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The last couple of weeks have found us having more conversations with our 7-year-old about what being diversity aware means. We have discussed what has happened in our nation over the last few months as well as what is currently happening in our city and state. This was not our first conversation about diversity. It has been an ongoing theme in our household since he was born. We have the same conversations with our 4-year-old daughter as well. 

Diversity is important to us as we are a multicultural family. But the conversations over the last couple of weeks have taken a different tone, a more urgent tone. We have had some deeper conversations about recognizing and appreciating diversity. Our language has changed, too. More clarity has entered the conversation to ensure that our son understands what words like racism, diversity, and prejudice mean. 

So how can we help our children become more aware of the diversity around them? We, as parents, play an invaluable role in teaching our children how to respect and appreciate differences. Here are some of the ways we have taught diversity to our kids.

1. Acknowledge Differences

We are all unique. We represent different cultures and ethnicities. There is beauty in our differences and we should celebrate them. This makes the world a more interesting place, it would be kind of boring if we all were just alike. One thing you can always count on with kids is that they will ask questions. Sometimes they ask the hard questions. When our children ask why someone has a different color skin, different hair, or speaks a different language, we need to take the opportunity to discuss the visible differences that we have. Reinforce that regardless of the color of one’s skin or the language they speak, every person has equal value.

2. Model Diversity

If we want to teach our kids about diversity, we need to make sure our circle of friends is diverse. Diversity comes in many forms—ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic are just a few examples. I’ll never forget the last Christmas we lived in South Florida. My son was two and we had a group of friends over to celebrate. These were people we worked with and did life with. The group makeup was myself, my Latin wife, a Jamaican, a Haitian, a black friend from Florida, and our friends who are white. This was a unique blend of cultures and these were all people that our son had the opportunity to spend time with during his first two years of life. I share this to say that we need to surround ourselves with diversity so our kids see how important it really is.

3. Introduce Diversity

One of my favorite books to read to my daughter is Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez. Why? Because this book is a conversation between a young girl and her grandpa about why she looks different than her friends. Children’s books offer a vast array of diversity. Take a look at what you have in your child’s library and see if there are books that represent people of different races and cultures. You can find some ideas by clicking here. Another fun way to learn more about diversity is to attend culture festivals in your area. These are fun, interactive events that introduce a variety of cultures… and great food is a bonus. Also, look at the children’s movies that you watch with your kids. Point out the differences in the ethnicities of the characters and have a conversation about who those characters represent. 

4. Teach Empathy

What does it mean to have empathy? It means that we can sense and understand the feelings of others and share in those feelings. Many of us have heard the saying “Don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.” We may not be able to fully identify with someone else’s reality, but we can choose to share their feelings. Jimmy Rollins explains it this way: “Do we have the capacity to love someone else’s reality that is not our own?” As parents, we can have conversations with our children to help them understand what it means to identify with the feelings of another and walk alongside them. We can help our children identify their own feelings and label those emotions. This will give them the tools to have a conversation about the emotions of others and how we can walk alongside someone who is different than us.

5. Encourage Conversation

Helping your child become diversity aware is not a one-time discussion. This is an ongoing conversation that will last for years. Take every opportunity to help your child continually learn about diversity. Encourage them to ask questions as well. Kids are curious—they want to constantly know more. I can attest that my kids never stop asking questions. We can be intentional about creating an environment that promotes curiosity and learning. 

6. Take A Stand

If we have done all these things, then we need to help our kids understand when and how to take a stand. If my son has a schoolmate who is bullied because of their race or culture, we have taught him to take a stand for them. Sometimes taking a stand is as simple as including people of different ethnicities. Ask your child what their friend group looks like. Look for ways that they can include people who look different than them into their group. Taking a stand can be as simple as showing kindness, compassion, and love. And when your child does take a stand, affirm and celebrate them. This will encourage them to continue.

Helping your child become diversity aware is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay in the race and help our kids continue to change the world.

Of course my child knows I love them!” But do they? Really? To be clear, I’m not questioning whether you love your child; I’m questioning whether your child knows that you love them. Do they know how broad, wide, and deep your love is for them? There’s more to your child feeling loved than saying, “I love you! Goodnight!” every night.

Google Autocomplete can be illuminating. For those unfamiliar with it, as you begin typing a search into Google, Google begins to finish it for you with the most popular searches put into its search engine. So, typing, “How do I get my parents to” will autocomplete with the most popular searches that begin with the same phrase. This particular example is as heartbreaking as it is illuminating. 

The number one autocomplete is: How do I get my parents to love me?

★ What would lead kids, tweens, and teens to google ways to get their parents to love them? Is there a disconnect somewhere? Are we overestimating how much affection our kids feel? Are we not communicating love in ways that resonate with our kids? Some kids don’t even think their parents like them, let alone love them. Even if you feel confident that your child knows they are loved, there’s always room to learn more ways to deepen it.

Here’s How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them

1. Understand Your Child’s Heart

  • Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a great book, The Five Love Languages of Children, that suggests we all communicate and receive love uniquely. Sometimes the way we communicate love doesn’t match up with how our kids “hear” love and we love right past them. We might be providing tons of loving, affirming words, but our child might really feel loved the most when we spend quality time with them. His website is really helpful and has great resources!
  • What do they ask of you? This can provide insights into how they receive affection. 
    • Do they ask you to come and play with them? (Love = Quality Time.) 
    • Do they ask if you think the picture they drew is pretty or if you are proud of their report card? (Love = Affirming Words.) 
    • Do they ask for help with homework or their hair? (Love = Helping Them.)
  • How do they express love and affection to you? This also provides insight into their heart and what says, “I love you” to them. 
    • Do they want to sit in your lap and give you hugs? (Love = Physical Connection.) 
    • Do they like to make things for you like drawing you a picture or bring you things like a dandelion? (Love = Gifts, Tokens of Affection.) 

2. Spend Time With Them.

  • We can kid ourselves by saying things like, “I don’t spend a lot of time with my kids, but when I do, I make it count.” It’s great to “make it count” (quality time) but our kids need “a lot” of time, too (quantity time). There really is no substitute. Kids spell “love,” T – I – M – E. 
  • Be intentional. Routines, rituals, and structure provide predictability and ultimately help kids feel safe. When children feel safe, they feel loved and can thrive. Regular parent/child dates. Dinner together as a family. Friday Night Game Nights. Appropriate  and consistent expectations communicate, “I love you and care about your wellbeing.” 

Look for and even plan for informal time together. Get on the floor and play with their toys with them. Watch them play video games. Take them with you to run errands or hang out with you while you’re working on the car. Lots of bonding happens organically just being together.

3. Expand The Bandwidth Of Your Communication

  • Your words are powerful. Not just what you say but how you say it. Remember, your body isn’t on mute. An angry “Because I said so!” could be a calm “Here’s why this is important…” Don’t underestimate the power of your words in forming your child’s perception of how you feel about them
  • Listen. Really listen. So many kids say their parents talk at them, not with them. You can’t make your child talk to you, but you can be present and create an atmosphere and relational environment where talking is much more likely to take place. Don’t be quick to jump in with a judgment or lecture.
  • Say, “I love you.” Not just at bedtime, but say it at times when they don’t expect to hear it—when they’ve done something wrong and had to be corrected, when they are down on themselves and don’t feel lovable, random times like car rides or when they are just walking across the room. It is important that children understand that there is nothing that they can do to make you love them more or love them less.
    • Other phrases that say “I love you” without saying “I love you.”
    • I believe in you.
    • I’m proud of you.
    • I’m always here for you.
    • I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

Whether you know it or not, you are always sending messages revealing how you feel about your kids—and they are paying attention. Think about that for a second. If you think it’s possible that your children might wonder how much you love them, you don’t have to let them wonder. Be intentional and talk with them about it. With loving your kids, make sure it’s a show AND tell.

Routines and consistency are vital to the growth of our children. Research tells us this and experience confirms it. But you know what? A global pandemic tends to be a routine-buster! Nothing rocks our daily flow more than the sudden closing of schools and businesses. 

So what did we do? Families had to make adjustments to meet a new temporary normal. Bedtimes shifted. Morning routines looked radically different. Navigating a “normal” day became a balance of school, work, video conferencing, and the ever-continuing struggle of screen time. 

For us, our kids’ bedtime shifted later in hopes that they might sleep a little later in the morning (that was a fail). The morning rush and commute was gone. Screen times increased for our kids, partially due to school, but mostly to help us get work done. Spring baseball was just a memory. Our biggest adjustments really were figuring out how to both work remotely and help our second grader with school. 

But here we are, eight weeks in and businesses and restaurants are reopening, childcare centers that may have been closed or limited to essential personnel are taking steps to welcome all of their kids back. Not only that, but the school year has ended, and for many of us, summer camps are now nonexistent. Virtual learning at least provided some sort of structure for our kids. My son knew he had assignments to do daily and when his video calls were… and he reminded us often. 

Now it’s time to shift routines again and get back on track. In just a few short weeks, my wife returns to work at a childcare center. My 4-year-old will also return to her childcare center sometime in the month of June. My son needs some structure for the summer as I still work remotely. So, what do we change? How do we return to some sense of the routines that we had before? 

Questions to Ask to Help You Get Back on Track

As we discussed this as a family, we asked ourselves some questions.

  • What do we begin to shift now to prepare our kids to return to a new schedule?  Bedtimes, for instance, need to adjust. Take gradual steps to resume a pre-quarantine bedtime. The same could be said for morning routines. We can make small steps to reclaim some of our routines in this area starting with what time we all get up. Abrupt changes are difficult for everyone—but especially for kids.
  • What have we started doing during this quarantine that we want to keep? Our kids have had tremendously more free, creative play. We have spent more evenings around the fire pit. More time has been spent in the hammock. How do we protect these things that have brought so much joy? 
  • What do we want to learn over the summer? As I look for ways to fill my son’s days, I’ll start by asking him what he wants to learn more about. What can we explore as a family that will continue their learning? Just because summer is over doesn’t mean learning has to end, but it can be fun learning experiences.

