Dad working from home with toddler

I’m parenting 4 kids of different ages during the pandemic. How do I help my family balance media-use healthfully in lockdown?

I’m parenting 4 kids of different ages during the pandemic. How do I help my family balance media-use healthfully in lockdown? 1024 462 Mediatrics

Q: My partner and I are parenting three children (ages 3.5, 6 and 10) while staying with my sister and her family, which includes a 19-year-old college student. We’re all in lockdown as my sister is high-risk for coronavirus. The adults are working from home, and some of the kids are remote learning. There are A LOT of stories right now about screen time, how to talk to kids, and balance life, but there’s little about dealing with so many different ages under the same roof. Help appreciated.

~ Full Quarantined House, Boston, MA

Many parents are navigating a new normal; working, educating, and parenting from home in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With everyone in the same space it can be challenging to find the time to work, care for kids, and help the whole family balance media use—all while staying sane. Here are steps that you can take to help your family balance screen media use during this time:

Talk about what is happening. By now, we’ve all heard about the coronavirus, including kids. For young children and older children too, news stories and images about COVID-19 can be scary. Talk to your kids about the facts:

  • What the coronavirus is (a virus that makes people sick)
  • How people get it (by touching germs, including those that come from sick people’s coughs or sneezes or from infected surfaces)
  • How having the coronavirus makes people feel (like having the flu, people may feel just a little sick and have a fever and a cough, others may have a cough that can make it hard for them to breathe)
  • What everyone can do to stay healthy (wash hands, avoid touching your face, cough and sneeze into your elbow, wear face masks in public, etc.)

Be sure to talk about the coronavirus calmly with your children as they—even the college student—will look to you to figure out how concerned or worried they should be.

Determine your blended family’s unique needs based on your situation. Working from home while managing kids with such a different range of ages is tough. Screens can help keep us connected, foster learning, and entertain while allowing us to practice physical distancing and reduce the risk of spreading viruses like COVID-19. Here are some helpful ways that you can help stay balanced, focused, and keep the peace in your home, regardless of the child’s age.

For young children: Since much younger children, like your toddler, will not have to do any online schoolwork, you will need to find alternative ways to occupy your child’s time at home. While handing your toddler a smartphone or sitting them in front of the TV will allow you to answer a business call or respond to work emails uninterrupted, consider including alternative activities to balance their media use throughout the day:

  • Have them look for the colors of the rainbow (ROYGBIV) by finding objects like a yellow pencil or green book around their room or your home. If they know how to use a smartphone camera, lock the phone so that they can only use to take pictures of the objects and can show you their rainbow when they are done.
  • Go through your closet and give them old clothes so they can dress up and pretend play.
  • Pull out toys and games that they haven’t used in a while, and encourage them to come up with new ways to play with them.
  • Set up an art station at the kitchen table, sidewalk or floor where they can color, paint, mold clay, or make drawings with sidewalk chalk.
  • Let them play outside if you have a yard, or take them for a walk around your block letting them ride a scooter/tricycle, or hold your hand.

For school age children: It can be a bit trickier to manage older children’s time with media at home as many schools are now moving to online learning. It’s important to help them maintain structure, self-regulate, and focus on their schoolwork. Get to know what your child’s school recommends, and how their schedule works. Help them move from class to class, or from task to task, by setting up a space in your home for both you and your child to get work done, allowing you to simultaneously monitor their time online. Also consider creative ways to organize virtual play dates for your children as well, such as video chatting with their school friends. When your child’s screen time seems too much, they can run errands with you, take a walk, or help with things around the house like cooking or cleaning.

For tweens and teens: Remember that tweens and teens highly value their friends and peer groups, so social distancing at this time can make them feel lonely. Be open to them video chatting with friends more regularly and socializing via social media and online sites. Try the following:

  • Set up a virtual movie night where your kids can watch a movie with their friends through video chat – simply start the movie at the same time (there are apps out there for this too!) and watch and comment together. After the movie is done, let them talk about it together too.
  • Search online for new cooking or baking recipes to try at home and make them together, or give your teen chef duties for the night.
  • Make sure your child gets time to be active, whether shooting hoops in the driveway, taking a walk around the block, throwing a siblings-only dance party in the basement, or playing an active video game.
  • Now is a great time to help your child find new ways to express themselves creatively – encourage them to journal, take still life photos they can share online or on social media, paint, color or knit.

For the entire family: Being stuck at home might make you and your family feel a bit stir-crazy, but it can also be an opportunity to have a conversation about what is going on around you and in the news. Take this time to reconnect, to talk about what you all are doing at school, at work, and with friends. Talk about what plans you can make if others have gotten cancelled and the plans you’ll make once the risk of COVID-19 is low for everyone. Try the following:

  • Play board games or video games together.
  • Find a new podcast or music that you all like, and play it out loud while doing chores together.
  • Find a workout or yoga video online that you all can do at home and see who has the best exercise skills.
  • Find a new (or old) TV show you can all watch together each night as a family and discuss.

For yourself: Finally, and most importantly, be kind to yourselves as parents. You will have difficult days, hardships and struggles, and that is okay—these  are hard times for all of us. Try to set and maintain routines, make sure that you take time for your own mental health and self-care, and check-in on how everyone is doing. We will all get through this, day by day.

~ The Mediateers

For more information on COVID-19 see: