Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Nurturing Our and Our Children’s Emotional Well-Being During Stressful Times

About this Blog
This blog is a place for me to share ideas, strategies and thoughts about parenting and also a place to listen to what excites you most and what you’re worried about as a parent. We are all better parents when we are members of supportive communities with other families. I hope you will join me here and share your experiences in the comment section below. I am also available for consultation.(For contact information, see “View my complete profile.”)

Living in uncertain times
Almost all of us are feeling some impact from the COVID-19 outbreak and while feelings of fear, uncertainty, confusion and vulnerability affect most of us deeply, parents of young children may be experiencing heightened levels of stress. Suddenly having to navigate working from home (or being out of work completely), and or take care of children who are no longer in their regular child care or school arrangements, parents are faced with keeping a sense of normalcy and hope while also holding enormous worry about the future.

How does our emotional state affect our children?
Our children are highly sensitive to our emotional states. Even if they know nothing or very little about the pandemic itself (and hopefully, they don’t) they are sensitive to your emotional state.

If your children notice you being sad you can let them know that you are feeling sad. You can tell them that sometimes mommies and daddies get sad and that you will feel happy again in a while. In most cases you don’t need to tell young children why you are sad ---they are typically most interested in talking about when they get sad, what makes them sad and what helps them feel happy again. You can talk about how sometimes crying helps you feel better.
You can let them know that a hug or a kiss from them will help you feel better.

There is so much for children to learn from how their family deals with, manages and addresses stress. These times offer you an opportunity to teach your child essential life skills.

Here are some tips for parents
Take good care of yourself
Your health not only influences your own well-being, but that of your children as well.
Experiencing feelings of fear, uncertainty and vulnerability is emotionally and physically exhausting. Because the pandemic won’t be resolved in the near future, we need to think about things that sustain us, build our optimism and contribute to our ongoing emotional as well as physical health.
  • Do what you can to take care of yourself
    • Find ways to be physically active 
      • take a walk, run, bike, skip, hop outside, do yoga and/or stretching, dance, climb your stairs (many of these things can be done with your children)
      • drink lots of water, eat healthy foods, get rest and sleep,
      • talk to friends/counselors,
      • meditate, journal about your feelings
      • choose your few best sources for news/information and stick to a limited schedule for news consumption--optimally, without children listening 
  • If you are worried about specific things-- for instance, work, finances, the health of family members, or co-parenting, it might help to take a few minutes (before you spend time with your child) to write those things down, including any steps and timeline you might take to address the situation. Realize you may not be able to immediately address your worries. Sometimes putting worries on paper allows us to be more present with children to appreciate and more fully enjoy our time together.

Reflect on developing gratitude and optimism
There are many things in the world you can’t control or change, yet there are myriad ways you can influence what happens in your home and with your children--most of which have to do with your perspective. Focus on the opportunities that are provided by this situation. Most of us would say we never get enough quality time with our children. With everyone’s busy schedules, spending time with our children is often regulated to the tired, end of day. If you are home with your children, you may be able to use this time to do those things you can’t do in your ordinary schedule---read several books, listen deeply to children’s ideas, be playful, but most of all convey to your children that you see this as a special opportunity for family time, individual projects and developing your family history and memories. Your attitude will greatly impact the success of this situation. Children, with their ability to be “truly in the moment,” creative thinkers, loving, compassionate, insightful and generous, have so much to offer us. They may be our most valuable resource for optimism!

Engage in activities with your children: reading, telling stories, playing hide and seek, doing simple cooking projects, taking a walk, taking a treasure hunt walk, listening to music and dancing, singing your favorite songs, recording your voices and playing them back.

Talk to children about their worries 
As a parent, you are an important resource to your children during stressful times. Take a few moments to think about what skills, perspectives and dispositions you would like to offer your children in your conversations with them during this time. Do you best to protect young children from scary news, but if you can’t, do talk to them about their questions.