Prepare for Transition to Get Back on Track

As your family begins to discuss this next transition, here are 3 recommendations I have:

  1. Get your mindset right. Mentally prepare for transitions in your routines. Get ready for the battles that you may have to fight.
  2. Get your plan together. Have a family meeting to discuss this time of transition. (Check out this blog for some great ideas.) What does your specific situation require? This is a great opportunity to reinforce with kids why routines are important and why we have to also be flexible and make changes sometimes. 
  3. Get tough skin. (If you don’t already have it.) Let’s face it—kids don’t like change. Many of us adults don’t either. You may have had weeks with much less structure, but now we have to make more changes. Not everyone will be happy, but that’s okay. 

★ Nothing says that we have to return to the same routine as we had before the quarantine. Take this opportunity to evaluate what you as a family really want to do and what you value. You don’t have to make life as busy as it was before. ★

I was in my home office when I heard gut-wrenching screams and wild barking. The dad-adrenaline shot straight to my brain, and I was out the front door quicker than you can say “ankle-biting poodle.” 

Teaching your child what to do when confronted with a strange dog is one thing. Teaching her what to do when confronted with a charging dog while overcome with terror is quite another. 

As my feet left the top porch step and hit the grass of the front yard, my eyes perceived in slow-motion a medium-sized canine barreling across the lawn toward the heels of my sprinting, wailing 8-year-old daughter. In a matter of near-perfect timing and full stride, I jumped in between them, gave the beast my best WWE professional-wrestler-stare, and (quite literally) ROARED at the animal (think Mufasa confronting the hyenas). 

The pursuing mutt immediately wielded a sharp U-turn and trotted in the opposite direction, head hung low and tail between legs. (It was hard to tell through all the adrenaline, but I’m pretty sure he whined out an apology from a safe distance). 

I admit—I felt pretty darn cool. It’s just a shame the rest of the neighborhood wasn’t outside to see it. 

But the most important part of this story is what followed. Once the adrenaline drained from both of us, my daughter and I sat down to talk about what happened and for me to bestow my invaluable fatherly wisdom.

You see, I was taught growing up that if a dog comes at you, don’t run; if you do, you’re acting like prey, and its wild wolf-like instincts are going to kick in (even with the little ankle-biting poodles), and it’s gonna chase you. Stand your ground, look it in the eye, and establish your dominance

Yeah, try explaining all this to an 8-year-old shaking in her sneakers. And consequently, through our conversation I learned some dad lessons on talking to your child about fear. But now we have something else nipping at the heels of our kids: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Virus?

COVID-19 has our world in a fearful, anxious tizzy. And children are not the least of who are impacted. Kids may not fully understand the situation (Heck, most adults don’t fully understand…), but they sense enough to know that things are amiss—so much so that it feels like this virus is right behind them, ready to pounce. 

And, as much as we want to, it’s not like we as parents can step in between with a wrestler stare and roar the virus into a U-turn. Things are just more… complicated than that.


So how do we help our kids through the fear of COVID-19? I’d like to offer some steps you can take: 

Help your child understand good fear and bad fear.

Fear does serve a good purpose. It protects us, keeps us from harm, helps us survive. But good fear happens in the context of short-term, isolated threats. It gives us the ability to run away from ankle-biting poodles. 

But fear isn’t helpful to us when it’s long-lasting. This is good-fear-turned-bad and can be detrimental to the emotional and physical health and development of children.  

Help your child to understand good fear and bad fear by using words like these: You know, some things scare us because we know there is danger, like unfamiliar dogs or snakes or electrical sockets. And this fear is goodit helps keep us safe

But sometimes we have fear about something and we don’t know why. We think it might be dangerous, but we don’t know for sure. And so it makes us worry for a very long time. For example, sometimes people are afraid of the dark; it’s not because they know what’s in the dark, but because they don’t know what’s there. And what’s happening with the virus might be scaring you, not because you know what’s going to happen, but because you don’t know. 

Normalize fear for your child—even if it’s irrational.

Let your child know it’s okay to be afraid. Say things like, Everyone is afraid of something. And there are a lot of peopleeven adultswho are scared of what’s going on with the virus. It’s okay to be scared. What we want to do is learn more about it and what we need to do to be safe. That way, we don’t have to worry so much. We’re going to work through this together. 

Keep in mind that normalizing fear for your child means validating their fear as a real thing, no matter how irrational it is. Yes, you as an adult know that chances are extremely low that your child could catch the virus simply by walking outside. However, if this is the fear your child has, it’s their fear. This means it’s very real to them no matter how unreasonable it might seem. 

Understand as a parent that fear isn’t something to “get over” but to work through.

It’s a process. Fear is an emotional reaction, and you can’t just fix emotions—especially in kids! So you have to have patience, and encourage your child to be patient with themselves. 

And keep in mind that there’s a bigger picture with helping our kid work through the process of fear. Yes, we are helping them to work through the situation at hand. But perhaps more importantly, we are helping them to build RESILIENCE and PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS that will go with them into their teen and adult years. 

Teach emotional self-regulation.

Encourage them to verbalize how they feel. If it helps, have them write down a few sentences that describe more specifically what they are afraid of. 

Use a tool like the Wheel of Emotion (below) to give your child the language about how they feel about COVID-19. Sure, they may be “fearful” or “scared,” but this helps kids pinpoint some feelings like “helpless,” “nervous,” or “worried” which helps them process what they’re feeling inside. This opens up great conversation with your child, which is essential for processing fear. 

