Coronavirus Check-Up Episode 12—How To Help Your Child Navigate Uncertain Times with Dr. Damon Korb

The impact of the Coronavirus is felt so strongly even in those who are, as much as possible, shielded from the disease itself. Parents and children alike are faced with new stress, anxiety and worry because of all of the changes and unknowns during the coronavirus season. it’s time to get back to the basics in order to effectively manage stress and cope with the dynamic challenges that this virus brings with it. 

Back to basics rule 1: Make routines your new best friend

Though many of us aren’t able to be with our actual best friends due to social distancing, it’s time to make a new friend in routines. For Dr. Damon Korb, organization has been his central focus in helping families. His book, Raising an Organized Child, helps families understand that organization and planning are important for meeting goals throughout the day, but more importantly, they’re a way of understanding perspective. 

There is tremendous relevance in Dr. Korb’s Raising an Organized Child to what parents are experiencing right now at home. When there is added stress and anxiety, it’s more important than ever to fall back on the routine. Imagine when your kids are babies and they’re crying in the middle of the night. As you go to comfort your child each time, you change their diaper, burp him, feed him, and if that doesn’t work you do it all again. 

In this pandemic, routine for children of all ages includes the following:

  • Getting up in the morning
  • Taking care of hygiene needs 
  • Eating breakfast and then lunch
  • Cognitive activities which include learning, reading a book, a tour of a museum, homework, etc.
  • Creative time for art, music or something imaginative
  • Helping around the house 
  • Dinner
  • Bedtime

Falling back on routines is comforting for your family, and it’s important to remember this when you start feeling overwhelmed. Having a routine doesn’t mean you’re the cruise director for eight plus hours of enriching and stimulating activities at home. Instead, you can have a morning routine and then blocks of time to piece together activities. You can send them outside, plan some arts and crafts or have them do schoolwork. The daily structure should be similar, even if the particular activities are dynamic. Structure helps both you and your kids feel more comfortable despite the uncertainty and chaos.

As a bonus, kids are often less bored when they have structure and a schedule to follow. When kids are left to play all day, they are more likely to get restless. However, if they know that there is only 30 more minutes of play time, they will be more likely to fill that time. Having a list of different activities that you (or your kids!) could choose from including chores, fun activities and learning activities. 

Back to basics rule 2: Learn new skills

Learning opportunities are endless right now, and it’s a great time to expand from museum tours to teaching kids valuable life skills. If we can teach our older kids how to do laundry, we can teach them how to change the oil in the car, change a tire, or other similar chores. This time at home is a great opportunity to teach a new skill. 

Teaching kids how to cook some basic foods or even something more extravagant like chicken breasts four different ways is a great use of this time. It could be a new recipe that the family learns together, or a family favorite that everyone will enjoy making. You can teach older kids budgeting, how to pay bills and other necessary life skills all while staying home. By learning new life skills, your kids will come out of quarantine more prepared for life on their own in the future. You as a parent have specialized skills to pass on to your kids, and now is an appropriate time to teach them. 

Back to basics rule 3: Connect with family on and offline

After having family fun learning how to cook a meal together, use this time to sit down and have a meal connecting with each other. Each family member can share about his or her day, or even go deeper discussing goals and interests. There is a lot of stress and frustration these days, so it’s important to share in the good and also the challenges together to help your family cope. 

As parents, you are able to model keeping in touch with family on video chat to show the importance of connecting with family during times of stress. Getting back to the basics of family can actually help people stay more calm in times of crisis. 

Back to basics rule 4: Teach yourself to learn and learn to teach yourself

Now that doctors are seeing patients over technology, it’s been a great opportunity to reach families in different ways. Dr. Korb says, “The opportunity for young people is that they are learning to learn online and be able to teach themselves. For this generation, this is going to be one of the most important skills because everything is online.” There are so many different tutorials online to choose from: from piano to violin; Spanish to sign language; or even watching a documentary  – the opportunities are endless.

Learning something new used to be going to the library, checking out a book or taking a class. Now, kids can click on Youtube or Khan Academy to learn in a way that’s easy to digest. You and your kids can use this time to “deep dive” on topics you would never have otherwise had the opportunity to research. Kids can become experts on a new topic or learn how to build something incredible with Legos. Take whatever your child is interested in and let them run wild with imagination in a constructive way.

Back to basics rule 5: Be a listener

It may be hard for your children to express their worries or anxieties about everything that’s happening right now. Though rituals and routines can help, for children who are struggling or acting out there is a possible solution: Listen to them. 

Everyone experiences stress in different ways. Dr. Korb says, “The most important thing is to listen, to really hear what’s going on with your child. Hear the information kids are sharing. What have they heard about COVID-19? What are they worried about in particular? When you can find out what the kids’ fears are, you can discern whether he or she has the facts and then address the concerns.”