For children aged 3 -4 
If you feel the need to tell children why you are sad or if they have heard that people are sick or dying, you can say that some people are getting sick and you are sad for them but that the doctors are helping them get better.
Children will also have questions about why they can’t go to school/preschool, visit friends, go to the store or the park.
Let children know that
  • you are staying home more now to help keep them healthy
  • their friends are also staying home and nobody is at their preschool right now--even the teachers are staying home
  • while we are home together, this is an opportunity to spend some special time and do some special projects
  • we can talk to our friends on the phone or internet
  • we can send our friends drawings and photos made by us 
For children over 4 and older
If your children are older, they may have heard the TV news or conversations about the pandemic. It is important that they can talk to you about their fears, questions and worries.
  • If your child brings it up with you, ask them what they heard, listen and ask follow-up questions. They may have complex and multi-layered concerns. Before you start to address them, give your child a chance to express them all. It may be hard for you to hear your child’s worries, but it is the beginning of the healing process for them to say them out loud.
    • Quoting Fred Rogers:
    • "In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers." 
    • “Anything that's human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.
  • After listening and before you offer solutions
    • Say back to them simply what you heard them say: “I heard you were worried about getting sick,” “So you are upset that grandma might die.” “Sounds like you are sad that you won’t be able to see your friends for a long time.” “I heard you say you were so mad about not being able to go to the park.”
    • Express empathy: “Sounds like you do not want to get sick. I don’t either.” “I also love grandma so much and would be very sad if she died.” “It sounds so frustrating not to get to play with your friends. What do you miss about playing with them?” “I’m also mad about not getting to go to the part and to visit my friends.”
  • Be honest and also optimistic, if possible. Help them see the larger picture.
  • Let children know that...
    • some people in the world are sick with the Coronavirus, but most people are only a little sick with it.
    • after most of the people get well, we’ll be able to go back to school and see our friends again.
    • there are lots of people in the world working to keep children safe and there are so many people who are working to help the people who are sick: ambulance workers, nurses, doctors and police are all working to help these people get better (or you can ask your child, “Who do you think is helping these sick people?”
    • workers in companies all over the world are making equipment to help the sick people; they are working on ventilators to help sick people breathe better and they are working on making masks and gloves so healthy people won’t get sick.
    • there are people helping to get food to people who have to stay in their homes so they can be healthy.
  • You can ask your children what they think about it and if they have ideas that might help.
    • Children will often have all sorts of theories and ideas about how people get sick and about what we can do to help. Many of their theories won’t be actually “true” or “realistic” but you don’t need to “correct” them unless the theory is causing them stress--ie. “If children are bad, they will get sick.” 
  • Children are highly motivated to help and to fix things. 
    • You can ask them what they would do to keep people safe. This kind of creative thinking can help children feel less powerless. They may come up with amazing and magical ideas about keeping people safe as well as solving other problems like having to stay at home.
    • You can talk to them about their ideas, encourage them to elaborate, to draw their ideas, to write stories about them or build their inventions. You don’t need to correct any of their impossible ideas. The process of imaging strategies for safety will be therapeutic for them.
    • You can photograph these and share them with friends and family. Most of the time just the act of creating solutions is enough for young children. They don’t need to have it really be functional in the world.
    • This activity of “being a problem-solver” is beneficial to children (and other humans.) Feeling like there is something you can do boosts optimism, energy, feelings of connectedness and sense of efficacy. 
    • There are also other acts of kindness that children can participate in: sending drawings, videos of them singing or telling stories to friends/family. Making muffins to drop on the neighbor’s door step.
What are your thoughts?
Please feel free to comment, question, offer ideas, struggles and successes in the comment section below. In this way we can all share in the community as resources for each other.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Imagine Boxes!

Many of us have excess boxes that we normally just recycle, but boxes can be some of the most creative material children can find. (If you are concerned about the safety of the cardboard that is delivered to your house, you can quarantine it before offering it to your children. Science Daily quotes a study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine which discovered the virus is detectable for up to 24 hours on cardboard.)

When supporting children's play with boxes or any other "found," and open-ended material, offer just enough help so children can create their own play. This will encourage children's own ideas, creativity, problem-solving and invention. Your role could be to lay out the materials and see what happens. If children come to you asking for help, ask for their ideas to solve the problem and if needed offer a limited amount of help that encourages them to explore their own solutions.

