What Does Life Look Like Sheltering in Place With School-Age Kids?

Life has completely changed as we know it – at least for the short term – in more ways than any of us could have imagined. Just a couple weeks ago, you had a place to send your kids where they received reliable care and a structured education. You shopped for the groceries your family needed a couple times a week, and didn’t have to worry about where or how you would get your staple items. You could gather with friends and family and lean on them to help take the load off of parenting duties.

Times have changed abruptly, and asking for any of us to be okay with that is A LOT. If you’re a parent, life just became a whole lot more complicated – and tiring, stressful, and scary. Our kids are now our responsibility to look after and keep occupied day in and day out – for many of us, while we somehow manage our day jobs, too. Not to mention, the last thing you ever asked for was to become a homeschool teacher on top of the responsibilities already on your plate.

As parents, we are also dealing with our children facing a whole barrage of emotions: missing friends, being bored, and feeling anxious about the tremendous amount of change they’ve had to cope with in a ridiculously short period of time. This would be a tough case for a seasoned counselor to address, more or less an already over-taxed parent.

So with our sheltering in place orders to combat the coronavirus pandemic, how can we keep ourselves and our kids healthy, safe, and sane? What does a new “normal” look like, at least in the short-term, and how can we take care of our kids while helping the world at large to contain the spread of coronavirus?


There’s no doubt that social distancing is causing hardship on everyone in your household. For children who have limited understanding of its importance in “flattening the curve” on the spread of the coronavirus, it’s even more challenging. Yet, the key to stopping the spread of this new coronavirus (see this coronavirus map) and getting back to life as normal lies in all of us figuring out how to manage our lives with the current extreme measures of social distancing.

Here are some recommendations to keep your family healthy, happy, and thriving as best as possible while we are sheltering in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus:

Help your kids understand what’s going on in simple terms.

First, monitor your own reactions and emotions about what’s going on. Kids pick up on what we are feeling and saying more than we know.

At this point, just about every kid in California knows that something is up due to the disruptions in their daily lives. Start with asking your child what they already know about the coronavirus or why schools are closed, so you know how much you need to explain or clarify. If your child is already fearful or full of misinformation, calm their fears and help them understand what is true and what is not.

In general, children should all know enough about the coronavirus epidemic to understand why they can’t see their friends and participate in their regular activities, as well as why it’s so important for them to frequently wash their hands. Explain that there is a new disease, called a coronavirus, going around. Since it is new, some people, especially older people, are not able to fight it easily. This is why we cannot see grandparents at this time.

Kids also need to know that we can all play an important role in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Schools are closed and we are practicing social distancing because the germs that cause the coronavirus can be easily passed from one person to the next. While not everyone will get very sick, the only way to keep it from spreading is to practice good hygiene and limit our contact with people outside of our families.

Assure your kids that following these simple coronavirus guidelines can stop the disease from spreading. The National Association of School Psychologists offers free coronavirus resources to help you approach the topic with your kids.

No playdates, parties, sleepovers, or families visiting each other’s houses – now what?!

I get it. Especially for kids who are extroverted and are used to spending time with friends every day, this is a truly painful restriction. But even if you have only one friend over, you are creating new links and opportunities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent.

As long as we have to implement social distancing to contain the coronavirus, this is an area where we will have to allow our children extra leniency with screen time. Their only way to connect with friends is virtually, so be sure to help if they need boundaries.

For younger children, schedule virtual playdates via FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or Whatsapp, and let kids show each other toys and games they are playing with. If you’re feeling extra zealous, coordinate with other parents to prepare the same snacks to “share” or activities for them to do at the same time. Don’t forget about virtual happy hours for parents, too – it’s important to stay connected, vent your frustrations, and share your experiences of what’s working and what’s not.

Rethink how we use screen time.

While we’re well aware that no one should spend too much time sitting in one place and staring at blue-light emitting technology screens, as long as sheltering at home is in place, it is going to be tough to get around having more screen time than usual for everyone in your household.