'I Feel' - Emotional Word Wheel

Finally, encourage your child to engage in healthy behaviors regularly such as active play, engaging with their friends and family online, and plenty of rest

I’ve found it helpful to teach my youngest deepbreathing techniques to use when she feels stressed, which can be found on various mindfulness websites and apps. These are all skills which will help your child regulate their fear and gain a sense of calm. 

Coach your child to give their fear a name.

I heard of one family whose child was afraid of the dark, so they directed her to give her fear a name, much like you’d name a pet. The moniker she chose for her fear was “Bob.” Whenever she felt that fear creep into her head at night, the little girl would call it out verbally, and say something like, “Not tonight, BobI don’t have time to deal with you because I really want to get some sleep. So, Bob, you need you to scram!” 

This might seem sort of trite, but in reality this helps children (especially the younger ones) realize the control they have over their emotions. Giving it a name takes the edge off of fear. It also empowers the child to boss it around rather than allowing it to boss her around. 

Regulate your own fears.

Your kids follow your lead. They look to you as an example of healthy emotional regulation and fear management. How well are you taking care of yourself in the midst of the pandemic? If you’re freaking out and not practicing self-care, your kids will play Monkey-See-Monkey-Do. So be sure you are taking care of yourself and regulating your own emotions well. For good resources, read I’m Too Afraid To Leave the House Because of COVID-19 and watch this video on self-care during COVID-19. 

Let’s be real: Ankle-nipping dogs have nothing on the COVID-19 pandemic. But as parents we can teach them either to run away and wail, or to process through it and face down the fear with a ROAR. And they’ll take that ROAR with them the rest of their life. 

A crisis can teach us a lot about ourselves. It can magnify our shortcomings and challenge our beliefs. It can shine a light onto our priorities—from how we spend our time, to what we spend our energy talking about, to where we spend our money. This is as good a time as any to reset and be intentional about how we, as a family, open back up for business. 

Let’s not leave anything to chance. You must be intentional. Intentional about time together, building relationships within the home, connecting with those you care about, not over-scheduling and self-care. Make a family plan to live on purpose post-COVID-19

THE EXERCISE

Step 1: Gather with your spouse and/or children.

Call together a family meeting. A family meeting shows that this is important. It also shows that you want everyone’s input. 

Step 2: Play a game, have a dance-off, start a pillow fight! Get the blood flowing!

Doing something fun first helps create a positive atmosphere where ideas can flow. It can set the stage for amazing creativity.

Step 3: Things to discuss that can help you develop your family plan.

Note: Pick and choose the questions that are most appropriate for your family. Older children may appreciate the opportunity to write answers to some of these questions ahead of time.

  1. What did you like most about being quarantined?
  2. What was the toughest part about being quarantined?
  3. Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what?
  4. How do you think the quarantine affected our family in a positive way?
  5. Did we do anything during quarantine that we want to keep doing?
  6. What parts of pre-quarantine family life do you not want to go back to?
  7. What are our family’s biggest strengths? Biggest weaknesses?
  8. What does success as a family look like? How can we work together as a family to achieve that success?
  9. Who are the people outside of this family (extended family, friends, neighbors) that we care about?
  10. How could we be intentional to care for them and stay connected?

Step 4: PLAN

Work together to develop a family plan that reflects the thoughts and conclusions from your discussion in Step 3. Be sure that your plan includes how you will:

  • Spend time together as a family. (Number of meals you’ll eat together each week. How often you’ll do a family activity. Schedule one-on-one time.)
  • Choose a family-friendly number of extracurricular activities to participate in. (Consider how much time it will take. Pros and cons. Is this just a good thing or is it the best thing for me and our family? Are we over-scheduling? The cost to the entire family.)
  • Regulate screen time. (Check out our technology in the home resources.) 
  • Connect with those outside of your family that you care about. (Visits, phone calls, video-chats, gifts, etc.)

When crafting your plan, aim to be realistic. Be willing to adjust your plan if you overshoot your expectations. The goal isn’t to be perfect, it’s to have stronger relationships. Your plan may start with 5 meals per week. After a few weeks, you may realize that 5 meals per week are not realistic for your family. You may end up adjusting your plan to 1 or 2 meals per week. 

What’s important is that you prioritize your time as a family. Hard decisions may have to be made by everyone– often, starting with the parents’ choice of activities that they are involved in. This must be done if you’re going to purposefully bring the lessons your family has learned during the quarantine into your post-quarantine life. 

Dr. Gary Oliver, Executive Director of the Center for Healthy Relationships, wrote: “When 1,500 school children were asked the question, ‘What do you think makes a happy family?’ the most frequent answer was ‘doing things together.’”

The happiness and the belonging that comes with doing things together helps children have the confidence, security, and identity they need to leave their home and face the world.

Some people saw How to Establish a Family Quiet Time and thought, “Yeah right. There’s just no way. You haven’t been to my house. You don’t know my kids.” 

I am just one of the latest work-at-home dads who is amazed at just how much activity, noise, and energy can be expended by my co-inhabitants. Who are the co-inhabitants? Two daughters (7 & 13), 5 sons (ages 5 months – 11 yrs), 1 wife (can’t put her age, it’s a violation of the code). That’s eight other people. Noise is the default. Not having some quiet time is not an option either. Otherwise, I’m really gonna lose my mind.

