In the past seven months, more than 7,000 people in the Washington region have died of the coronavirus. We'll hear from the friends and families of those lost about how they've coped in a time when the most basic grieving rituals are disrupted.
As we enter the second month of the coronavirus pandemic in the Washington region, many of us are still grappling with navigating new challenges and longing for our old daily routines. What used to be simple tasks — like a trip to the grocery store— now require a new approach and creative problem-solving. So it’s no surprise that the more complex aspects of our lives have now become, well, even more complex. That is particularly true for parents who are now juggling the demands of distance-learning, fighting off cabin fever and trying to keep children safe and healthy — while, for many parents, also working a full-time job.
So how are you parenting during the pandemic? What have been your breaking points? What about surprising wins?
This is a broadcast of the audio from our virtual Kojo in Your Community event on May 7, 2020. Kojo will not be taking live calls or social media questions during this show.
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 where I'm broadcasting from home, so welcome. Last week was a first for the show. We held our first ever Kojo in Your Virtual Community, the topic: parenting during the pandemic. WAMU's Jeremy Bernfeld gave me an assist on this one. He moderated questions from attendees through the Q and A function on Zoom and he shared their questions with me and our guests. After all of these years, it was nice to try something new with our live Town Hall event. And a reminder today's show is pre-taped, so we won't be taking calls or reading your questions or comments from social media during the broadcast.
KOJO NNAMDIAs I'm sure you're all very well aware schools across the region closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Followed shortly thereafter by stay-at-home orders, and many of the people who were fortunate enough not to lose their jobs are now also working from home. As I'm sure many of you know, parenting became well different for millions of parents. Tonight we're here to talk about how that different has been going. So welcome to "Parenting during the Coronavirus Pandemic." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
KOJO NNAMDIJoining us now are Meghan Leahy who's also joining us from her home in Washington D.C. And Hillary Frank is joining us from her home in Mount Claire, New Jersey. Meghan is a Certified Parenting Coach, a columnist with "The Washington Post," and author of the upcoming book "Parenting Outside the Lines." Meghan, thank you so much for joining us.
MEGHAN LEAHYThank you for having me.
NNAMDIHillary Frank is the Creator and Host of "The Longest Shortest Time" podcast, Author of the book "Weird Parenting Wins," and the editor of "Parent Trapped" a podcast by Common Sense Media, which premiered yesterday. So let's get this on the road. I'll start with you Meghan Leahy. As I mentioned you're a parenting coach, but you're also a parent of three. How are you and your family doing?
LEAHYYou know. (laugh) It's moment to moment, which it is for a lot of families. I feel grateful for a home and food and nature and all the things that I have. And then you also maybe want to Thelma and Louise out of here. It feels wild and scary sometimes, but we're doing well. Thank you.
NNAMDIMeghan, I'd imagine being a parenting coach is a hot profession right now. Have you seen an increase in clients, and are there certain things all parents seem to be struggling with?
LEAHYThis is the busiest I've ever been in 10 years. Parents are fighting with their kids about number one -- it's not homeschooling. I guess we're calling it digital learning. That is a huge struggle. There's a lot of panic inside a lot of parents that, you know, my child is falling behind, my child is falling behind. There's a tremendous amount of power struggles. There's a lot of sibling fights happening. And then parents are sick of each other. And so there's competing parenting theories happening in the home. So there's a host. I mean, it's like shooting fish in a barrel. Pick one thing.
NNAMDIHillary Frank, how have you and your family been doing while quarantined at home?
HILLARY FRANKI mean, similar to Meghan. I feel grateful for all of the things that I have. And I am able to work from home. I've always worked from home. But now I have my family at my office every day. And I have an only child so we don't have any of the sibling rivalry stuff. But my husband and I are our daughter's only playmates and it's, you know, emotions are all over the place.
NNAMDIWhat kind of fun and creative things have you been doing with your daughter, Hillary?
FRANKSo, you know, I wrote this book "Weird Parenting Wins," which is about basically like parenting hacks of like tricking your kid into doing what you need them to do at any given time. So I do this thing with her where like when my husband and I both need to get some work done. I will send her to go spy on her dad. And I give her a notebook and a pen and I say, "Write down everything you notice. Everything you hear him say. And then report back to me later." I give her a time. And then, you know, she reports back to me and tells me everything. She feels like she's getting away with something.
NNAMDIWhen I was a kid, my father used to take me to the barber shop. And he would make a lot of jokes in the barber shop. And whenever we left the barber shop he would say, don't tell your mother I made those jokes in the barber shop. I would probably go home and report everything that he did.
