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 when the novel coronavirus reached the U.S in early 2020. So many aspects of our lives have changed and they are likely to change again in the near future. 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.

We consulted child psychologists, epidemiologists, pediatric infectious disease doctors and other experts at Children's Hospital Colorado to answer popular questions from parents during this time. They've gathered answers and some creative solutions to present-day challenges, but there are many more out there. Encourage your kids and your entire family to brainstorm new and interesting ways to connect with others and to manage stress and anxiety during an uncertain time.

Practical advice for staying safe during the coronavirus pandemic

This new way of shopping can take some getting used to, but it’s important to learn how to do it safely. Use these tips provided by pediatric infectious disease specialists Sean O’Leary, MD, MPH and Sara Saporta-Keating, MD, to learn how to shop like an epidemiologist.

Before you leave

  • Make a detailed list of everything you need. Now is not the best time for extended browsing.
  • If you can, gather sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer, in case you need them.
  • Wash your hands and put on your mask or cloth face covering. Once it’s on, don’t touch your mask again until you’re home and the groceries are put away.

At the grocery store

  • Using sanitizing wipes from the store or those you brought along, wipe down all areas of the grocery cart you’re likely to touch. Some stores have employees there to sanitize carts as you enter.
  • Keep your hands on the handle and other places you know you’ve sanitized.
  • To the best of your ability, stay at least 6 feet away from other shoppers. Pay attention to any visual cues, like floor markings, to help you keep your distance as you wait in line.
  • Do your best to avoid touching your mask, your face and your phone.
  • Though it may feel unnatural, you can designate one hand for grocery shopping and the other for handling personal items. This helps you avoid cross contamination so that germs from the grocery story are not likely to make it into your car or home. For example:
    • Use one hand for pushing the cart, grabbing food, opening freezer doors and pushing buttons on the credit card machine.
    • Use the other hand for your phone, getting your wallet, holding your shopping list and getting your keys.
  • After you check out, sanitize your hands before you leave the store. If you can’t sanitize your hands before you leave, do your best to not touch your face or mask until you can get home and wash your hands.
  • Load your groceries into your car using your grocery shopping hand.
  • Sanitize your hands again after loading your groceries.

When you get home

  • With your mask still in place, put your groceries away. Some people prefer to wipe down the groceries using sanitizing wipes, though the risk of picking up germs from food or packaging is considered lower than more commonly touched surfaces, such as door handles.
  • Wash your hands properly using soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Remove your mask by pulling on the ear strap. Do not touch the front of your mask or face covering.
  • Wash your mask with your laundry if you have a cloth mask.

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.

Many of the practices that help keep us safe in our day-to-day lives should be applied in this situation. Use these guidelines to help keep your family safe if someone in your house has tested positive for the coronavirus or suspects they have the virus:

  • When you can, interact outside in a back yard or another area that gives members of your family plenty of space.
  • Maintain a safe social distance – at least six feet.
  • Have all members of your family wear masks or cloth face coverings.

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.

Balancing home life, work and school

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.

Try not to worry too much about your child losing skills. Missing school or their friends is not going to cause permanent damage. Remember, their friends and classmates are going through the same thing.

At home, try to focus on how resilient your kids are. Have they learned something new at home? Have they built new skills? Focus primarily on their mental health, not their academic growth. They may end up with extra resilience, independence and empathy because they lived through a pandemic — all skills that will serve them well as adults.

Definitely not. Online school isn’t going to work for all kids, and it’s particularly challenging for younger children. Encourage them to participate only in the parts of school that they enjoy by joining them when you can. Or, you can let them choose not to follow a lesson and read with them instead.

Encourage their love of learning and curiosity by following their interests outside of online school. Your child will probably be happy to return to school when they can, and their teachers should know how to catch them up.

We understand, sometimes that happens to us too. Take this opportunity to model how to ask for forgiveness for your child — it’s a crucial life skill. Say something like, “I’m really sorry I snapped at you earlier. I was stressed about something else and I shouldn’t have snapped. How can I make it up to you?” Then try to spend time focused on your child and give them your undivided attention.

Coping with anxiety, grief or depression

Acknowledge their fear and tell them that you are worried too. Talk with them about the things you can do to stay safe and keep others from getting sick, like washing our hands, wearing a mask and staying safer at home. Acknowledge what you can control and what you can’t, for example:

What you can control:

  • Washing your hands and keeping your home sanitized
  • Maintaining social distancing when outside
  • Wearing a mask
  • Staying home and avoiding unnecessary trips outside the home

What you cannot control:

  • Other people’s behavior
  • Changes in daily life like online school
  • The nature of the coronavirus

We are so sorry for your loss.

There are no shortcuts for grief. Allow your child to cry or express their grief however they want. Try to listen openly. It’s okay to express your own grief too. Find something that you can do as a family to commemorate your loved one’s life that fits with your family’s beliefs: write something about them, create a photo montage, paint a stone in your garden with their initials, pray together or watch a movie you know they loved. You can also host a virtual funeral, as many families are doing.

Learn more about helping children with grief.

Our child psychologists have gathered several ways both parents and kids can ease coronavirus anxiety, including limiting coronavirus-related 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.

All of us are going to have good days and bad days. Allow your child the space to grieve everything they are missing: family gatherings, seeing friends, sports, milestones like graduations, vacations and anything else they’re missing. This is a good time to check in on your kids, especially teens, frequently. Try to spend some family time together having fun every day — even if it is for only five minutes.

Keep an eye out for these signs of a more serious problem in your child:

  • Consistently appearing withdrawn or unmotivated
  • A change in sleeping or eating habits
  • Lack of enjoyment for anything
  • Frequent crying
  • Irritability
  • Feeling sad most of the day for more than a couple weeks

If your child is showing these symptoms, try to set up a virtual visit with their doctor if you’re able. If your child needs professional help for depression, they can get care — even during a pandemic.

Social connections and special occasions

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.

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.


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