I’m not going to try and convince you on the importance of quiet time. I haven’t met a parent yet who doesn’t crave it when they are home all day with their children. I’m just going to empower you to establish a quiet time.

Step 1: Get Your Mind Right.

You’ve got to believe it can be done. They may resist and scream. They may dig deep into their bag of tricks to block the entry of a quiet time into your home. Don’t believe the lie. They don’t know what’s good for them.  Hear the voice of the man with 7 kids: “It can be done. You can do it.” It may not be perfect the first time, but whatever you do, don’t believe the lie. Which takes us to step #2.

Step 2: Prepare To Be Persistent.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. You didn’t ride your bike perfectly the first time you took off the training wheels. They don’t believe that you’re serious unless you stick with it. Kids are wired to resist anything that their parents say is good for them at first, at least it seems that way. It’s not impossible just because it didn’t work out the first time. You’re going to have to stick with it.

Step 3: Family Meeting.

Gather the troop together and tell them, “Each day, we are going to have some quiet time in this home. It helps our minds to relax and our bodies to rest. You may not think you need it, but I, as your parent need it and your body will thank you for it. There is no room for negotiation on the fact that there will be a quiet time. You may negotiate what can be done during quiet time.

Step 4: Explain Why Their Quiet Time Is Your Productive Time.

In order to get more of the ‘me’ you like later, I’ve got to get done what I can now so that we can enjoy one another later.

Step 5: Establish Quiet Time Rules.

Acceptable activities during quiet time: Sleep, lay in bed, read, write, meditate. Prohibited activities include: Video games, calling/texting with outside people, playing with siblings. Quiet time is as much about your mind being quiet as it is simply taking a nap.

Note: Play that is not noisy and only involves one person is acceptable for my seven and up crew. For instance, my 7 year old may sit on her bed and play with her dolls for a full hour. My 9 year old may sit on his bed and build legos. My instructions to them, “I should not hear you. I should not see you. You should not need to ask me anything.” If they ask me something about the legos or the dolls, they are automatically prohibited from playing with them during quiet time. 

Step 6: Establish When And How Long.

Routines and Consistency is the name of the game. If your children had quiet time at school, schedule family quiet time at a similar time. Schedule quiet time around the same time each day. In our house, our routine is lunch at 12:00, play outside til 1:30, quiet time 1:30-2:30. For our kids under 7, that normally means a nap or at least laying in the bed. The others – read, nap, write, build something. The key- they are in a space all to themselves and need no attention. (Note: You may start at 30 minutes as opposed to an hour. And no, we don’t wake the kids up after an hour if they are asleep. Are you kidding me?)

Optional: Set a timer in their room. You don’t know how many times my children have fallen asleep looking at the time countdown. I count that as a parental win. Otherwise they like to ask, “Is it time yet?”

Step 7: Set And Enforce Consequences For Quiet Time Violations.

The keys to good consequences are that you have to find out what means most to your child. Then you must be willing to enforce it the first time. This is where having your mind right and believing that it can be done is key. Suggestions: Add time—5 minutes for each violation. Eliminate dessert from dinner. Decrease screen time. Earlier bedtime. 

Remember, this may be new for your child. They may not have expected this from you. They are going to test you. Your biggest weapon is enforcing the consequences while staying cool, calm and collected. If you don’t enforce the consequences quickly, then you may get frustrated when they violate the rule again and lead you to believe that it’s a hopeless cause.

Step 8: Implement.

Be firm. Follow your plan. Keep the vision of peace and quiet in front of  you. Celebrate the victory, however small it may be at first. Let them know that we’ll all get better at it.

Practical Tips

  • Send kids to the bathroom first!
  • No eating during quiet time. May give them snacks right before quiet time, but not sugary snacks. Design your schedule for what works best. Kids always want to eat. So decide if they eat before or after and stick with it, but not during. 
  • Check in on them and encourage them if they are doing good. If they’re asleep, let ‘em sleep.
  • Enforce consequences. That’s how they know you mean business.
  • Be productive in whatever you decide to do during this time – work, yoga, emails, nap, etc. (Yes, naps are productive.)

Implementing anything new in your family can be challenging, but having a family quiet time is good for your kids and good for you! It might take some time to get it down, but it is definitely worth it!

Frustrated. Bored. Sad. Anxious. Stressed. Angry. Scared. 

“My parent(s) lost their job.” 

“Is this about to be the end of the world?” 

“My best friend’s mom is being tested for coronavirus.” 

“Is this online school from home really getting me everything I need?” 

“My sister is getting on my everlasting nerve.” 

“Is someone I love going to die of this?” 

I’m not describing the questions, emotions, and thoughts of adults through COVID-19, though many share them. I’m talking about our children.

Many are hearing a new vocabulary that causes them to experience emotions during COVID-19 that are new to them.

Words like quarantine, shelter-in-place, unemployment, pandemic, stimulus, COVID-19 conspiracy, create questions and a need for understanding. It may signal that their world, their family’s world is changing or in their mind, moving away from something they’ve grown comfortable with and reliant on.