FRANKYeah. That's great.
NNAMDIBut, Hillary, what have you and your family been struggling with?
FRANKI mean, we are struggling with the school stuff, you know. Like it's -- I haven't cracked that one. It's like, you know, my daughter -- we're lucky we do have pretty good instruction going on. But she just like zooms through all the work. She's done with her work by 9:30 in the morning. And like now what? You know, trying to figure out how to fill that time.
NNAMDIMeghan, same question to you. What have you and your family struggled with?
LEAHYI have a 16 year old, a 13 year old and a 9 year old. So high school, middle school, lower school. I gave up pretty early on. I can't -- I'm a big fan of emailing the teachers when it comes to the schooling thing and saying things like, "Today is not a good day. We're not turning things in," and really trying to dance with it. My high schooler has a whole host of different emotions than the nine year old not to mention as all parents know kids are different temperamentally even within the development. So some kids are kind of loving this time, because they're natural introverts. They've been waiting for a quarantine. And some kids are really struggling.
LEAHYI would say that even though they have each other and that's both a double edge sword they desperately miss their teachers. And in a way I didn't see coming. And they miss the hubbub and the emotions are coming out sideways. So there's a lot of crying about the rain, and then, you know, when we get into it they miss their routine. And then they start to realize what they're not doing.
NNAMDIJeremy, I think we do have a question.
JEREMY BERNFELDThat's right. This question is from Heather in D.C. Heather says, "Parenting while having a chronic health issue is overwhelming. Being a parent, teacher, employee and spouse at the same time, I'm exhausted. How do I set expectations with teachers, my child and my employer that I just cannot do it all now? I'm trying my best and falling further behind."
LEAHYSo I think setting expectations has to happen now more than ever. We were chatting a bit before this started and we said, everyone is behind the curtain now. We can't hide behind perfection or that I have this work life and this family life and the two never the twain meet, right? That's over. You have to advocate for yourself for what you are physically capable of doing and it's not a matter of like the air quote self-care thing that everyone talks about. It's literally going to save your life if you can stay healthy right now. You have to take care of your body and your mind for yourself to fight this virus, for your children.
LEAHYSo you're going to have to bring in all the primary players, your employers, your employees, your family members and your kids and have a little meeting, you know. Separately, obviously, with these interested parties, but you have to put it out on the table what you can do and what you can't. And also let people know the good times and the bad. Like what is working for you. Mornings are good. Nights are a mess. People are valuing transparency these days, and they appreciate it when you are.
NNAMDIHillary Frank, the parent who is feeling overwhelmed.
FRANKYeah, I mean, I completely agree with Meghan. Setting expectations, I'm doing this myself in my job, with my husband, with my kid. I think something that is also going on is something that's becoming more -- being brought to the forefront is the balance of who takes on the household responsibilities in the home when there are two parents. And I'm hearing from a lot of moms in particular that, you know, women traditionally have done most of the household labor, a lot of the mental labor and emotional labor of the home, planning the playdates, planning the doctor's appointments. That stuff is becoming a lot more visible right now.
FRANKAnd I think -- there's this woman Brigid Schulte, who has done a lot of research around this. And we were just talking to her for "The Parent Trapped" podcast. And she was talking about how this is like a great opportunity for parents, who are struggling with these kinds of things to like really take time to talk it through and figure out like, how are we going to divvy up these responsibilities? Who is going to take what? And are the kids going to take anything that they didn't used to take? And so this is maybe a silver lining to all of this. It's a time to reflect.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have another question.
BERNFELDThis is a question from Lacey in Alexandria who says, "Thanks for doing this tonight. We're a military family and we're supposed to move this summer. Do you guys have any tips for preparing our four year old to say good-bye when he's already dealing with the disappointment of so much loss this year, no more zoo, no more playdates, no seeing teachers and all that."
FRANKSo this is sort of a general idea that sort of my daughter invented in our house. When dealing with anything scary she sort of embodies the thing that frightens her. So she has had a long running fear of death not because of any experience with it, but just she finds it frightening for obvious reasons. So one thing she did was she dressed up in her glow in the dark skeleton pajamas and like turned on her closet light. And like got herself all lit up and then turned off lights and put on her glow in the dark fingers and her glow in the dark teeth, I think. And then she decided she was going to kill me. And she came at me.
FRANKWe like performed this thing over and over again where she would like she would say she's going to kill me. And she would attack me. And then I would do like my best dramatic death scene. And it helped her. So I don't have an exact answer for this question. But I think helping your kid embody the thing that they're fearing really helps.
