If you’re like me, or the countless other parents out there, who are currently working from home with kids in the house and wondering, “how the heck do I manage this?” this interview is for you. For this episode of “Conversations with Cohen,” I’ve brought on Dana Rosenbloom of Dana’s Kids. Dana is an educator and coach on all things parenting – from behavioral to emotional and everything in between. With 20 years of experience working with families and helping out parents, Dana is a tremendously valuable resource, one I can personally attest to.
As two working parents with two young boys in the house, my wife and I have been struggling with balancing our parental and professional lives – as I know many other parents are. With schools having moved to online platforms and camps closed for the summer, this is a topic that’s relevant to any parent with kids at home in today’s climate. Dana shares a massive amount of wisdom during our talk.
Today’s Biggest Challenges for Parents
We’ve all got things going on personally, but are our problems unique or widely applicable? I asked Dana what the biggest challenges she’s hearing from parents during this pandemic are. She pointed to the balancing act that parents are required to perform now, of focusing on both work and parenting, as a key area. While good parents always need to balance these two important aspects of life, the nature of it has changed as both parents and kids are at home constantly.
Another area she mentioned was children’s anxiety. Some parents have kids who have been dealing with anxiety prior to the pandemic and often need some time to adjust to new circumstances. That’s obviously been a tremendous challenge as in many areas we went into quarantine with the flip of a switch. Other parents now have to deal with kids who have new anxieties over the disease, lack of social interaction, or simply the unknown.
There’s also an element of anxiety on your part, as a parent. There’s a lot going on in the world that can make you anxious and frustrated and you shouldn’t feel like your child can never see your emotions. In fact, having your child recognize that some things are upsetting you can be a valuable teaching lesson that sometimes you need time to relax too. Dana really stressed the importance of parents recognizing and being honest about their needs and discussing those with their spouse, friend, siblings, or whoever may be helpful. Overall, it’s a tough time for parents, and Dana is hearing tons of concerns. Whatever yours are as a parent, you’re definitely not alone.
Tools to Deal with Challenges
Now that I’ve covered some of those concerns, you’re probably wondering what to do about them all. Well, Dana helped shed some light on strategies to address some of those challenges. The first area she always tries to address is ensuring parents are appropriately explaining the situation of the pandemic to their children. Just making sure they know that there’s a virus, that people are not feeling well, and to do our part to help everyone we need to wash our hands and wear our masks. Further than that, your kids should also know that while it’s challenging and frustrating to have to do these things, it is only temporary, and eventually the virus will be over. That’s really the first step in her mind. Depending on your children’s ages, you may go into deeper or less specific detail on what exactly is happening.
Anxiety & Making a Routine
Something really valuable that Dana pointed out to me, was the notion that children of all ages often find it difficult to verbally express how they’re feeling. As a parent, when you have a level of regression in behavior where your kids are acting up, you need to understand that it may be coming from a place of frustration and confusion. Saying something as simple as, “I know things are really hard right now,” goes a long way with a child. It shows that you empathize and understand how they’re feeling, and it acknowledges their struggles.
Dana also mentioned the importance of keeping some level of routine in your child’s day to day. While many families (and children) don’t do well with such a structured schedule, there should be a rough outline of how the day should go. Something like, “after breakfast we’re going to go outside,” or “before lunch we’ll do some artwork,” can be really helpful for a child to understand what will happen in the day. The precise times may vary depending on the day and it’s often helpful to be a bit flexible but keeping that rough routine can be really key.
Technology as a Tool
For really little kids (under 2.5), Dana recommends keeping them engaged as much as possible as opposed to giving them some independent time. For kids a bit older though, time with themselves can be really beneficial. One of the key tools to let them spend time alone is through the use of technology. Dana certainly recognizes the dangers of excessive screen time (particularly for children), but that doesn’t mean there’s no utility.
Dana’s seen a lot of useful technological tools come to light for different types of children. There are apps or programs that let kids connect with family members, teachers, or friends that aren’t able to be there in person. Examples of some of those apps are “Caribou” or “Together” that allow children to play games together and share a screen, word maze, or book. Sometimes, they can engage in lessons that keep their attention and focus. While these things are certainly not for every child, they can be very useful for some. Other than those actively connective tools, there’s also passive consumption like watching a TV show. Of course, this should be done in moderation, but that’s not to say it cannot be a productive or enjoyable part of your child’s day.
It’s the Little Things
Maybe my favorite part of this conversation was hearing Dana talk about the importance of the little things in a day. Most of us can’t do some exciting vacation with your kids or a big party in your backyard with all their friends. Instead, focus on smaller things that are more back to the basics and get excited about them. For example, in my family we did a pizza party in the back of our truck with my boys. They thought it was so neat to do that, one of my boys was telling everyone he saw about it weeks later!
Dana talks about how doing some silly things can make kids really excited too. If you crawl under the kitchen table and pin a piece of paper up to the underside to draw on it, your kids will think it’s so silly and funny to see a grown-up doing that. It’ll get them really excited! Try doing some small and fun things like that with your kids, that may not even take that much time. They’ll have awesome memories and get excited so long as you are too.
Reducing Separation Anxiety
One really tough area to balance is that of separation anxiety. When you spend all this family time together and as a parent, your role takes one so many new forms with your kids, there can be significant separation anxiety when it’s time to go back to work. This can apply under current conditions where we stop play time together and a parent needs to get back to their laptop, or for when this pandemic is over and folks head back into the office.
As we mentioned earlier, Dana feels that acknowledgement of those feelings really goes a long way, particularly with children. Explaining that it may be confusing that we’re all in the same house but can’t spend all the time together isn’t obvious to a child, so by validating their feelings and explaining why you can’t do it you can really help your child cope. Dana also pointed back to what we discussed earlier about keeping a level of routine. By having each day and week follow a loose pattern, your child can better understand what to expect. They may be less frustrated from not getting as much attention on a Thursday when they can expect to spend Friday night together doing a pizza party in the back of your truck.
In terms of transitioning back to normal life, it will be exactly that: a transition. You can slowly wean your way off certain routines or things you focused on during the pandemic that they may be holding on to. Overall, while this is certainly a challenging time, in some ways Dana sees it as an amazing opportunity to spend some quality family time together focused on some basic things and realizing you guys can get close and have fun just in the home.
A Little Something Extra…
No “Conversation with Cohen” can end without some talk of food! Dana is out in New Jersey, so I asked her what her go-to restaurant has been during the pandemic. Her favorite has been a pizza place called Sabatino’s, which she absolutely swears by. In fact, every few weeks Dana picks up three pies and freezes whatever they don’t finish that first night to hold them over. According to her, it’s been her savior during this thing.