With schools and non-essential businesses closed in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, many families are feeling the strain of balancing home and work life in the midst of uncertain times. WGBH News' Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with The Children's Trust director of Family Support Training and Parent Education Rayna Charles about what parents can do to keep their kids (and themselves) calm and collected through the outbreak. The transcript has been edited for clarity.
Joe Mathieu: Well, I appreciate you being with us. We hear a lot about working from home with young kids around, and we've been talking about that quite a bit. Parents of older kids have their own set of stresses — you talk 16, 17 [and] 18 year olds. In a lot of cases, they don't understand why this is going on; they want to leave the house.
Rayna Charles: That's a really good question. First off, I want all parents just to hear that they're not alone, that we're all in this together right now. Many of us have little kids, older kids, and we're all [under] stay at home orders and we're here. Some of us are trying to work from home. Some of us are just trying to get through the day.
And so it's a really great question about older kids. There's different challenges at different ages for kids, but all of our children need the reassurance and the routines that we can provide as parents because no matter your child's age, they always look to us with their cues. And so, again, I would like every parent to hear that they're not alone in what's going on and that everyday we can kind of celebrate the wins.
For some parents that means the color-coded schedule that we're seeing going around Pinterest right now is really reassuring, and for other families it means just getting through one homework assignment a day [or] watching one movie that's not related to everything that's going on. Those wins are going to look different for different families.
Mathieu: Well, teenagers are pretty savvy, of course. They hear and see the news, at least to some extent, and they can tell when we're worried about things. They can tell if we're being logical about things. And when you look outside, you don't see anything wrong and you want to go meet up with your friends, how should we talk to them to deliver the point of the importance of social distancing and not, frankly, having much of a social life right now?
Charles: True. I actually have a 13-year old at home, so we're at ground zero with that here. The good thing about older kids is that you can have conversations with them. Little kids we want to tell "we're the adults, we're in charge, we're here to keep you safe, we're going to take care of you, you're okay." Older kids, they're getting exposed to more of the media. Some of it is reliable sources and some they're getting on social media.
So for older teenagers we want to sit down and we want to have those conversations about what this really looks like [and] what it means. Teenagers can have those conversations. And what are some of the other ways that they can reach out to their friends? The good thing about teenagers in this generation is that they're very tech savvy. So they're already on the group chats with their friends. They're already on FaceTime. They're already communicating in those ways. As we go into the next week, [they're] certainly missing school [and] missing that social connection. So as much as we can keep that for them is going to help them in the long run.
Mathieu: How about the parents, Rayna? We're trying to take care of ourselves as well. What should parents do? What can parents do to keep their own stress levels in check right now?
Charles: That's a great question. Parenting is difficult even in the best of times, and so taking time for yourself is really important, even if that's 15 minutes with a book that you love [and] away from the news. Just some time to regulate yourself, to get your emotions and your calm back and recenter so that you're able to do that for your kids. And seeking support. What we know about stress is that parenting can be very isolating, and now we're all in this situation of being even more isolated. So keeping your friends on your phone [and] saved on your favorites that you know you can go to when you're having a really hard moment.
There's more and more playgroups and parenting groups that are offering virtual support groups right now. And we're keeping a list at "One Tough Job" of those as we hear about more and more. We have a list of about 25 on there right now. So encouraging parents to reach out to those virtual supports that are available, reach out to their friends, take some time for themselves every day. It's necessary right now that we all have, again, even if it's just 15 minutes to yourself.
Mathieu: We're all learning how to fall in love with Zoom right now. We're doing it here on Morning Edition as we're scattered around the area working from home. A lot of corporations are using it [and] a lot of families are using it. Any kind of FaceTime or similar technology where you can see the people you're talking to goes a long way right now.
Charles: Absolutely. And as much as we can keep kids engaged, too, with grandparents who might not live close — or maybe they do live close, but they're high risk, so they're staying away from families — then we can get them on Zoom [or] we can get them on FaceTime. Any type of technology that you have to stay connected is really important right now.
Mathieu: Rayna, it strikes me that isolation is one thing [and] dealing with major change is one thing, uncertainty is another. Is that not what creates the most level of anxiety for people?
Charles: Absolutely. Parenting in itself can be isolating and we always want parents to be able to create support systems for themselves. But what's going on right now is even more incredibly isolating. What we want people to be able to do with themselves and their kids is really just take that moment. Sometimes it's as simple as that three deep breaths that you just need to take to say, "okay, what's going on in this moment with me?" We're okay, we're safe, we're at home and we're all together as a family, and being able to keep continuing to move on with your day when you have those moments when it feels too overwhelming.