LEAHYThe younger the child the smaller their world is in terms of attachments. So in our parental mind we build out like, he can't go to the zoo. He's not at his favorite park. And we as parents create stories about what that means for our child. When in fact the child may not be grieving it as much as we think they are because their moon and stars are us. Where we are, they feel safe. They're at home. So to know always your children will adapt if you are the safety net underneath them always.
LEAHYBut I also -- even though these things are closed, we can get in our car and drive. And so I love going to a place, your favorite place, and getting near it or with it and take pictures. So take pictures at your best friend Robbie's house. Take pictures in front of your preschool you're not going to, in front of the zoo, in front of the pool. And then you have this little photo album that you can print, take with you. You can send it to friends. There's so much technology. People can send their memories. You can ask parents for pictures and memories so that the child can revisit it, maybe have some tears, which are healthy. But really a four year old is -- if the parents are leading with strength and compassion, they're okay. They'll be all right.
NNAMDIMeghan, what advice to you give to parents who are finding homeschooling so difficult?
LEAHYYou know, Kojo, it's funny, because I've had homeschoolers reach out to me and they're like, "By the way, this isn't homeschooling, we leave our homes." There's homeschooling soccer teams and science clubs and this is not homeschooling, and I was too lazy, but I tried to start a hashtag like the #wearenotteachers. It turns out that teachers go to school for a really long time to do this job. And here's what's ironic, I have a teaching degree. I used to teach all boys for six years. And even I'm a terrible teacher of my own children.
LEAHYWe are not meant to teach our own children unless that's you gig and then Amen for you, but for everyone else we love our kids too much. We're too invested in the outcome and then we just get into it, and it causes power struggles. So the ironic thing is is I keep reminding myself every day, everyone is falling behind not just us everybody. The whole world is falling behind. So that's number one.
LEAHYWhen my panic brain, when my limbic system and my reptile brain is like, "Panic, panic." No, we're all falling behind. The kids that I'm worried about are the kids that I was worried about before this, right, the kids that were falling behind when everything was in place, right, for who now things are even more dangerous and fraught and not safe. So parents have to put themselves in their lane, and their lane is to support their children getting through this with as little drama, trauma, angst, fighting, frustration and in pain. That's your job.
NNAMDIHillary Frank, how has homeschooling been going for you? And how is it going for your daughter?
FRANKI mean, okay. So the school using this technology called Flip Grid and I am new to it, but they basically record these little videos and then post them. And I've discovered that my daughter is a perfectionist when it comes to recording stuff. And I don't know if she's heard me like recording things over and over again for my podcast just to get it right. But she has that in her and she records it like 15 times before she posts it. But then it can become of source of stress, because she's like, "I can't get it right," you know. And that's not the point of the assignment. It's not how you say it. It's the substance of what you're saying.
FRANKSo we wind up getting in all of these battles, like battles of the wills were she is like wanting help but not wanting help. There's so much like, "I want this. I don't want this." And it winds up with like everybody crying and I don't know how to fix it. Meghan, help me.
NNAMDII think Jeremy has a school related question. Jeremy.
BERNFELDThat's right. One of the participants here asks, "My son is in eighth grade and many of his friends are telling him that quote 'School is over' and they're not doing any work. Teachers are hearing this from students too. It's making it difficult for my child to feel motivated and making it challenging for me to motivate him. Any suggestions?"
FRANKHow to motivate your kids. I don't know. This is, you know, I feel like kids -- this is not a direct answer to the school thing, but I think kids like fun. You know, and learning online is often just like not fun. And so I try to inject fun into our lives at home where it doesn't exist. And so when my daughter was freaking out about school the other day I was like, "You know what? Let's just stop school right now, no more learning. Make dessert out of anything you want right now. And the kitchen is yours." And so she made a tower out of toast and Nutella topped it with cantaloupe whip cream and sprinkles and was in heaven. And then she was able to kind of focus more after that.
FRANKSo I don't know I think like letting kids break the rules it's like a time right now for bending boundaries a little bit and letting kids feel like they're getting away with stuff.
NNAMDIMeghan, well, you know, his friends told him that school is out, school is closed, so why do I have to keep learning anything?
LEAHYYeah, totally. And this is actually a really great time. I am with Hillary 100 percent. For all the nos you're going to say you have to find a lot of yesses right now more than ever, right? An eighth grader is a great creature, because while it can be a horrible time they're really bright and rational sometimes when the hormones aren't raging.
