How to prepare for extended school closings—and not lose your mind

There is no getting around the fact that this is an extremely stressful time for all of us. There are concerns for our health, of course. But it's not just that.

The ripple effect of the Coronavirus could be vast – impacting our daily life in profound ways over the coming weeks and months.

If you're the parent of a school-aged child, you've almost certainly become aware that the chance of your child's school closing for an extended amount of time is very real. Quite possibly your local school has already been shut down (I just got a call that our schools close tomorrow).


Liz Faria

My background as a social worker with children and families has given me some thoughts on how to best prepare for a situation like this (although the mom in me feels the stress like everyone else!).

For a lot of us, the thought of an indeterminate amount of time at home with our kids – perhaps unable to socialize much with others, and while many of us will be trying to work remotely – well, it's daunting to say the least.

These next few days are a good time to begin to wrap our brains around this likely scenario, and to come up with some strategies to cope with the stresses this will bring.

Here are my thoughts for making it through this quarantine with your kids.

KIDS THRIVE ON ROUTINE AND PREDICTABILITY

Children need routine and predictability in order to feel safe. This is especially important during a time of crisis.

It's one thing to be off of your routine for a few days over the holidays. It's quite another to be off of your routine for an unknown amount of time, without any of the familiar signposts to anchor you (which are readily available during the holidays, and completely absent in our current scenario).

So, this is very important: Create order, with some flexibility, in your days as soon as possible.

WHAT THIS LOOKS LIKE:

Set up a schedule that involves regular times for bathing, eating, school-work/learning activities, and socializing.

Maintain a set time for going to sleep, and the same bedtime routine your kids are used to.

This is not the time to let it become the Wild West at your house. In doing so, you will be taking away the structure and normalcy that will keep your child feeling safe.

There is room for some flexibility – you do not need to be running a military operation from your family room. But a general structure and flow to the day that the kids can expect will help you greatly here.

FOCUS ON SCHOOL WORK IN REASONABLE INCREMENTS

Depending on your child's age, they may have some academics they're expected to keep up with at home. My best suggestion here is to establish a certain time of day (not the whole day!) and a certain place for study at your house. A few hours AT MOST should be sufficient.

If your school hasn't sent home any materials, you will be able to find some great learning materials online. Sheppard Software and Khan Academy are examples of excellent online resources for kids.

Reading with your child, doing hands-on projects, even baking and playing board games can be educational. Again this depends on your child's age. Hopefully we will all be getting a bit of direction from our local teachers, if this quarantine goes on for any length of time.

LIMIT YOUR CHILD'S ANXIETY BY MANAGING YOUR OWN

This is a highly uncertain time on a massive scale. While kids will have varying levels of awareness about the scope of concern over the Coronavirus, they will for sure be picking up on our anxieties.

Talk to your kids about what is going on, without being overly dramatic. Fortunately, we can honestly tell our kids that most children are not becoming very sick from this virus, and that they should be OK.

You can explain to them why we are practicing "social distancing" and use this as a teachable moment in prevention. There is no need to unduly scare our kids, but they should have a general idea of what's going on.

If you and another adult are going to discuss the Coronavirus, be mindful of your child's age and emotional ability to process the conversation they may be privy to. Kids hear EVERYTHING. Except when you want them to listen, at which time they hear nothing.

BUILD IN TIME TO LET OFF STEAM

Let's be honest here, this is going to be stressful. You and your kids are going to be on top of each other, maybe for awhile. Nobody is used to this!

So find ways to let out steam – a loud dance party, a quick run around the block with your kids, a communal yell – whatever! Let. It. Out.

CUT YOUR KIDS SOME SLACK

This isn't the time to be on top of every annoying behavior. Give your kids some grace.

They will need it, and also it's been shown that sometimes the best way to deal with an irritating behavior from a kid is to simply look the other way. Not for the really egregious stuff, but for the small stuff.

Try to ignore what you can ignore, and save your interventions for when you really need them (which, let's be honest, we're gonna need them).

DON'T BE ON TOP OF YOUR KIDS ALL DAY

You will need space from them and they'll need it from you. If you can create pockets of the day for alone time, or quiet / independent time, please do.

TRY TO GET OUTSIDE

Liz Faria

If at all possible, find time during the day to get outside; in your yard, for walks, maybe on a trail.

This is not a natural disaster or war – we're just trying to create social distancing here.

So get some fresh air when you can.

IF YOU'RE WORKING FROM HOME, RELAX YOUR STANDARDS

We all know it is REALLY HARD to work from home when you have the kids with you. It can feel nearly impossible. But a lot of us will be working from home, and if this is a lengthy quarantine situation we have to find ways to make this work. So do what you need to do, here.

You may need to allow more screen time than usual. You may need to accept that the house won't be as clean as you'd like. You might make dinner more basic so you don't have to stress about prep or cleanup.

You have work to do, and that's going to be very challenging with your kids at home. So let some things go, within reason.

ASK YOUR KIDS TO STEP UP TO THE CHALLENGE

Kids like to feel that they have an important role. Help them understand that this is an unusual time and that we ALL need to pitch in to get through it.

If your kids don't have a few chores yet, this is a great time to start. Make it a daily part of their routine, and let them know that they're helping the family out by pitching in.

Also let your kids know that by sacrificing their social and school time, they are doing a great service to other more vulnerable community members. They are helping to keep people safe.

Be on the lookout for ways you and your child can help a neighbor – maybe an elderly person who needs groceries, or the kid next door who doesn't have a solid lunch. Help when you can, and let your child brainstorm ways to help.

This is a chance to model altruism, so take it.

FIND A WAY TO MAKE SOME SPECIAL MEMORIES

As weird as it sounds, there are actually some good opportunities here to make special memories with your kids.

We are in uncharted territory now. I'm almost certain that we will remember this time – and how we came together, or didn't – decades from now. So do your best to find some way to create special moments.

  • Maybe every night the kids get to put special toppings on an ice cream scoop.
  • Maybe you all read together in a tent with a flashlight, to create a sense of adventure and camaraderie rather than fear.
  • Maybe you watch a movie together as a family each night, knowing you can sleep in a bit later (unless you have toddlers, in which case good luck sleeping later).
  • Maybe instead of a regular nightly bath it's a bubble bath with glow sticks around the room.

You get the idea.

Kids love and appreciate magic, and anything that seems "special" or out of the ordinary. So do something to acknowledge that this time is different – and to allow a new, special tradition to take root in your child's mind.

These are the things childhood memories are made of, and despite the fear many of us feel, we do have an opportunity here.

THIS IS GOING TO BE HARD.

But we can do it.

In fact – we have no other choice! It's like being in labor that way. You can't really opt out, and it's going to hurt, but….well, it is the reality of our current situation.

As much as possible, try to think of yourself as a strong leader for your kids (even if you kind of want to puke right now). Step into the role you've been given. Every generation faces hardships, and it is too soon to tell what it is we are up against here. But we can do this.

Reach out to your friends, laugh when you can, and remember that this will pass. And let's help each other out whenever possible.

This article was originally published on A Mothership Down.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less