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Childhood Under Fire: Simplicity Parenting Tools for Honoring Kids at Home during the Covid-19 Outbr

For us as adults, Covid-19 sends thoughts swirling. Jobs, food, health, school, childcare: the uncertainty is real (and more real for some). It’s okay if now is the time to panic a little (do what you gotta do to process- preferably not in front of the kids).

But, then take a deep breath and keep on parenting. Now is the time for intention and commitment to your family life. Being proactive about the social-emotional well-being of your child is essential during this pandemic- a potentially traumatic event for our youngest citizens and an opportunity for resilience and growth.

Mental and physical health are a right for children and should never be a privilege. Yet Covid-19 is exposing the cracks in how our society serves young children and how our systems continue to oppress. More and more working parents are juggling multiple jobs while having children home from school. Our childcare system wasn’t working before, and it certainly isn’t working now. More than ever, having children socially isolated from one another summons our need to make sure that what’s happening at home is developmentally appropriate and that our parenting practices are meeting our kids’ needs.

Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting is a philosophy that has guided many families through the challenges of parenting in a digital, over-scheduled world. With a history of catering to families of privilege, the philosophy has been popular amongst homeschooling, stay-at-home parents. Regardless, there are some Simplicity Parenting strategies that all of us can lean on to make sure that our children stay healthy as we work to limit the potential trauma from this pandemic. The impact of adult anxiety, news, and increased screen-time on young children is more significant than we realize.

Some Simplicity Parenting tips can help families to meet their child’s needs during this time and can be adapted for a variety of families situations.

Six Tips for Honoring Your Child during this Crisis

Tip #1 Turn off the news when you’re together as a family: The chatter has a bigger impact than we realize. Turn off the news, even when on in the background, when you have children at home. While I believe it perpetuates supremacy to shield children of privilege from the realities of the world (more on that later), the way that news is delivered needs to be sensitive to young children’s development- which, frankly, it is not. According to Kim John Payne, when children process adult content like the news of Covid-19, they develop a “soul fever” (a.k.a a trauma response) that can present itself as defiant, aggressive behavior or passive, sleep-like behavior. This is your child expressing that they need help regulating their emotions and that it’s all too much right now. So, turn off the news. Provide information in doses they can understand. Answer their questions with hope.

Tip #2 Set limits on your screen-time as a family: Here’s the thing. Children were already getting too much screen-time before the schools closed. While some people have called for a “just do what you gotta do” attitude (like Kate Schweitzer, quoting Lindsay Powers, author of You Can’t F*ck up Your Kids), from a developmental lens, research and practice both tell us that we need to continue to think critically about screens in our homes. One thing we can’t do is throw our screen-time rules and expectations out the window. If anything, it’s time to collaborate with our children on intentions around screen-time. Use tools like this guide from Common-Sense Media to determine what works best for your family. They recommend no more than 1 hour of media for children ages 2-5. Pandemic might say 2 hours. Just not 7.

Whatever you choose during this challenging time, aim to tune in to your child’s emotions around screens. Are they getting grumpy after 2 hours of shows? Cut it down or break it up with outside play or bath time. Are they shutting down after video games? Create a plan. I’m a big believer in screen-free activities like these ones from Screen-Free Parenting to amplify the fun and, ultimately, improve the emotional well-being of kiddos.

In her Popsugar editorial, Schweitzer writes, “Whatever notions you had about screen time should be tossed aside for a survivalist strategy that simply gets everyone in your house through the day.” Everything we know about child development says otherwise. In fact, simply handing over the screen without boundaries may cause an even bigger trauma response in children. It will not provide them with the tools to cope. Nor does it respect children and their level of resilience and creativity. Discuss as a family. Set an intention. You can do it.

Tip #3 Underschedule your time & decrease the pressure for academics: As an early childhood educator and researcher, I know play is learning. Play is a medium for meaningful social relationships, future careers, and discovery. Over the past decades, play has been stripped from our classroom spaces. Recess is now used as a reward and academics are pushed down to younger and younger grades. Perhaps this is the time for the resurgence of play in childhood. Albeit, it may be solitary or it may involve yelling to the neighbors across the street, but play is the work of childhood.

So, take the pressure off yourself to become a homeschool teacher and give kids the chance to play (preferably screen-free). Schedules like this one offer some play time balanced with academics. It’s important that children know what to expect each day (but also important not to over-schedule). See if you can combine the two. Invite the kids to make plans for how they will play, what theories they might test when they play, and talk about it when they are done. (Fun fact: that’s the scientific method!) Give them the space they deserve during this time. Trust me, they won’t fall behind when they go back; they won’t gain a disadvantage. Give them the space to play.

Tip #4 Declutter: I know what you’re thinking. “NOW is the time you want me to go all “Marie Kondo” on my house?” No, no, no, I don’t think that. What I do recognize is that parents are struggling to keep their children entertained, busy, and well during a time where childcare is difficult and schools are closed.

One strategy that we use in Simplicity parenting is to create a “toy library” within your home. To do so, consider paring down the amount of toys available to your children at one time. Choose 3-10 toys total for them to play with right now. Some to play with together as siblings. Some to do alone, appropriate for their age. And a few you can do as a whole family. But not very many. Keep the toys as open-ended as possible to enrich the fun. The other toys? Store them away for the next week or so. Then, when you see that the creativity is dwindling with one toy-- switch it out. This will help children to have enhanced experiences with what they do have and to decrease the need for screen-time as you spend more time at home.

Tip #5 Go outside (if you can): I am not a medical expert. I do believe in and have seen the healing powers of nature from my time as a researcher and outdoor preschool director. In fact, physicians who have practiced medicine through past epidemics have attributed better patient outcomes to time out in the sunshine.

Our access to the outdoors looks different depending on where we live. Deep forests, door steps, roof tops, botanical gardens, fields, sidewalks, stoops: they all count. These are beautiful times to get re-acquainted to the outdoors (even if you are 6 feet away from the family next door). Natural Start Alliance and Children & Nature Network are great resources for quick tips. Follow them on Facebook (during your balanced screen-time, of course)!

Tip #6 Recognize privilege, leverage it to help others: One principle that is not included in Simplicity Parenting philosophies explicitly is recognizing the inherent privileges in how some of us live. Families are experiencing this pandemic differently. Families of color, undocumented families, families experiencing homelessness and poverty- among many other marginalized groups- are getting hit the hardest. In Seattle, where I am based, we have seen a tremendous outpouring of community support. Individuals have offered to drop off meals, to donate time and money, to give blood. This is a key time to show gratitude for what we have and to share it with others- and to model that for our children as a tool for concrete action. As a tool for hope.

With no soccer games, four square matches, chess club, giggles in the fort in the woods amongst peers right now, childhood is under fire. While children are socially distanced from one another, they need a little bit more from us as adults- but mostly it’s that we believe in them. We can trust our children to be capable of overcoming this- with our help. We can trust them to come up with creative ideas of what to do if we don’t just hand them a screen. And we can trust ourselves as parents that, no matter what, if we’re loving and trusting our children, we’re all going to be just fine.

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