LEAHYAnd this is going to be a time of, "Hey, buddy, you're going to see some stuff go down in this country. There are people right now bullying. You know, do we need to bull? I don't know. But everyone down there says it's time to bull. And everyone is going to have a different opinion. So we're going to have to decide as a family what our mojo is. What are we doing? What do we follow? What do we agree with? So when the headmaster or the head of the school system or whatever says, School is closed. I'm down with that, but until then I'm going to kind of do this.
LEAHYAnd then it's okay, like Hillary said, to circle around and be like, "But do you want a break? Do you want a Friday Monday off, four day weekend?" I have yet to speak to a teacher and I have quite a few followers on my Facebook page, who are teachers who have said that they are not understanding of that and aren't happy to accommodate the family when there's a break that's needed.
NNAMDIJeremy, I think we have another school related question.
BERNFELDThis one is from Allison from Annandale. "With distance learning requiring people to be online on a computer for lessons I'm struggling to get my child to stop watching screens. The two hour limit has flown out the window. Like Hillary, my husband and I have been working from home. So our employers expect us to work as normal. And it's hard to keep our child occupied and away from the screen. Thanks."
LEAHYOh, it's such a mess. We had so many rules pre-COVID. My nine year old now is on TikTok. That's like such a no. But they keep kicking her off. She's not 13. She made a banana bread in the microwave from a TikTok recipe. I don't know what she's doing. She's mostly just dancing and looking like she's like having stroke. But so there's no more rules like they were pre-COVID and every family has to decide what you're kid needs. And just really quick I'll say if you have a child who has any executive functioning stuff, any of this prefrontal cortex like distractibility anything like that these screens are like love to them. They're brain is just going ding, ding, ding. And breaking them off of it feels like breaking somebody off whatever they're addicted to. They get what I call tired and wired.
LEAHYAnd they misbehave in ways that almost it's not them. It's almost not like them. So the rule of thumb is there's no more rules. There's just way more tech, but try to increase breaks. Lots of like, you know, depending the child every 45 minutes, every 30 minutes, every hour. And then it also depends on your child's specific needs. So it can't just be by the age or the grade. It also has to be your kid. So getting in there and breaking them off of the computer to go do anything else it's a worthwhile, but it breaks down your soul. It breaks down your parenting soul in a daily way. I don't know a parent -- I'm struggling every single day all I do is smack devices out of hands. It's awful.
NNAMDIHillary, throughout all of this you've been a fan of letting your child break the rules. What do you mean by that and how has it been working out?
FRANKSo I think we all like to be a little bad sometimes, right? And to feel like we're getting away with something. And I think kids especially like this, because they have no control. We're always telling them what to do and they can't do. And I think that it's -- you're going to get them on your side more often if sometimes you're like doing a little calculation of like why am I saying no? And so I got this idea from somebody, who sent in a weird parenting win for the book, who said that to get their toddler to go on hikes they let her put on as much lipstick as she liked. And she took the lipstick on the hike and just, you know, put it all over her face. We're not going on hikes anymore right now, but I think it applies, you know.
FRANKSort of how like I said, I let my daughter make dessert out of anything. I like to let feel like she's getting away with stuff. And like tomorrow we have plans -- I am going to let her like go at it with my makeup. And I did a nail salon with her one day where she painted my toe nails and it looked horrible, but nobody was harmed. And she had fun and it felt like it made the rest of the day go so much better. She was so much more willing to listen to my rules when I had them.
NNAMDIYou're also a fan of the family scream.
NNAMDII think I have an idea of what that is, but what is the family scream in your family?
FRANKSo, this is when you're all just fed up and you can't take it anymore. And you all feel like screaming, and you get together, and you can hold hands or not. And you can do this outside or inside. And you just kind of like look at the sky and go, "Ah!" And everyone let's off some steam, and you're doing it all at the same. So, it's like group catharsis.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have another question?
BERNFELDHere's a question from Kim. "What advice would you give to parents to assist with siblings fighting, in all caps, ALL THE TIME?"
NNAMDISounds like that's one for you, Meghan Leahy.
LEAHYI mean, Kim, let's not go out and have a drink over it, because that's not allowed. But I have a chapter in my upcoming book "Parenting Outside the Lines" out in August, and it's about sibling fightings. And I think in the chapter I really outline you have to know why before you do your what. You have to know why they're fighting before you just go for the easy strategy. In this case, I think we know it's because we're all together, and it's horrible. So, we have that underlying why that we can answer.
LEAHYBut I also think a discouraged child gets a lot of attention, and rather than them being bad or looking for trouble or being a jerk or always going for their sister, whatever, to reframe that child as a discouraged child. This child needs encouragement in another way. And so what we usually want to do is to double down on the kid, you know, punishment, taking things away, which what are we going to take away now? Technology? Why? That's punishing ourselves. So, instead, we need to actually increase connection. We need to take -- if all the kids are all bad all together punish them all together. That's what you do, all the same boat. They all lose everything, right. All the Oreos, everything goes in the trash.
