Children's Hospital Colorado

Family Life During a Pandemic: Adjusting to a New Normal

Life for many families is drastically different now than it was at the beginning of March. With efforts mounting to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, kids are out of school, parents are working from home, and government officials have instructed that we stay at home except for when we need to complete essential activities like going to the grocery store. Each day seems to bring new and unique challenges for everyone.

There are ways we can adjust to our new normal and get through this time together, even while physically distancing ourselves from others, but it might require us to think outside of the box.

Experts with Children's Hospital Colorado's Pediatric Mental Health Institute have pulled together a list of popular questions from parents during this time. They've gathered some creative solutions, but there are tons more out there. Encourage your kids and your entire family to brainstorm new and innovative ways to connect.

Get creative with technology. Give your family member a call or set up a video chat. If sitting and talking isn’t enough, think about how else you can interact. Have your kids draw a picture, write a letter or come up with a story to tell before the call. You can also schedule fun activities to do during the call including dance parties, story time, meals and even games. Additionally, it’s possible to use Netflix and many gaming systems and other devices to watch shows or enjoy entertainment together even though you’re not physically in the same room.

Sending a letter or care package through the mail or a courier service is also a great way to extend love to a family member from afar.

Use an online service or courier to deliver a care package. Text or call regularly to see how they are doing and how you can help support them.

Share uplifting videos and images or engage in self-care together through video (such as book club, yoga or meditation). Connecting on topics that aren’t related to the coronavirus can do wonders for someone’s mental health.

Going to the grocery store is considered an essential activity, which means you can still buy your child their favorite dessert or get ingredients to make it. If you can, decorate your house and have your child select a fun activity to do as a family like watching a movie of their choice or ordering a new game. You could also set up a group chat with family and friends so everyone can sing happy birthday.

One of the most creative things to do that’s circulating social media right now is to organize a bike or walking route for your family through your neighborhood. If you have a neighborhood Facebook page or message board, consider reaching out and telling everyone that it’s your child’s birthday and you’ll be walking or riding bikes down the street to celebrate. Ask neighbors to stand on their front porches to wave and shout happy birthday messages.

Remember that this is temporary, and these circumstances require creativity and flexibility. Cut yourself some slack and try to set realistic expectations with your employer (if possible) and your family.

Create a routine as a family, complete with breaks and family meals with healthy (and calming) food. One-hour chunks may be helpful to separate the day.

Many kid-friendly events and activities, like a trip to the zoo, have gone virtual. As you have time, do a little research to find online activities and classes your children will enjoy. (See our help during the coronavirus crisis page for ideas from Children's Colorado's community partners.)

Here are a few additional tips:

  • Be thoughtful of where and how you set up your workspace to balance needs.
  • Encourage your kids to be involved with the planning of their time while you are working.
  • Give your kids lots of praise for adapting to changes.
  • Ask for help: Try sharing the load by arranging virtual play dates with other parents.
  • Take care of yourself: Try to control your own stress by practicing meditation, controlled breathing, yoga and exercise.

Our child psychologists have gathered several ways both parents and kids can ease coronavirus anxiety, including limiting screen time and maintaining a healthy sleep and physical activity routine.

Or, learn tips for checking in on your teen during the coronavirus pandemic – straight from the source.

Start by designating a safe space, if possible, for the family member who may be contagious. This could be a bedroom or a basement area. Explain to your children that it will likely be a challenge to support the family member during this time, but that it won’t last forever.

Encourage your family to help regularly clean the home and wash their hands frequently. This is especially important if your family needs to share spaces, such as a bathroom, with the family member who may be contagious.

It will be a stressful time for everyone, so it can help to keep kids busy and distracted. And if you’re the primary caregiver, pause for a minute to care for yourself in whatever way you can.

Even if you're in the same home, call and video chat with the family member who's isolating. Provide books for the family member who may be contagious so they can read to the rest of the family via video call, or vice versa.

Try to play games or watch a movie together virtually, if possible.

It can also be helpful to develop a daily gratitude practice as a family. Ask every member to share one thing they are grateful for, even during a tough time.

Additional resources for the coronavirus

From answers to parents' top questions to important phone numbers to know, we've gathered the coronavirus information you might need during this time and put it all in one place.

Just Ask Children's Newsletter