Our children are experiencing a moment in time that may well leave behind some defining changes in how they live their lives. My grandparents remembered the great depression like it was yesterday even though they were children when it took place. My parents remember the Civil Rights struggle vividly. They were teenagers. I remember 9/11. They will remember being quarantined, school shut down for months, sports and music seasons canceled, parents trying to homeschool, and being confined to the house. 

They will remember it because of the emotions that they experienced.

Many will know someone that contracted COVID-19. Others may not. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t affected emotionally. As parents here’s what we can’t do. We can’t…

  • Ignore the possibilities that COVID-19 is affecting our kids emotionally.
  • Tell our kids that their feelings are right or wrong.
  • Tell them how they should feel.
  • Make them talk.

Here’s what we can do.

We can…

  • Provide a safe space for them to share. Must be non-judgmental and listen with as few expectations as possible. The fact that they can share with you what they are feeling can rob the emotion of some of its debilitating effects.
  • Help them name their emotions. Whatever they share is real to them. Take time to understand what they are thinking and feeling. (Check out the Feelings Wheel for a list of emotions. THIS is another good guide to emotions.) Encourage kids to write down the emotions they have felt or are feeling during COVID-19. Write them down as they talk about them if necessary.
  • Simply be present with them to provide a sense of belonging. Whether they are talking or not, spend time with your kids doing things together. This often helps to set up organic conversation later.
  • Acknowledge our own emotions and share how we are dealing with them. Be honest and open enough to acknowledge some of the effects the COVID-19 quarantine is having on you.
  • Make sure physical needs are being met—full night’s sleep, healthy eating, exercise, getting outside. These all help our brain better process our emotions. We don’t process our emotions as well when we’re hungry, angry, tired or lonely.
  • Encourage them to talk with other trusted adults (grandparent, aunt, uncle, youth pastor, coach). I have accepted that there are some things my 13-year-old daughter feels more comfortable talking to her grandmother about than me. This isn’t a time for me to be jealous or controlling. I should be thankful that I have support to help us all.
  • Look for behavioral changes. Is your usually quiet child talking all the time now? Is your social kid spending a lot more time by themselves? Are there some behavior cues that let you know they may be dealing with some unresolved emotions during COVID-19? 
  • Develop rituals and routines. A routine can provide consistency and stability for our children. Within the routine, there are often spaces that lend themself to sharing and talking. Mealtimes, bedtime routines that include some time to reflect on the day, quiet time, family temperature checks, family meetings are just some of the environments where talking can take place. 
  • Be patient. As adults, we sometimes don’t share until we’re ready to share. Your child may be the same way. Simply letting them know that they can come to you at any time is reassuring.
  • Seek out professional help. If your child is obviously being emotionally affected in a significant way and they are possibly a danger to themselves or others, counselors are accepting appointments via video.

Helping a child process their emotions means being prepared at any time for them to start talking.

You can’t plan or schedule emotional processing. I’ve had my daughter tack on a comment at the end of a trivial conversation that set off an alarm that something was bothering her. A little question like, “Will we have enough money to buy ice cream?” from my son signaled that he had been thinking a lot about how the current situation is affecting us financially. 

Listening. Listening is the name of the game. We’ve all heard the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as we talk.” As parents, we have to work to practice this principle. The more our kids talk, the better. The less we lecture at them, the better. This is a time where we as parents can be a tremendous aid to the emotional development of our children which will serve them greatly for years to come.

My first thought was to think back on all my experience parenting and working with teens. My first thoughts are frequently wrong. I realized that my 14-year-old son, Jude, was sitting right next to me. Ding, Ding, Ding! He has the best credentials to answer this question. Why not ask him! He’s the expert! 

What followed was me talking with my teen about talking with my teen. (He even grabbed my laptop at times and started typing, “You gotta tell parent’sTHIS!”)

Me: Is it helpful for parents to find out what you are into and learn all about it so they can build some common ground? Like, “Is your teen into skateboarding? Learn all about skateboarding so you can talk to them! Now you can ask if they ‘push mongo’ and if they can ‘aciddrop into a melongrab.’”

Jude: (Laughing Hysterically) You don’t even know what those words mean, do you?

Me: Um, no… I Googled them.

Jude: That stuff might help. It might come off as forced and lame.

Me: Bottom line, I can’t make you talk to me, can I?

Jude: (Kinda Smugly Triumphant) Nope!

Me: (Sigh) Let me type that…

Bottom Line: You can’t make them talk. Sorry. You can’t point the remote at them and press “Unmute.” The good news, however, is that you can adopt a parental posture and create an environment where a real conversation has a much higher chance of happening. 

Jude: I like the “unmute” thing!

Me: Hey, thanks, I just think…

Jude: (Interrupting) Just tell them to spend time with their kids. That’s it.

Me: You just told them.

Jude: What? Wait! Are you just typing out what I say? 

Me: Yup. Keep talking… I might make it sound more adult-y and mix in some of my thoughts.

According to a real-life teenager, there is no magic formula, but here are five things for parents to think about…


1. Some teens are just quiet or go through quiet phases. 

You remember being a teenager, right? Well, it’s way harder now, according to Jude. It’s more cutthroat, more emotionally charged, more adultish—social media amplifies all that exponentially. Jude says teens genuinely feel like you just won’t get it. It’s not an insult. They often process issues internally or with their peers. Resident Teen Expert encourages you to be patient. 

