Skip to main content

Mendo Lake Family Life

Quarantined with Kids

Mar 24, 2020 12:58PM
COVID-19 has kids unexpectedly home—all of the time. We asked Craig A. Knippenberg, a family therapist for 40 years, what parents should do to make it through a shelter-in-place order without losing their minds.
Family Life: What are some ideas for creating routine and structure for quarantined kids?
Craig Knippenberg: In a recent teletherapy session, a fifth grade boy said, “My friends and I thought that being off school would be fun…but it’s not.” To which I replied, “It’s not that fun for your parents either.”
While we all dream of carefree days, the reality is that we need structured routines to keep us focused and active. Sit down with your family and make a chart of a daily schedule that contains 30-minute to one-hour blocks for activities such as breakfast, reading/school time, chores, kids-only free time, exercise, meals, and some family game time. The key is to give your children the structure they need while also giving yourself time alone. Don’t place a lot of pressure on yourself to be perfectly consistent; allow extra forgiveness of everyone in the family.
FL: What are the best ways to manage children’s electronic use?
CK: Obviously, these are unusual circumstances that require unusual standards. While I recommend two 30–40 blocks of gaming/screen time on weekends, you’ll probably need to add another one or two blocks of time. The key is to not let your child zone out for too long while on the screen. This puts their brain into hyper-focus and will make it hard for them to get off the device and as well as result in some moody behavior afterwards. Stop screen time at least 30 minutes before bed.
FL: You advocate having an “adventure mindset” during this time of collective crisis. What do you mean by that?
CK: I’ve had some of the most memorable experiences with my children when we got lost, stuck in traffic, or stranded on the side of a mountain road. So don’t let negativity and complaining take hold. Instead, help your kids figure out a way to embrace what’s happening as a new opportunity for creativity and fun. One of my clients told me about how they piled into his dad’s camper, drove 10 minutes away, parked, had dinner and watched a DVD movie, and then drove back home.
FL: How can parents help kids cope emotionally?
CK: It’s important to check in with your kids’ emotions. Anxiety was a big one at first, and now, I’m hearing more stories about not seeing Grandma and the loss of spring-break vacation. Make sure to validate that these are real losses and reiterate how we all look forward to normalcy being restored. As time passes, irritation with it all is going to set in. You’ll need to validate that reality as well. At the same time, make sure you are sharing your emotions with your partner or friends. Zoom [support] groups are a great way to process your own emotions so that you can show up with a clean slate for your children. [Look on MeetUp for online parent groups in the Bay Area.]
Craig A. Knippenberg, LCSW, M.Div. is the author of Wired and Connected: Brain-Based Solutions to Ensure Your Child’s Social and Emotional Success (Illumify Media Global, 2019).