LEAHYBut if you have a primary offender, that child (laugh) needs attention, needs walks, needs to go on a drive, needs to shoot hoops. You need to sit knee-to-knee with them while they “Fortnite.” Needs to watch makeup tutorials. Something where you get in proximity with them so you can learn what's on their heart, right. Why they feel the need to go after their brother or sister. And that might take a little bit, but connection really never leads us down the wrong path.
LEAHYNobody's -- you know, no children are like, you know, why are they spending time with me and being kind? They may resist it at first, but it always yields better results than the punishment. Especially because you're with them. (laugh)
NNAMDIHillary Frank, parents get virtually no breaks anymore, babysitters, a dinner out, a weekend away. All of the things are in the past right now. But what're you and your husband doing to, so to speak, get away?
FRANKTo get away from our kid? (laugh)
FRANK(laugh) That's hard. I mean, we take individual walks, and we take turns working. We split up the day. So, yeah, it's that -- we have not really figured that out. We were just talking about that last night, (laugh) how do we find time to get away from each other for a little bit each day? And we're lucky we live in a neighborhood where we can take walks. But I think if you don't, then, you know, you can take a timeout. You can give yourself a timeout and shut yourself in your room for a little while.
NNAMDIWell, it would appear we have a couple of tips from listeners for surviving with your family. Jeremy?
BERNFELDJerry from the WAMU Families Group writes, it took four weeks for us to get a rhythm. Now, I take a very Zen approach. We aim high each week, and exit Friday happy with any and all accomplishments that we achieve. We have another one, as well. As a parent of two teens we found that creating a family charter, at first, and named about five to seven feelings we wanted to have and the four to six behaviors that we would agree to that would be in service of getting to those feelings. That's helped. We're checking in once a week to see how we're doing. I highly recommend it.
NNAMDIAs you say, Meghan Leahy, communication never really hurt anyone.
LEAHYNo. And I always recommend to my coaching clients and in my online classes and the Washington Post columns, family meetings, family meetings, family meetings. And those are critical now, because there needs to be a place where everyone comes together and communicates civilly. Because, otherwise, I call it, it's like drive-by parenting. It's just, pick up your shoes, why you doing that, do your laundry, be quiet, don't go there.
LEAHYThere needs to be a communal place where everyone can express their needs, their feelings, feel respected, especially the kids, and move forward. Because even though we're all doing kind of the same thing every day, it helps to put a week and a day and a time within it. It makes children feel safe.
NNAMDIThis pandemic, Meghan Leahy, is disproportionately affecting people of color and low-income communities. What kind of strategies would you recommend to parents who are dealing with these added pressures, people who are often living in cramped quarters and, in some cases, don't have access to broadband?
LEAHYSo this is an extraordinarily hard time for people who are living on the poverty line, people of color. Latinos are being especially hard-hit in different parts. My parents live in Sussex, Delaware and it's a hotspot. The rates are crazy. So, number one, the stress level was high for these families going into the coronavirus, right. So, life already often felt tenuous for people on the poverty line, and depending on other issues in your family.
LEAHYIf you are feeling -- if your stress level's already here, you have to be very mindful of the way you're taking in news, what you're watching and what you're bringing into your family. So, anybody -- everybody needs to filter, or you will feel like the country's Gaslighting you. We'll leave it there.
LEAHYAlso, facts combat panic. So, if there's food scarcity, broadband issues, technology issues, digital learning, rent fears, mortgage fears, you name it, emergency daycare. All of these are able to be accessed online. There are resources, especially where I live in the District, for each of these things. There was just -- the D.C. Council just voted on rent. Now, it doesn't apply to undocumented workers, but they're working on that, right, for low-income people.
LEAHYThere are safety measures for emergency daycare, if you're a frontline worker. Even if you're not a frontline worker, there's ways. So, arm yourself with facts so that you can feel like you are still the leader of your family. And always get to the needs of the situation. If you are in food scarcity, a dangerous situation, rent, these things, digital learning is not as important. Reading books and doing math sheets, of course, but take care of your basic needs, always. And ask for help. The city is full, everyone is full of help for people during this pandemic. So, it's out there.
NNAMDIWe have another question from our virtual audience, Jeremy.
BERNFELDThis question's from Ann Marie. Meghan touched on the topic of homeschooling with kids who have executive functioning challenges. Any other suggestions for kids with EF challenges and other ADHD symptoms?
