my own teeth, brush my teeth, hop in the car five minutes later than I needed to! Drop the kids off at school or the bus stop, stop by Starbucks, head to the office hoping I didn’t forget that I have an 8:00 appointment. Sound familiar?

Guess what, while we’re practicing social-distancing, here’s the chance to create a new family norm that is less focused on punctuality and more focused on starting the day the way you want to start it as a family. As our lives have changed due to the pandemic, we can intentionally do some things differently that set the whole family in the same direction for the day.

Here’s one change that can make a HUGE difference.

Family Breakfast Time . Don’t let food be a hindrance, but let’s address food first. Breakfast can be anything from sitting together to drink a beverage, to toast with jelly, all the way up to to the big time – pancakes, eggs, fruit, and OJ.  Focus on the words “Family” and “Time.” Think of the word breakfast as the important time of the day. It’s before you launch into your “daily work/school” time.

Why is this so beneficial? Studies show the benefits of having regular family meals together. Benefits, particularly for children, include better eating habits, feeling more connected, increased communication skills, and better self-esteem. They also include being less likely to develop eating disorders, engage in risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking habits, or to become depressed. Eating together helps you develop the lifelong bonds that strengthen your family and help you make it through tough times.

Set the tone for the day. This is the perfect time to set expectations for the day. Everyone can know what is expected of them and what to expect from you. We tend to receive information better when we’re eating. It does not necessarily have to be a minute-by-minute schedule but just having a set time to explain the intended flow of the day while we are eating and all together can provide some predictability for everyone. The kids will know that there will be some downtime, playtime, work time, quiet time, eating time, etc.

Family Temperature Check. I go into further detail about this in another blog. Ultimately, this is a good time to find out if anyone just plain and simple woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning or is having a very difficult time emotionally dealing with the fact that we are all stuck in the house together all day every day for the foreseeable future.

Give everyone a common starting point. Just like every football team huddles before running the next play and then proceeds to their position to start the play, the family huddles at breakfast and then starts the next play. As a parent, we have the power to send the family to their next play with enthusiasm or with dread. Even if you’re the only one with the positive energy, that’s OK, be that parent who the kids roll their eyes at and say, “Dad, you’re just over the top.” They’re going to say it with a smile on their face and move on after breakfast thinking not about the dread of being home all day yet again, but how silly their parents are. 

Tips: If you decide to have a family breakfast on a regular basis, here are some tips.

  1. Enlist your children to help with breakfast. Set the table with dishes, cups, silverware, condiments, whatever is age-appropriate. After all, they are eating as well. Do not become their servant. If age-appropriate, let them prepare some, if not all of the food.
  2. Keep it simple, but only if you want to. Don’t feel stressed that you have to pull out the pots and pans. Cereal and juice are fine. Pop-tarts and water are fine. An apple is fine. However…
  3. Go all out some mornings just because! Waffles, pancakes, omelets, biscuits. You have the time now. If your work and schooling get started a little later, since everyone is quarantined, it’s OK. That’s the opportunity here. Now, you don’t have to leave by 7:45 to miss the traffic and miss sitting in the long drop offline. (Teach your children how to make some of these items. Before long, they may do it for you.)
  4. Get started. When you get up, just because you are working from home, don’t spend hours procrastinating about getting your day started. Breakfast becomes the high point of the morning. Get into a rhythm and when everyone wakes up, announce that we will have breakfast in ___ minutes so that everyone is moving toward breakfast. That becomes our first destination for the day. For some people, simply having a set time for breakfast may be the way to go.
  5. Enlist children to help clean up following breakfast. Wash dishes, load dishwasher, clean table, sweep the floor, put away any extra food, be done
  6. Be real. This does not mean your day will go perfectly or even smoothly. This helps you to maintain a healthy relationship when things do get rocky.

Take advantage of this opportunity. I love to eat. Lots of us do. I love my wife and my kids (all 7 of them). Doing what I love to do with the people I love should be the formula for connection and peace in the midst of this chaos.

All of us are beginning to realize that life as we have known it has dramatically changed. We are at war against an invisible enemy that is wreaking havoc on our lives. Playdates for our children, lunch with friends, a steady income, worship, exercise classes, school, sports, graduations and even shopping are either non-existent, cancelled, postponed or look very different at this moment in time. Our lives have been interrupted in a huge way.