Big Idea: Make a standing offer to be available to talk about anything, whenever they want to.

2. Spend time with them not obviously trying to force a “big” talk.

You might be dying to hear about what is going on deep inside their world and incredibly anxious to speak into it. But just offer to watch them play video games, play some Uno, (Jude: Dude. We’ve never played Uno.) or go grab a bite to eat with no agenda other than to enjoy their company. Make small talk. Don’t sweat silences. 

Big Idea: Don’t force it. Spend time with them and see what happens organically. Small talk often leads to BIG TALK.

3. Don’t freak out when you hear something that rattles you.

Jude says this is “super important.” If they do open up to you, you will hear some stuff. Maybe some shocking stuff. If you freak out, it might be a loooong time before they open up to you again. Keep a good poker face. Jude: And don’t bombard them with a million questions. Don’t lecture. Me: Got it! Empathize. Probe gently. Listen, then listen some more. (Check out this article on active listening skills—especially the Six Levels of Listening.) 

Big Idea: So many teens say that their parents don’t listen and just talk at them, not with them.

Me: So, how do I do with all this?

Jude: Um…

Me: Okayokayokay! I’ll work on it!

4. You might not be the person they feel comfortable talking with right now. 

Jude: Some stuff I just feel better talking to Davin about. (His older brother.) As a parent, I’ve had to settle for… are they talking to someone? Someone I trust? For some topics and even some phases of teenage life, I realized my teen was more comfortable talking to Mom. I had to work to get to a place where I was just happy they had someone to talk to that I knew would basically give them the same input that I would. It might be an older sibling, their aunt, a teacher, or a coach. I know I can trust my sister, their favorite aunt, to give me a heads-up if she hears something I need to know about. 

Big Idea: Encourage them to cultivate relationships with people they are comfortable talking to.

5. Talk to them. But be real. Be transparent. Be vulnerable.

This speaks for itself. Sometimes we expect our teens to give us things we aren’t willing to give them. Me: Am I real with you Jude? Jude: Yeah. Maybe too real… Me: So that’s a compliment?

Big Idea: Make sure you are giving conversationally what you hope to get from your teen.

Me: You get the final word.

Jude: Spend time with them, listen, don’t lecture. Just tell parents to spend time with their kids.

Me: You just did, again. What do you think of this blog?

Jude: This blog goes hard.

And then, on the way to school the next morning, out of nowhere…

Jude: We told them not to lecture, right?

What’s The Big Idea?

  • Offer to be available to talk about anything, whenever they want to. Be patient.
  • Don’t force it. Spend time with them and let conversations grow organically. Small talk often leads to deeper conversations.
  • Practice good listening skills. Don’t talk at them; talk with them.
  • Encourage them to cultivate relationships with people they are comfortable talking to and that you can trust.
  • Model the openness, vulnerability, and transparency that you are hoping to get in return.

Let’s Cut Right To It, Because:

  1. You are probably working from home.
  2. It is good for your kids. They live here, too.
  3. Now more than ever, you need to take care of yourself.

You’re probably less interested in the “why” of getting help around the house, and more interested in the “how” of it. I get it, but you need to understand the “why” first and believe it

Taking care of yourself—physically and mentally—is incredibly important, especially right now. Stress, anxiety, fear, and plain old fatigue will all take their toll on you. That toll will impact you and the people that you care about. I see it in myself and in my own home. I feel fragile, a lot.

COVID-19 has me working in quarantine with five kids. My wife works in the medical field and is keeping “normal” long hours. My at-risk mother-in-law lives with us. Sooooooo…

You know the deal. I’m at home, trying to put in a full day’s work and finish my projects, making sure school work gets done, keeping an eye on my at-risk mother-in-law, and generally holding down the fort—including keeping it clean and organized. Oh, and when my wife gets home, I try to have dinner ready and we try to do Family Movie Night or Game Night and keep all the sequestered happy. It is a daunting task, and I’ve never felt so exhausted. You feeling it too? It often feels like a lose-lose situation.

If I focus time on my kids and mother-in-law, I feel like a bad employee.

If I focus time on my work, I feel like a bad dad and son-in-law.

I can’t possibly do it all. I just feel stressed out and guilty.

When in the world am I supposed to take care of myself?

Start with the basics.

The house needs to be kept up and your kids need stuff to do.

Those dots connect themselves, but how do you do this without having another thing to do?

  • I got the ball rolling by laying out expectations in a family meeting.
  • I also sent out this text message in our family group text after days of exhaustion:

Hey Family! I know everyone is taking care of their own living areas but we need to work together on shared spaces like the kitchen, dining area, and living room. We are trying to stay afloat during this – Mom is working full time, I’m working full time from home, and Grandmom isn’t our maid. (Thanks for all you do, Grandmom!)

Some Stuff That Needs Doing:

  • Kitchen needs to be swept and mopped.
  • Dining room & front door area swept and mopped.
  • Living room vacuumed.
  • Lawn mowed when it dries.
  • General sanitizing wipe down.
  • Help with cooking dinners.
  • General cleaning up after yourself, especially in the kitchen.