LEAHYWe know the data shows very clearly that rewards work with executive functioning. Punishments don't. So, if you were using a reward system before this, double down. So, it's like it can be as simple as three problems, M&M. Three more problems, M&M. We're just trying to build that neuro synapse of doing that. Do not double down on punishments on an executive functioning compromise child.
LEAHYBecause there is already so much shame, anxiety and depression related to ADHD, diagnosed or undiagnosed, you don't want your child to come out of this with an increased mental illness, right. You want them to come out feeling like I'm a good kid. I did my best. Mom and dad love me, or whatever my situation is, I can handle next year. That's what you want.
NNAMDIYou say, Meghan, that kids do better when they have a purpose. What do you mean by that?
LEAHYOh, man. Starting around four, and three, if they're just -- if they don't -- any human, if they don't know what they're doing and why, there is a feeling of ennui, of a boredom, of a bad attitude. And a lot of us have been shuffling our kids to school, to activity, to after-care, to school, to activity, to home to shovel food in their face, to shovel them into bed. (laugh) And now is a really amazing time to, like Hillary was saying, introduce our kids to everything they can do, actually do.
NNAMDIHillary, following this line of children having a purpose, does your child have a purpose? And, if so, what is it?
FRANKTo do literally hundreds of cartwheels a day. (laugh)
NNAMDI(laugh) I think that's an admirable purpose.
FRANKYeah, and I'll just say, too, with the technology, my kid basically had zero technology in her life, up until the pandemic. And we had even -- we had an iPad at one time. And she broke the rules and took it in the bathroom and dropped it and it shattered. And we never got another one, and our lives were, like, so much happier after that. So, we don't have one. And we were, like, we're not going to get her a phone until 8th grade. She still doesn't have a phone.
FRANKBut because she is, like, online with school, the only way for her to communicate with friends is through technology. And so she is, like, constantly texting and, like, FaceTiming her friends. And I think, you know, a lot of stuff is happening earlier than we expected. There's kind of like talking behind each other's backs, and all this stuff. So, that has a been a problem.
FRANKBut the upside of the technology has been that she's creating, like, all these how-to videos. And it's something that occupies her. And so she'll do an activity, like do hundreds of cartwheels. And then she'll, like, kind of perfect it. And then she'll want to kind of teach me how to do it. (laugh) And so she'll do a step-by-step video of how to do a one-handed cartwheel, and then be, like, mom, here's how you do it. (laugh) And I'll, like, pretend like I'm going to try to do that. (laugh)
FRANKBut it's a way of us to bond, like, after being separated for a long time. She does not like to be separated from me. It feels like there's a lot of regressive behavior. She doesn't like to be separated from me. And so when I tell her, I need you to go outside and do your hundreds of cartwheels, like, then she's created this video that she'll show me, and we can connect.
NNAMDIHillary Frank, a lot of kids are dealing with anxiety right now, because they don't quite understand the coronavirus. How did you discuss the coronavirus with your daughter?
FRANKSo, my daughter does struggle with anxiety, and so we protect her from a lot of things that we think she doesn't need to know right now. We've explained it as a virus that makes people sick, and that we don't want to get. And that social distancing is all about -- you know, we explain it as, like, you know, how when you go to the playground and you come home and you have a cold, or you've been to the pediatrician and you come up -- like for a well visit, you come home and you're sick, because you were exposed to other people who were sick. So, she can understand that. And because she understands that, she can understand social distancing.
FRANKWe were watching, you know, one of the benefit things that was on television, and did not expect -- we live in New Jersey, and so it was like all of these New Jersey musicians. And in between the performances, they were showing hospitals with, like, body bags and stuff. And that really freaked her out, and she said, I don't want to see stuff like that. And so we -- I think she knows somewhere in her mind that this is scarier than what we're talking about, but we're just leaving it at what she wants to talk about. And if she has questions, we'll answer them honestly, in what feels like an age appropriate way. But we're not telling her stuff we feel like she can't handle right now.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have a question about dealing with uncertainty. Go ahead.
BERNFELDThis is a question from Deirdre. How do you help kids with the uncertainty of how the summer will look?
LEAHYI don't tell my kids and I don't tell any parents to use the words, we're going back to normal. We're not. There's going to be a new normal, and we're figuring it out. So, I update -- the reason I kind of suggested family meetings are these are a great time to update your kids, depending on the age and the development and what they can handle, on what you know.