Even for the most spontaneous person, our dramatically different way of living has many of us on edge. 

“During times of trauma and uncertainty, we are stressed, weary and overwhelmed,” says Dr. Gary Oliver, clinical psychologist. “Our typical response is to ‘react’ in the moment, which often makes things worse. This is our emotional brain hijacking our thinking.”

Especially during these times, Oliver says we need to be intentional about “responding” instead of “reacting.” 

 “In life there are only three kinds of situations: things I can control, things I can’t control but can influence, which is a larger group, but the degree of influence probably isn’t as great as we think, and things that are totally out of our control,” Oliver says. “We can’t control the COVID-19 outbreak. But we can be sure to wash our hands and distance ourselves from others. If you are a person of faith, you can pray. We can exercise to stay healthy, we can be kind and help others who are more susceptible to catching the virus.”

Oliver believes this focus on what we can control and influence will help us thrive as we work to reach the other side of this crisis. For each decision that you face during this time, Oliver recommends that you think of the situation as a blinking yellow caution light. We all need to slow down and proceed with caution. Why? Because we are at risk of acting in ways that will only complicate the situation or possibly make things worse.

Here are some specific actions Oliver recommends to help us deal with the days ahead:

Sit down and make a list of all the things you can totally “control.” In all likelihood, this is a very short list. 

Then make a list of the things you believe you can influence. 

Finally, list the things you can do nothing about – and this is probably an endless list. Oliver says most of the time people are kind of shocked by how few things they can actually control. Some studies suggest that approximately two-thirds of what we worry about are things totally beyond our control.

Now, rank the list of things you can actually influence from one to 10, with 10 being the highest. The things at the bottom of the list are the things you actually have the least influence over. Then look at the things you scored five and above. Ask yourself, “What are some specific things I can do in these areas?” Your answers may be something like this: I can stay aware of the latest updates or I can practice good self-care. 

Speaking of practicing good self-care, Oliver points out that we are only as good for our spouse, children, extended family and friends as we are for ourselves. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can really be unhelpful to others. You can love yourself and others by eating well, resting, utilizing spiritual resources if you are a person of faith and getting exercise. 

Count your blessings. In challenging times, it is easy to focus on the negative instead of what you actually have. Make a list of your blessings. Do you have food? Is there a roof over your head? Can you walk, talk, see and hear? Do you have people who love you and are checking in on you? Do you have electricity, running water and access to the internet? Visually seeing your list is empowering. 

Support others. Ask yourself, “How can I encourage, express appreciation, support or pray for others?”

Find ways to connect face to face through Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime or something else. Although we have social distancing, we still need relationships. Texting and Facebook are ok, but there is no substitute for face-to-face contact. Seeing someone’s face and hearing their voice is comforting and psychologically, physiologically and emotionally nurturing. We all need that, especially at this moment in time. Isolation is good for not spreading the virus, but relationship isolation is not healthy.

Pay attention to your pets. Brain science now tells us that interactions with our pets can be life-giving, especially in times of crisis. 

When people feel like they can’t do anything, anxiety, fear, discouragement and depression creep in. People become overwhelmed with a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. 

These suggestions may seem small in the scheme of things, but they are not insignificant. Instead, these recommendations can help you grow smarter and make wiser decisions. Look for the opportunity to encourage others, because it’s not just about your own survival.

Ask yourself, “What is going to be my next healthy step?”

Families across the globe are about to find themselves spending lots of unsolicited time together due to the coronavirus pandemic. As I peruse through social media, talk to friends, and even think about my own experience with 7 kids in the house, there is plenty of anxiety, fear, and consternation over this one simple question, “What am I going to do with these kids all day?” Fortunately, there are many, many resources being provided to help parents answer that question.

The question I want to pose is, “How do we as parents, we as couples, keep from losing our minds while we are being asked to stay cooped up in our homes with these energy abundant children?” You’re going to have the opportunity to be more irritated, more frustrated, and angrier than ever. 

Let’s not spend our energy trying to figure out how to prevent the inevitable. That’s just setting yourself up for more frustration. Let’s plan for how we will respond in a way that does not ruin this unique opportunity we have to grow as a family. 