There’s enough for everyone to do a little. Thanks in advance. Hope this isn’t received as snarky. Totally sending with a heart full of love for all of you. Just need help. You guys are my favorite part of being quarantined! ❤

That was the text. I didn’t have high hopes. I figured a couple of kids (maybe) in drips and drabs would hopefully mark a few things off the list in the upcoming week. Maybe there would be a little less work for Grandmom and me.

Then something incredible happened.

My son, who is without a doubt the “lone wolf” of the whole crew and was in quarantine before it was cool, immediately came down and started sweeping the kitchen. What? Soon, everyone started popping out of their rooms and joined in. They cranked out a very thorough cleaning of everything. We even game-ified the cleaning by adding some rounds of Nintendo Wii in-between cleaning jobs. In a couple of hours, the house was spic & span – and get this – we all had time freed up to do our stuff. Even me!

I can’t call it a Christmas Miracle; maybe it was a COVID-19 Miracle? It was like something out of some wholesome unrealistic sitcom or Disney Channel show. It worked. But let me be clear, I was fortunate this time. It usually doesn’t play out like that. But I learned some valuable info that day…

There is no way I can keep up with housework, school work, and work work AND have time and energy left for self-care plus some gas left in the tank to have a little quality time with my wife when she gets home from work. You can’t give what you don’t have. 

And my kids can and will and need to help.

Let’s Break It Down

So how do I keep this ball rolling? If you break down my text, you might find some reasons why it was effective that might help you get your kids helping more around the house, have some structure in their day, and burn off some energy. Hopefully, this will lower your stress levels by freeing you up for working on work and remember, working on yourself.

Here’s what I did in my text to get my kids to help around the house:

  1. Started positively.
  2. Acknowledged what they were already doing.
  3. Was realistic and honest about our new situation.
  4. Listed very specific things that needed to get done.
  5. Gave them a choice of what they wanted to do.
  6. Thanked them in advance.
  7. Tried to preclude any misinterpretations.
  8. Affirmed my love for them and that family is the most important thing.
  9. And here is the kicker – I TOLD THEM I NEEDED HELP.  (I didn’t suggest it. I didn’t imply it. And I didn’t say, “It would be nice.”)

I probably should have added a timeframe for the work to be done by. Missed that one. 

We made it a challenge and made it fun. We worked together and multiplied our efforts.

Apply these principles in a way that works for your kids at their ages. 

Don’t be bashful with the We Are In A Global Pandemic And I Need Your Help Around the House card. Just don’t try to do it all yourself. And don’t sweat it if it all doesn’t get done. It isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we. Take care of yourself.

How am I going to keep my son engaged in online learning for the foreseeable future?” I just left a ZOOM meeting with my high school Junior son’s school. They were keeping parents informed about the plans they have for the rest of the semester. Their initial hope was to be back in school by the middle of April. Per this meeting, our new date is April 27. My real question is, how am I going to survive this? 

Here are a few tips to survive having teens in quarantine 24/7 in your home.

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

At this time, it is primarily important that we know what our teens are thinking and feeling. Are they anxious, scared, withdrawn, missing their friends, or antsy? Do they want to go visit friends or have friends come over? 

Are you experiencing anything similar with teens in quarantine? Parents, we must discuss the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic with our teens. We must be honest with them about the facts and transparent with them about our feelings. Also, remember that their brains are not fully formed (25-30 is the age) so expect some questions or flat-out denial that it’s not that bad. “It won’t happen to me and my friends. Well, our family is going to follow the guidelines. 

The ways that we enforce rules during this time should be no different than how you enforce cell phone usage, driving privileges or dating rules.

2. Do something physical.

My son’s school has a mandatory physical requirement for all students. As a result, the coaches have sent the students workouts that will keep them in shape. I was thinking that it might be nice to work out with my son. After about 5 minutes, I was ready to cough up a lung. It doesn’t have to be a strenuous workout, but maybe a walk/run/jog around the neighborhood. Try a bike ride, or throw the football, baseball, and frisbee to each other in the yard. Physical activity can reduce stress and expend excessive energy.

3. Keep the routine.

I am grateful that my son’s school schedule has allowed him, for the most part, to keep to his regular school day. He starts around the same time every day.  While he may have longer breaks, he usually has classes in the morning and in the afternoon. He has a set time for lunch and his physical activity. Keeping his routine gives him a sense of security in the midst of the Coronavirus. It allows him to control what he can control:  His attitude and his effort in classes.

4. Stay connected.

With all of my boys home, having dinner together has been a way for us to touch base with each other. I am trying to make their favorite dinners, desserts, etc. We talk about things like what classes my rising Senior will take next year, how online interviews are going with my soon-to-be college graduate, what their summer plans will be (jobs, college visits, visits to the grandparents.) It’s not all serious talk. I ask my youngest, “Who is your favorite musician and why?” These talking points allow me to get into their world. They recognize that I am interested in what’s going on with them. Family meals are a great time to stay connected.

5. Be grateful.

Throughout this time, I am choosing gratitude.  I am getting to spend quality time with my sons that I will cherish forever. I frequently share my gratitude with them. Yes, I am “surviving” the teen years—even COVID-19 quarantine—but sooner than I think, they will be gone from home. They will be men with their own homes, jobs, and families. I won’t take even this hard time for granted. Enjoy your teens in quarantine while you can! Don’t just survive—thrive!