LEAHYSo, you know, bad news, they cancelled your two-week camp. Good news, you know, they just okayed this possible vaccine, right. Good news, right. You are just going to be there to walk your kids through the uncertainty with you. And so you just have to model what that looks like. You may go in the shower, as a parent, and have a good cry about it, but with the family, you are promoting a feeling of honesty, transparency for their -- developmentally appropriate, and a strong sense of leadership. And, as a family, we're going to be okay. This is what we're going to do.
NNAMDIConceptually, that's the great idea.
NNAMDIThere's no right way to parent during a pandemic or not, but what are some basic things, Meghan, that you tell parents that they should focus on each day?
LEAHYRoutine. So, routine equals safety, emotionally, for children, when they know what they're doing, when. Every human does better with routine. Some humans need it more than others and some kids need it more than others, but generally. Being out in nature heals us. It heals us every time. As long as humans have walked the Earth, nature heals us. Children need to go outside. Even if they're on their computers, outside. I send my kids outside.
LEAHYAnd, above all, do not have the news on. I always get the paper, the physical paper. I'm like a dinosaur. And even I've had to kind of turn over the main page a couple mornings, but don't have the news on. Play music. Expose them to your old school stuff that's so amazing that they haven't been able to hear. Dance, a lot of laughter, be silly. It's a good time for potty jokes. A lot of laughter, which Hillary was really talking about, and I was glad to hear her bring that up so nicely, with her daughter. Just really great examples of laughter and pure fun. Pure fun.
NNAMDISame question to you, Hillary, what do you think parents should be focusing on each day, and what are some things to avoid? I know watching the news too much is one.
FRANKYeah, well, I agree with Meghan about the routine. And I think that we need to build silliness and weirdness into our routines. So, for example, I know a dad who does this thing with his kids called dinner in odd places. And so he'll just say -- he'll yell, dinner in odd places, and they have to pick a place. Sometimes they have dinner on the roof. I know a family who has dinner in the bathtub, or has the kids eat in the bathtub, because it's easy cleanup. You can get a cardboard box, put your kid in it even, like, with some markers and their dinner. Again, easy cleanup.
FRANKWe took our car to -- we drove to the fanciest house we could find and ate our lunch in the back of the car as a picnic. So, I think (laugh) -- and we build that into our routine. So, I think that kind of stuff is necessary. What to avoid is, I mean, yeah, anything that's too scary. I think being aware of your kids' needs, and every kid has different needs and different limits. And just, you know, taking care of yourself because, I mean, it's a cliché, but you got to take care of yourself if you're going to be able to take care of your kids.
NNAMDIWe just had lunch at the most beautiful house you've ever seen. And your friend says, well, what does it look like inside? Who said we went inside? (laugh)
FRANKExactly. We were making up stories of what we thought they were doing in there.
LEAHYAnd they were calling the cops. (laugh) There's this family outside just staring at our house.
FRANKThey were too far away. They had, like, a big gate, and they couldn't see us.
NNAMDIJeremy Burnfield, do we have another question?
JEREMY BURNFIELDWell, this question is from Heather in Richmond. I'm going through a separation that began in December. My kids were already struggling, and then life as we know it has changed even more. I'm trying to figure out how to tackle the separation of kids. And now, they're just fighting against me on many levels. I just don't know where to begin.
NNAMDIMeghan Leahy, throughout all of this discussion, we've been assuming that there are two parents at home. But from what we just heard from Jeremy, what if there isn't? What if all of this is falling on one parent?
LEAHYAnd they're actually a really forgotten group in the parenting discussions. And I just spoke to a family law lawyer a couple days ago here in D.C., Christy Slaudkis (sounds like). And, if you can believe it, separations are up. She's busier than I am. And it's pain on top of pain, but she and I discussed at length how adaptable children are, that we need to remind ourselves, as parents, especially when we're panicked, about their pain. We need to remind ourselves about children's resiliency and their ability to adapt.
LEAHYThis is a time to double down on co-parenting. My wish, I'm sure, and everyone's wish is that the co-parenting is as good as it can be. Do not, though, resist reaching out to counselors, counselors who specialize in separation. Even lawyers can be a good resource for people to focus on what they need to do right now. How to be -- how to co-parent, how to split time, how to navigate this with as much compassion -- and also keeping boundaries.
LEAHYBecause, a lot of times, what will happen is that kids will sense the insecurity and really drag the parents around by the nose. And the parents will give in so that their kids are happy. Here's more. Here's more. And so boundaries are actually needed more than ever. But it's this bizarre time. So, a lot of therapists are doing pay-what-you-can, sliding scale. So, I would strongly recommend parents who are in these kind of acute separation times to reach out. Do not be afraid. There are people out there.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have another question?