Before we get into the hamster wheel of just trying to survive each day, take some time each day with your significant other and maybe your children as well and do a temperature check. As a family, take a moment and ask one another, “How are you doing?” How are you feeling?” “What do you need?” “How is all this time together affecting you?” “What bothers you the most right now?” Listen to their answers and share the effects each day is having on you. 

It’s okay to acknowledge the difficulties. This is a good time to hear if Mom is feeling overwhelmed. Dad may be feeling helpless. Your daughter may be feeling restricted. Your son may be about ready to shut down and shut everyone else out. And your dog may be the one absorbing it all. 

These daily temperature checks take into account that this is new territory for us all. The uncertainty of the economy, of school, of our way of life as we know it can cause us to react in ways that we are unfamiliar with because we can’t always readily relate it to a past experience. 

Instead of just forcing our way through it, let’s learn how to talk our way through it. Let’s figure out as a family how to share our thoughts and emotions. Let’s learn how to address one another’s needs even if they can’t be met because of the circumstances. Let’s not act as though we know what to do as a family unit. Let’s figure it out together. Understanding the effect it’s having on one another in real-time is a good first step.

This is an opportunity to take advantage of the intended beauty of relationship, of the connections we have with those closest to us. If we can learn to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of the people in our own home, imagine how that may translate outside those doors when we get to leave the home again.

( for: actual quarantine, school closures, weekend social distancing, anytime!)

Thanks to the Princess Awesome & Boy Wonder Community for the amazing suggestions!!