Most learning and school time for kids will now be on the computer. Not to mention, unless you share a fence with a friendly neighbor, our kids will be using screens to chat or Facetime with friends. And let’s be real: we are all going to need to use “showtime” as it’s called in our house, to keep our kids occupied, so we can get things done around the house. (I’m not gonna lie…my three year-old daughter is watching Daniel Tiger next to me while I write this blog!)

What I suggest is to work deliberate windows of non-screen time into your kids’ daily schedule. Start the day with outdoor time – water plants, walk the dog, or just do some backyard playtime to kick off the day. Be sure your kids have breaks during online academic work for movement and giving their eyes a rest. Follow your child’s school day schedule to implement recess and lunch breaks. Play board games as a family or institute a family reading hour where you would have otherwise vegged out on the couch after dinner.

Become an explorer in your own backyard.

We now know that the coronavirus can live on plastic or metal for up to 3 or 4 days, so playground structures are a no-go. Games like basketball or soccer that involve direct contact are also not recommended. That leaves us with very few of the regular options for exercise and vitamin D that our kids are used to having in their day.

However, abiding by the rules of social distancing to avoid potential coronavirus contact doesn’t mean you have to keep your kids trapped indoors. Take family walks in your neighborhood or take kids to play on the beach or in open nature areas – just have your kids stay away from other people while you are out.

While parks and beaches are still open, make excursions to play in the sand, throw a frisbee, or play tag. And we’re fortunate to live close to amazing mountain and desert recreation areas, so when you have a longer window of time, take your kids to explore new trails that might be less crowded. Just remember to keep your distance from other people that you do encounter and try to go at less traveled times.

What Does Life Look Like for Social Distancing With School-Age Kids, image of a mother and son doing dishes together at home

Time to train new chefs!

I hate to say this — both for what it means for restaurants that are trying to stay alive with take-out business and for busy parents who rely on take-out to simplify at least one aspect of life — but experts have said that the coronavirus contamination can spread through food preparation and contact with service people involved in the process. The safest way to feed your family is to cook meals at home.

If there is a silver lining on this one, it is this: what better time than now to teach your kids important life skills of preparing fruits and veggies and helping to make family meals? Cooking is also a great hands-on activity that can give your kids a meaningful break away from technology. There is so much to learn in the kitchen! Cooking is science. Measuring is math. And researching recipes involves reading, critical thinking, planning, and organizational skills.

To support local merchants, now is an ideal time to get creative and visit local specialty markets that are likely to be less crowded and better stocked. Also, look into joining a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) group to get a selection of our Farmer’s Market favorites that you can have delivered to your home or local pick-up spot.

Don’t forget you can’t give from an empty cup.

Let’s face it: just like the oxygen mask on an airplane goes on for adults before helping kids, surviving sheltering at home will require us parents taking care of ourselves, so we can be available to give our kids the extra time and energy they need from us.

I’ve committed to putting a priority on my own personal care, which is actually surprisingly simple when you remove travel from the equation. With shelter in place orders closing businesses, many yoga, pilates, and other specialty fitness studios are now live-streaming classes on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. I’ve enjoyed 12-minute meditations on YouTube from the comfort of my bedroom and yoga in my living room. While I’ve had to work longer hours after I put my daughter to bed, I’ve also made time to take her out on walks during the day, so I can get my exercise too.

Don’t let logistics be an excuse for not getting the time you need to take care of yourself. Swap 20-minutes with your spouse or fit in your personal time while your kids are sleeping – just do it! My husband and I joke, “you never finish a workout or mediation, and think, ‘man, that was a waste of time!’”

Now more than ever, our individual daily choices play a vital role in affecting the overall welfare of our families and our communities. It will take conscientious effort, planning, and flexibility to find a groove with sheltering in place, but when it comes down to it, we could all use a little more time to connect face-to-face with our kids and engage with them in wholesome activities.

As a business owner, I am consoled a bit in knowing that at least I have the power to help families through this trying time. At La Jolla Learning, we have gone fully virtual with our 1:1 tutoring and are now offering online workshops and free weekly classes to help ease the stress on parents of homeschooling. We can also help connect you with virtual mental health and parenting support services when you need a little added dose of TLC. Just reach out, and we would love to be of service.

Wishing us all a quick return to normal social interaction!

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