Boxes have long been fascinating to children. 
Children like to: 
  • Climb into them
  • Fill them with treasures and push them around like a moving van
  • Put them over their heads
  • Open and close them
  • Draw on them
  • Drum on them
  • Stack them and push them over
  • Put their stuffed animals in them and put their babies to sleep in them

Adults can support toddler and preschooler play with big boxes by
  • Cutting doors (leave a hinged side) or windows
  • Adding some pillows and blankets inside
  • Providing markers, crayons, tape with pieces of ribbon, wrapping paper, leaves, etc to fasten on for children to decorate their boxes 
  • Combine 2 or more boxes together to create bigger structures, apartment buildings, boats, rocket ships.
  • With older children, they can do more and more of the design and building themselves. As the adult, do just enough to get children’s own creativity and ideas going

Adults can support play with medium sized boxes by
  • Cutting a small and a larger hole in the top of the box and offering them various items from the recycle bin or the kitchen to fit into the holes. You can also cut a hole in the side so they can retrieve their things and do it again.
  • Attach a string/small rope to the end of one
  • Attaching a few together with string or twine or creating hooks that children can use to fasten them together like a train.

Boxes as Blocks
With medium or small boxes children may be interested in stacking or nesting them. Children really do enjoy knocking down a stack they have carefully built up (better if they initiate it, rather than you.). Since cardboard is light, this is usually a very safe activity. You can seal the boxes with tape to make them “block-like.”

Children can also use smaller boxes for creating sculpture. Adding other things from the recycle box can
offer an interesting dimension and texture for this building.

Cardboard as Building Material
Cardboard can be cut into different sized and shaped pieces and used with other building material--
blocks, cloth, bottles, tubes to make buildings, forts, ramps, wings, costumes. Provide the
pieces and children will let you know what they can do with them. You can also tie a rope to one end of the flat cardboard and make a sled for children to use with each other and their stuffed animals.

Mark Making

Cardboard is a wonderful surface for drawing, painting and collage. You can open up a big box so it is flat, and put it on the kitchen floor or outside with markers, paint, or tape and collage material. The younger the child is, the more likely they will get paint or marker on themselves. Don’t dress them in their best clothes for this adventure. And if it is their first experience with paint, just offer a little. Children can also paint with just water, if they are just beginning to “make a mark.”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Opportunities for Family Bonding, Closeness and Fun

Janis Keyser

Most of us are feeling some amount of stress with the COVID 19 epidemic. Our jobs, income, mobility, child care and many other aspects of our lives are changed. We may be feeling health, economic or other fear. There is lots of health advice available and growing resources for families about how to manage this time. Even though our worries and stresses are real, we can look at this time as an opportunity to spend some focused, present and undistracted time together with our families.

Many of us are balancing work at home with having our children at home. While this can be challenging and distracting, creating some well planned "together" time as well as some "work alone" time may make both of these more successful.

I want to offer several creative, simple, easy to do ideas that families can use to engage in fun activities that nurture family relationships and build lasting memories. These are meant as examples of the kinds of family time you can have and inspiration to invent your own activities.


Children are natural movers and often find ways to create chase or jumping games inside--some which don’t feel safe to their parents. With a little structure, planning and creativity, movement can happen in fun, safe and educational ways inside.


Use the internet to find some simple yoga poses children can do. They love the ones with animal names.
  • Create a space for each person (could use a bath towel) to do their poses.
  • Be playful and invite children to make the sound of the animal
  • Ask children if they can invent their own yoga pose and to teach it to the others
  • Invite children to draw their pose and write or dictate their instructions for how to do it.
  • You can take photos of the new poses, print them and children can make a book of all the new (and familiar) poses

Movement Games

Start by thinking about all the different ways your body can move, hop, jump, crawl, slither, wiggle.