  • Have each kid pick a topic they’d like to learn about and spend 30 mins each day on that topic
  • Spend one day reading every single picture book we have in the house
  • Go through all the old mail laying around (ok, that one’s not for kids although they do enjoy helping tear stuff up)
  • Bake something every day
  • Have each kid write a letter and/or emails to a different friend or family member each day
  • Use all of our building toys on one giant structure
  • Wash our hands!!!!
  • Races of various kinds in the backyard (hopping on one foot, crabwalk, walking backwards, etc.)
  • Try stop motion animation with playdough
  • Facetime grandparents a lot
  • watch everything on Disney+
  • inventory the plants & wildlife (from bugs on up) in your yard.
  • learn the parts of plants/flowers & how they function (bonus if they learn the Latin names).
  • if you aren’t too squeamish & have a spare clear shoebox size tote or 5-10 gallon tank, catch some pillbugs (rolly pollies, sowbugs) & observe them (if you really do this, i can tell you how to set them up. i have about a thousand of them currently because it’s too cold here to thin the herd & they’ve been reproducing all winter. they’re pretty interesting).
  • write a short story & illustrate it.
  • learn how to do simple book binding.
  • make paper (from your old mail!)
  • have the kids help with yardwork in between playing games outside. They’re little, but they like getting dirty and “working” in the gardens.
  • GoNoodle! Great for guided movement, relaxation, etc.
  • Board games, card games
  • Legos. 
  • We have some extreme dot to dot books (1400 dots) that the kids love, especially the 5 year old! 
  • Lots of reading, playing with the dog, 
  • Working on learning to sew using stuff we have on hand. 
  • Card making/scrapbooking projects (mostly for me but kids can do it too). 
  • Getting the garden ready, we need to weed and work the ground. I might get seeds and we’ll set up to have our own starts this year.
  • Make tents and reading caves : ) flashlights, tidy snacks, books, and pillows!
  • Have a shadow show in the reading tent (we used blankets over chairs or a table)
  • Get binoculars and learn about the birds near your house, look them up on google and search for their birdcalls on YouTube
  • Learn how to make a stuffed animal
  • Play with cornstarch and water and cheap action figures
  • many educational websites are waving fees if your students school is closed
  • Collect a bunch of tape markers and cardboard boxes. That’ll keep them busy for a day or two.
  • Watch all the hand washing videos & vote on your favorite. Discuss why each good, helpful, funny. The Holderness parody one is hilarious, the Vietnam Tiktok one is great choreography, some have good songs etc.
  • Also pick your favorite song with a 20 second refrain or verse perfect for hand washing length of time.
  • Family puzzles. Ones that are 500-1000 pieces and a challenging but not frustrating picture
  • We homeschool (4 kids) and honestly, just have fun!!!!!
  • Team up and really clean and organize each kid’s space, making a donation box for each. Parents are included.
  • Have a board game day
  • kids can also make their own games! Board games, card games, you name it! My daughter spent a lot of time this winter creating soccer and football games played with cards for moves and pieces made out of legos
  • Write a story cooperatively. One person picks a character and the other picks a setting and then go gangbusters together.
  • the folding picture story one! We called it “eat poop you cat” one person draws a small picture across the top of a paper the next person writes a sentence that describes that picture and folds Over the paper top of the paper hot dog style to cover the picture. So the 3rd person only sees a sentence and they have to draw a picture. They fold over the sentence.
  • Any and all art is fun at home: beading, painting, drawing, play dough or kinetic sand, sewing, etc. when my daughter was young we could do art all day.
  • Massive board game tournament with all the (mostly forgotten) board games we own!
  • Stolen from “growing up global fb page”
  • If your school is going on #quarantine and running #schoolonline, get #GlobalKids for the special price of just $10.98. Take a screen-free, curiosity + creativity boosting, global empathy + engagement trip around the world, from comfort of your home
  • My daughter (6) has enjoyed doing yoga at home. There are kid-friendly YouTube videos and printed cards with poses.
  • Zumba or Dance-along videos on YouTube
  • We home school exclusively and the best advice I have is check out Pinterest. There are tons of ideas for activities, games, etc. 
  • Draw self portraits on blank faces 
  • color coded different interesting places on a map. 
  • I’ve had them draw maps of places and then make directions from one place to another to see if someone else could follow it. 
  • We’ve done scavenger hunts, indoor treasure hunts where they follow clues through the house to a “treasure” at the end (could be candy, a movie, whatever), and a lot of charades.
  • I made videos with my 3rd grade daughter teaching kids how to write code. Check out the videos here
  • My daughter wanted a doll house for her 18″ dolls. We saved cardboard boxes and got more from Dollar general and got to work. The closets and couch are cardboard as well. 
  • There are a few easy “kitchen chemistry” type science experiments that are easy to do, like making slime, baking soda and vinegar reaction, etc.
  • we put food coloring under the baking soda in a mini muffin pan and used Pipette to drop vinegar in and then you can see the color!
  • Last summer we did an experiment to learn what each ingredient did for a cake (so we made one following the recipe, one without eggs, one without milk, etc.). We then compared and contrasted the different cakes … Then we ate a lot of weird cake.
  • There are a bunch of ideas on the lab section of our webpage! And we have letters from women in STEM around the world!
  • give the dogs a bath and brush 
  • wash and clean out my car (mostly their food trash and dirty socks)
  • mow the lawn (my 11 year old just learned!)
  • play sidewalk chalk outside
  • glow stick party
  • popcorn + movie marathon
  • Listen to kid podcasts – we love story pirates and smash boom best. 
  • Declutter toys! 
  • Have an Olympics with a bunch of events competitions – funny ones, helpful ones like cleaning and really fun ones like minute to win in style.
  • Learn new card games
  • We’re going to learn to make sushi!
  • Lots of art projects! 
  • Dig up all the activity books, presents, etc that never got played with, and use those!
  • There’s always time tested building a tent in the house with blankets and chairs. Great for just before nap time.
  • We are going to bust out our hiking gear and try new hiking paths. As long as you stay away from over populated areas you will naturally stay a safe distance from others and sick people generally don’t hike!
  • Do a study on planets, then have the kids create their own planets- how big is it, where in the universe is it located, atmosphere conditions, can it sustain life, how long is a day/year, name it, etc.
    • you could even spread the planets out around the house to show “approx.” distance from each other. 
    • Watch this to learn about relative distance
  • Design a new space craft, draw plans, then create out of legos or household items. Spend some time pretending you’re on different planets with different gravity, you could seriously spend a whole week on just fun space activities.
    • But that’s not limited to space- these ideas would work for animals, geography, body systems, historical events/time periods, etc. Beyond that, do some fun physics experiments like making a bridge out of straws, egg drop protectors, paper airplanes, etc.
  • PuppetMaster:  an app where you can animate anything from a drawing to a stuffed animal.
  • Practice spinning poi – my daughter is just learning how to spin and it’s been fun practicing together.
  • Puzzle races: put several puzzles (20+ piece puzzles) in a paper bag and shake it up. Pour pieces out and give each person the puzzle box they are to put together. Go! (Cooperation tends to be a result as pieces are traded.)
  • Dig through cabinets and figure out recipes for that thing you got at the grocery store and thought “this is interesting surely it can be used for something!” And then make it!
  • Audible!
  • Water play
  • Make ice cream
  • Make and play with Play dough
  • Gardening
  • I let them “paint the fence” with washable paints outside
  • My mother used to let us put on swimsuits and get out our beach towels and have a pretend beach party on rainy or snowy days, complete with Beach Boys music.