BURNFIELDAny suggestions for families looking for games or distractions? We're especially looking for tips for things to do between classes.
FRANKSo, one thing that one parent told me they do is they throw un-birthday parties for the whole family. And this helps when there's tension in the home, which, I think, is everyday right now. You just declare any given day everybody's un-birthday. You make an un-birthday cake. You make un-birthday cards for each other. And you do it up, and you celebrate. And I think this is a kind of thing that could be done, like, piecemeal, between classes. You can drag it out over a week. I mean, who's counting? (laugh)
NNAMDIIf your children misbehave, what's the best way to discipline them, considering the times that we're in?
LEAHYOkay. Number one, you have to decide, as a parent, what you're really willing to do. So, if you're going to deliver a consequence, can you see that through? Right? You also have to get really clear on what the misbehavior's about. Is it a one-off? Is it that they're having a bad day and they're allowed to? Or do we have a chronic problem?
LEAHYIf you're going to address something right then and there, use as few words as you physically can, right, so that you don't become the “Peanuts” teacher. So, it's stop doing that now, right. And if you have to take a kid and leave them upstairs, be willing to do that without wah-wah-wah-wah. You're just raising your cortisol, and you're just more likely to just -- you Whack-a Mole the rest of the day. You know, a problem pops up, and you whack it down. (laugh)
NNAMDIAl right. We have another question, Jeremy?
BURNFIELDAny ideas for my six-year-old who doesn't want to go outside? His little brother is now mimicking him.
LEAHYI'm not above a bribe, at this point. (laugh) I just -- I'm not above it. If you would've asked me two months ago, should we be bribing our kids? No, you're going to set yourself up -- now, it's look at this pack of Oreos that we're eating outside, right. Or this thing that will happen after we've been outside.
LEAHYAnd if they like to roughhouse or be crazy or do something, do that with them. Be that -- go be the monster, go chase them. Because usually nine times out of 10, once you get them out there, they'll find their way. Do what you need to do. I think it's that critical, getting outside.
NNAMDIJeremy, we have time for one more question.
BURNFIELDKojo, do your children recognize you with that COVID beard? What do your children think when parents radically change their appearance?
NNAMDIMy children are not so surprised. But when we family willow (sounds like) on the weekend, my grandchildren go, what's going on with Poppy? Where's all that gray hair on his face coming from? My grandchildren tend to be more surprised than I am by it. But, like I said, we don't have a great deal of time left. Meghan, you have a book coming out this year. Tell us about "Parenting Outside the Lines."
LEAHYIt's a book about helping parents to, ironically, not listen to experts. (laugh) Listen to their own instincts and do what's best for their family.
NNAMDIHillary, your book, "Weird Parenting Wins," was an NPR Best Book of 2019. How does weird parenting win?
FRANK(laugh) Well, it wins -- similar to Meghan, I wrote it in reaction to the expert parenting books that I felt were not helping me. When I had my kid 10 years ago, and I turned to expert books for help, I felt like everything they were suggesting or actually saying from an authoritative point of view was failing. I felt like I was failing as a mom, and maybe there was something wrong with my kid.
FRANKBut, actually, the truth is, we all have different kids. We are all different parents, and everyone has different needs. And so, there's no one way to parent. And I believe that some of our best parenting strategies are born out of moments of desperation. And, boy, do we have a lot of those right now.
NNAMDIAnd quickly, you're also the editor of a new podcast called "Parent Trapped" that debuted this week, so congratulations on that.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we're just about out of time. Hillary Frank is the creator and host of "The Longest Shortest Time" podcast, author of the book "Weird Parenting Wins" and the editor of "Parent Trapped," a podcast by Common Sense Media that premiered yesterday. Hillary, thank you so much for joining us.
FRANKThanks for having me. It was a pleasure.
NNAMDIMeghan Leahy is a certified parenting coach, a columnist with the Washington Post and author of the upcoming book "Parenting Outside the Lines." Meghan, thank you so much for joining us.
LEAHYThank you. This was the highlight of my life.
NNAMDIWe've heard a lot tonight. Thank you all for showing up and participating. We hope you'll continue to engage with us on this topic. Our next virtual town hall will be May 19th. So, please watch out for details on that. Check back for more information at kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIBefore we go this evening, we'd like to say thank you to our wonderful engineers, The Kojo Show team, marketing and events, and to the rest of our colleagues at WAMU for taking the show on the virtual road. We're especially grateful to WAMU's general manager JJ Yore, as well as Andi McDaniel and Diane Hockenberry for their support. And, again, thanks to everyone for coming out tonight. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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