Resources for Families Living in “Interesting Times”

What a strange few weeks it has been. We have the dubious honor of abiding by the apocryphal old fortune cookie whose wisdom portended, “May you live in interesting times.” I don’t know about you, but I miss my old life. Hanging out with you lovely folks and your charming kiddos. Driving to work. Giving high fives and hugs to people outside my immediate family. Feeling powerful and important out in the world, strutting around in actual clothing with buttons and zippers. These days you’ll find me in my pajamas most of the time, trying alongside my husband to juggle both of our discombobulated children while simultaneously cancelling and reorganizing our entire lives and spending way too much time on Zoom. Who knew that the apocalypse meant mostly videoconferencing and not wearing pants? 

There’s no shortage of grieving to be done for our broken world, our failing systems, and our compatriots who are suffering and dying, more of whom are assuredly to come with each passing day. I keep telling people that my kids are both keeping me sane and driving me insane–and if they weren’t doing either, I’d likely be drowning in the current 24-hour news cycle, each hour more frightening than the last. I’m perpetually reminded of the critically acclaimed 1997 film Life is Beautiful, in which an Italian Jewish man uses his wild imagination to protect his young son from the horrors of the Holocaust. Although most of us find ourselves, and thankfully so, in much less dire straits than those gathered up in concentration camps, the metaphor remains apropos. How do we shield our children? For me, I’m trying to say “yes” as much as I can – to focused mutual playtime, to telling stories on demand, to having pizza for breakfast and cereal for dinner, to not wearing pants (again, what is up with that?), to indulging in to-be-expected regressive requests for swaddling, cuddling, and carrying. My husband and I do our grown-up “game plans” after the girls are in bed. We grieve and connect together. We watch Picard. We cook good food and put our phones away while we sit and eat together. We find time for all the little things that we never had time for in the “before.”

This is what we have been training for, people. We just didn’t know it. Take care of yourselves – stay home, be safe, protect others, wash your hands, and do what you can to help beat this thing. Donate some money to the CDC. Donate money to the LA Food Bank (or your local equivalent). Rustle up some PPEs and get them to the healthcare workers who desperately need them (try calling your local nail salon, tattoo parlor, or auto body shop). Check in on elderly or immunocompromised friends and neighbors – see if you can bring them something they need. Support a local small business or service provider. And don’t forget to love one another. We need it now more than ever.

Sending virtual elbow bumps to you all.

Here’s what my parenting classes and clients were thinking about in the past few weeks!

  • The kids are [not] alright: Cassidy’s director Luisa Donati received a question from a concerned parent about how all of this isolation from friends will affect her preschooler. Check out my latest blog post for my response (spoiler alert – our children are probably going to be fine).
  • More reasons why the kids will [probably] be alright: Children have tremendous capacity for resilience, especially if they have one or more caring adult(s) in their lives. For some reassurance, check out this article from Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child on resilience and how it can be fostered in children. 
  • MELTDOWN!!! With all that’s happening right now, our sensitive little ones are going to be having a lot of big feelings, and those feelings are going to come out every which way but loose.  I recently recorded an episode of Parenting Portal with Joanna Port all about meltdowns and tantrums – it offers both an understanding of why young children have so many big feelings and practical ideas on how to navigate them.
  • Explaining the Coronavirus Crisis to kids: I’ve compiled several therapeutic stories, homemade books, and comics to help slightly older children understand and cope with the current situation here. For very young children, Zero to Three has an excellent article with suggested language.
  • Ask a scientist: With all the information floating around right now, some of it downright contradictory, it can feel nearly impossible to make a sound decision about anything. I’ve found some reassurance in the Federation of American Scientists’ COVID-19 FAQ/”Ask a scientist” website. Simply type in your question, and if an answer isn’t already in their database, email it to them, and a scientist will get back to you rather quickly with an up-to-date, scientifically informed response. 
  • How are you doing, parents? If you’re having a tough time concentrating or sleeping during this time of immense stress, let me recommend my friend and colleague Marilyn McLaughlin, who’s offering donation-based zoom mindfulness sessions regularly right now. 
  • How are your parents doing, parents? Many of us expressed concern that our own Baby Boomer parents were not taking this whole situation seriously. Check out this article from the New Yorker about how to convince them otherwise.
  • What to do with your kids? This terrific article from the Hechinger Report offers a wide variety of tips, as well as advice on screen time and suggested activities. 
  • Stop entertaining your kids! – If you’re finding yourself worn out by trying to amuse your child all day, every day, take a page from Janet Lansbury’s blog. She offers some terrific ideas about how to invite your young child to play more independently, making space and allowing trust in their play process.
  • Other things to do:
    • Neighborhood scavenger hunt:  When you’re going for a walk, give your kid a challenge of things to find. Something in every color of the rainbow, something in every shape they know, as many different animals as they can find, etc. One family told me that they’re enjoying pretending to find “fairies” living in flowers. We like picking flowers on our walks and then pressing them instantly in the microwave with our microfleur!
    • Fun at Home with Kids – Amazing sensory and arts/crafts activities, all photographed beautifully, such as 2-ingredient play-doh (also known as ice cream dough) and gorgeous (but very sticky) taste-safe water beads. Many of the recipes are taste-safe and gluten-free, to boot!
    • Listen to a read-aloud: This giant document lists all the live read-aloud that authors, illustrators, and actors are doing every day, as well as other fantastic resources! More online read-alongs listed here as well.
    • Sticker puzzles: For slightly older kids, we’ve been getting tons of mileage from these amazing paint by sticker puzzle books.  Literally hours of engaged fun.
    • The Kid Should See This: Parent-curated videos that aren’t made for kids, but are perfect for them. A great, ad-free alternative to YouTube (with no auto-play!).
    • Get out in nature: In response to massive defiance of the “safer at home” directive, some LA parks and trails have been shut down, but some are still open – just practice good social distancing and use the AllTrails app to guide you if you like!

Rebekka Helford is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, California. With over a decade of experience working with parents and young children, Rebekka specializes in short-term intensive parenting consultation, using a variety of tools including home, office, and school visits to help families navigate developmental hiccups and get back on track. Virtual visits now available!

Click here to schedule an appointment or contact Rebekka with a question – who knows, she might even answer it in her next post!

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