Turn on any television, read the front page of the newspaper, listen to the radio or check in on social media and the chances are really good you will hear or see something about Coronavirus (COVID-19). As adults, we are hungry to learn all we can about it in an effort to protect ourselves and the ones we love.

Even though you may think your children aren’t really tuned in to what is going on, think again. Chances are good, even for very young children, that they know something is up. Mommy seems tense and uneasy. Daddy is watching more news than normal. People are wearing masks. The usual weekly trip to the grocery store or delivery from the grocery store included lots of toilet paper, bottled water and cleaning wipes. And, to top it off, a friend on the playground talked about some virus that’s going to make all of us sick.

As a parent, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do in situations like this. Will talking about it create fear in your child? If they don’t bring it up, should I say something anyway? If I’m not confident in what I know about this virus, where would I even begin to explain it to my child? These are all valid concerns.

The thing is, children are perceptive. They know something is going on. The fact that you aren’t talking to them about it could actually make the whole situation scarier. Clearly, you need to consider the age of your child as you decide what to say. The Child Mind Institute, along with other experts, encourages parents to do the following when it comes to talking with your children:

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Look at the conversation as an opportunity to share the facts and set the emotional tone in your home. Your goal is to make sure your child feels safe and knows that they can ask you any questions they have about this.
  • Be developmentally appropriate. There is a lot about this situation that is unknown. One of the easiest things we can teach at any age is the importance of washing hands. If the only thing good that comes out of this whole experience is that people learn the important habit of handwashing, that is a win for everybody. If your child has questions, try to answer them simply. If you don’t know that answer, say so.
  • Take your cues from your child. Encourage them to ask you questions. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility for a child to hear from a friend that we are all going to die from this strain of Coronavirus. That is an unlikely scenario and being able to say so can alleviate unnecessary fears.
  • Deal with your own anxiety. Watching endless amounts of news can create more anxiety because your brain doesn’t know you are watching reruns of the same thing over and over. When you are experiencing high levels of anxiety, that is not the time to try and have a conversation with your child. Wait until you have calmed down. Setting limits on how much time you allow yourself to watch the news can help decrease your anxiety. 
  • Be reassuring. If your child is watching the news with you, watching people leave the cruise ships and seeing people in the hospital, it would be easy for them to believe they could easily catch the virus or that lots of people are dying from Coronavirus. It is helpful to reassure your child about how rare the Coronavirus really is, that they are much more likely to catch the flu, and that if children do get it, their symptoms are milder.
  • Focus on what you are doing to stay safe. We all feel empowered when we know what precautions we can take. Talk about washing hands and singing Happy Birthday or another fun song they like that lasts 20 seconds, when they come in from outside, after they go to the bathroom, sneeze, cough or blow their nose and before they eat. This is a great habit to establish in general. Also, getting enough sleep is important. If your child asks about wearing a mask, tell them that the experts aren’t telling us to do that at the moment and we are listening to what the experts are saying.
  • Stick to routine. Routines, rituals, consistency and structure provide security for children. When we waiver from the usual and customary, that’s when their radar goes up. If for some reason their school or child care center closes, think about how you handle things during any other break and do that. Chances are good that their schools have closed before due to the flu in an effort to sanitize the building and give people space and time to recover. Structured days – getting up at the usual time, doing the things you normally do –  will help your child to thrive even in the midst of this moment in time.
  • Keep talking. Keep the lines of communication open. This doesn’t mean this is the topic of conversation every time you sit down to a meal or are together. Tell your children that if new information comes out that would be helpful for them to know, you will for sure tell them.

Our kids look to us to see how we either respond or react to situations, and they often take their cues from us. There are so many things in our lives that we can’t control, but we can determine how we handle conversations and things in our own home. Hopefully, this information can help you communicate what your kids really need to know, help them sort fact from fiction and ease any fear they may have in the process.


This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 14, 2020.