According to Dr. Korb, it’s important to ensure that your child has the facts, and then to empower your kid to do what they can to stay safe during this crisis. Show them that we are washing our hands and wearing masks when necessary because we are safely waiting for scientists to develop the vaccinations to protect us in the future. This is both empowering and reassuring to kids right now.

As you hear your children’s concerns, you might be tempted to want to solve their problems. In reality, telling them not to worry makes your child feel that his concern is not justified. Instead, talk it through and say, “I could see how that would worry you. Let me give you some gentle guidance on why that’s not something you need to continue worrying about.”

Another coping strategy to help your kids is to model your own techniques of managing anxiety. Dr. Korb suggests talking about this with your kids saying, “When I’m anxious about something I go for a walk, get more sleep, meditate, practice mindfulness. Any of these coping strategies are useful for when kids need to learn to de-stress and relax.” By modeling stress-reducing techniques and ensuring your kids are doing things they enjoy, it can help them calm down and perhaps behave more appropriately during this time. 

It’s also an important reminder to teach kids a lesson in control. Kids should learn that we can’t control certain things. While we can’t control if our neighbors aren’t social distancing the way they are supposed to, teach your kids what is in our control. We can control our thoughts, speech and actions. Having these conversations can be comforting and empowering to kids.

Back to basics rule 6: Working from home essentials

Possibly one of the biggest challenges right now is for parents who are expected to work from home while homeschooling their kids or monitor their kids’ remote learning. Dr. Korb says, “When an expectation isn’t met, conflict arises. If a parent thinks they can sit down for an hour to get work done, but their three year old thinks differently, that can get frustrating for both parent and child. It’s important for parents to think about who their children are and what’s realistic to be able to set realistic expectations.”

4 strategies Dr. Korb recommends to increase time to be productive:

  1. For babies, it may be easiest to put them in a carrier and walk around with them while you make phone calls. 
  2. For toddlers, families should have stations around the house. Examples of stations include puzzles, soft toys, coloring, books, etc. Toddlers often play in parallel with other kids, so you could sit down and do your work with them while they play in close proximity. Every once in a while, give them a little compliment. 
  3. For older kids, encourage independence and creativity by having them make their schedule. Give them 10 different exercises or activities to choose from and have them piece it together. 
  4. For teenagers, many are content sitting in a room on the computer all day. It’s important to speak with them about goals to accomplish in these months at home so they can feel motivated to use this time wisely. 

You may feel guilty when you are not 100 percent present all the time for your kids during the day, so it’s especially important in this difficult time to give yourself a little bit of grace. Play with your kids for a little, then get some work done. Just make sure that you give them enough attention so that when you jump on a call the kid doesn’t start banging around pots and pans. 

Back to basics rule 7: All screen time is not created equal

If there is one thing that parents have a love-hate relationship with it’s screen time. It’s loved because of the productivity it yields (not to mention a nice break!) and hated because of the guilt that comes with it. Dr. Korb recognizes, “It’s very easy for kids to default to screen time that tends to be less creative. Kids who are less organized thinkers, like I talk about in my book, tend to default to screen time.”

However, now’s the time to differentiate two kinds of screen time: passive screen time and intentional screen time. 

Examples of intentional vs. passive screen time

Intentional screen time:

  • Online classes
  • Communicating with peers
  • Discovering or learning something new

Passive Screen Time

  • Neverending YouTube videos  
  • Watching TikTok dances 
  • Mindless social media scrolling 

Eating ice cream is delicious in moderation, but if you do it all day it will be unhealthy. This is a good analogy to relate to screen time and how it should be used. You can talk with your kids about intentional ways to use electronics. Intentional screen time can be valuable. Even with passive screen time, you can pause the video and ask your child a question about what’s happening. In Paw Patrol, ask your child what Chase could do to solve the problem or start a little discussion about the show. Engaging with your child during a video can help them think critically, connect to the story and express feelings.  

By adding some organization into your life these days, you are able to function a little more normally during what is otherwise an unorganized, chaotic time. Dr. Korb says, “In the big picture we are going to get through it, come together as a united world and work this out.” When we all look back, we’ll want to think about the good that came from all of this uncertainty. The skills we gained, the family dinners shared together, and how we were able to make the ordinary extraordinary.

For more of Dr. Korb’s resources, head over to raisinganorganizedchild.com to learn more about the book and things he’s doing to teach organization. You can find his book in any bookstore or on audible.com.

To catch the video series, head over to drb.show/coronavirus.

@DrKorb on Twitter

Links and Resources:

Dr. Phil Boucher on Instagram

@DrPhilBoucher on Twitter

@DrPhilBoucher on Facebook

Present and Productive Parents with Dr. Phil Boucher Group on Facebook

Dr. Phil Boucher

podcast@drb.show

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