  • Create a parade where one person leads doing different kinds of movement that others need to copy or one person can be the director and tell everyone how to move down the hallway or from one chair to another.
  • Invent an “obstacle course.” Use your own and children’s imagination. 
    • With instructions: First hop three times, then turn around, then crawl while we sing one verse of Baby Beluga, roll 3 times, then walk backwards 4 steps. (children will be wonderful at creating their own once they get the idea.)
    • Extend and Share: Write down the steps, illustrate them, make a book, send to friends on email
    • With obstacles: set up stools to climb over, couch cushions to jump on, small tables to crawl under, small islands (fabric, little rugs, paper) to jump to, hang something high for them to jump and touch.
    • Using Math and Representation concepts
      • Estimate how many hops to get down the hall
      • Graph how many hops it took each person to get down the hall
      • Draw a picture of everyone jumping down the hall

Treasure hunt

  • Inside treasure hunt
    • Pick a category or description and look for all the things in the house that fit the description: ie. green, wooden, round, old, alive, used to be alive, things that are good for carrying things, things that start with the letter "B". Use imagination--yours and children's
    • Draw or write the name of your treasures
    • Compare lists
    • Ask questions--How did you know this was wood? How is this good for carrying things?
  • Outside treasure hunt
    • Find different colored leaves, seeds, rocks, bugs, sticks, something that moves, food for birds. 
    • For older children categories can be more complicated: stores that provide services to people, 3 story buildings, insects that live in groups, etc.


This is your opportunity to engage in cooking and cooking with your children.
If you haven’t had your children in the kitchen before, you can start simply. They don’t need to make your grandmother’s Tres Leches cake first thing.
Here are some ideas:

  • Washing, tearing and spinning lettuce (and using the salad spinner)
  • Scrubbing root vegetables with a scrub brush
  • Spreading
    • cream cheese on toast,
    • Peanut butter on apples
  • Dipping vegetables in yogurt dressing
    • Making yogurt dressing (stirring in a few spices)
  • Using the blender
    • Making smoothies with pieces of fruit, yogurt, flax seeds
    • Making icey juice with ice and frozen juice concentrate
  • Simple cutting
    • Starting with soft food like banana, they can use a butter knife
    • For beginning cutters, cut potatoes and carrots in half to make a flat side and in strips so children can cut through with one cut.
  • Mashing
    • Children love mashing the potatoes they washed and steamed. Use a flat surface with sides like a cookie sheet or cake pan
    • Mashing cooked apples to make apple sauce

Story Telling

In addition to reading books, you and tell stories and write and illustrate books with children

  • Share stories from you own childhood and history, Do you have funny stories? stories of struggling to learn something? stories of having different kinds of feelings? Our children are fascinated with us and with stories that might reflect some of the experiences they have as children. 
    • Be thoughtful if your stories have a sad or unresolved ending. If you choose to use these stories you can offer a possible solution or think with your child about how the situation could be resolved. Our own stories can be ways of transmitting our family values: gratitude, persistence, empathy, compassion, curiosity, relationships with the natural world, ecology, generosity, caring for self and others, exploration, flexibility, problem-solving and more.
  • Tell stories about when your child was younger. You can use family photos or just tell the story with words.
  • Create a collaborative story. This can be done with 2 or more people. One person starts with the first line of the story and each person adds a line, continuing until the story seems done.
  • Tell stories about your current adventures. "Remember when we went to the park and saw the squirrel running through the trees?" Shall we tell the story about that? What happened first?
  • Many children love to draw and would be interested in creating a book to go along with a story. You can easily staple or lace pieces of paper together to make a simple book. Your child can write or dictate the words and draw the picture that goes along with each page.
  • You can create a book with photos from a family experience (it can be as simple as a family meal, cooking project or treasure hunt) and your child can write or dictate the story to go along with the photos.
  • You can engage technology and either use audio or video recording to record a story your child tells. Maybe your child wants to do some movement or action with their story. Once it is on tape, you child might want to make an illustrated book to go along with it.

About this Blog

I hope this blog will be a resource to families, both as a place for me to share ideas and for you to share ideas with each other. Please feel free to comment, question, offer ideas, struggles and successes. I am also available for consultation. 

Other Resources

All About Young Children (California Department of Education--Resource for Parents of children 0-5, available in 8 languages)

A Resource to Support Families with Young Children Who are Working from Home, Google Children's Center

Caring for Children During Extended Family Confinement