Life at home with kids during quarantine

The state’s Safer at Home order challenged families with children of all ages
dad with kids playing on a porch
Photo by Amandalynn Jones
Middleton dad Alan Natachu (left) takes some time to slow down by journaling on the porch while son Dmitri, 15, reads and daughter Astraea, 5, plays with toys.

Lorena Mancilla is amused by her 6-year-old nephew who walks around his home — where his family is quarantined due to COVID-19 — while holding a tablet and saying, “Shh, I’m on a call.”

The child is mimicking one of his parents, who are both working from home, says Mancilla, director of WIDA Early Years, the world-class Instructional Design and Assessment program promoting English-language education for multilingual children nationwide. WIDA is based in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“It just cracks me up to see these behaviors from kids,” says Mancilla, who works remotely from her home in the Chicago area.

This spring, many parents suddenly found themselves laid off or working from home and caring for their children full time because schools and day care facilities had closed. As summer arrived, it was unclear if cooped-up families would feel relief from the easing of restrictions on public gatherings and the resumption of youth programming.

“When I had young children I relied on a lot of things that happened in the summer,” says Tricia Blanco, a Madison-based professional learning specialist with WIDA Early Years. “My kids went to camp, they were in swimming lessons, they had soccer. … All that may not be available this summer. We don’t know.”

Blanco says the state’s Safer at Home order challenged families with children of all ages. And the gradual lifting of those restrictions will shake up family routines again, she says.

The Madison School & Community Recreation, or MSCR, canceled all spring and summer programming, such as sports-specific youth camps and adult art classes. Instead MSCR has created virtual content for kids to do at home.

Cindy Kuhrasch, coordinator of the physical education teacher training in UW–Madison’s School of Kinesiology, made a series of videos demonstrating simple physical activities to do alone or with family members. She encouraged her college students to also make videos and post them to the UW–Madison PE Facebook page. Kuhrasch said some of the videos have been repurposed for the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, where she serves on the board of directors.

“As a parent, I think all we can do is make opportunities available and invite our kids to play with us,” Kuhrasch says.

Physical activity is important to maintain, she says, and not just for the fitness benefits. Staying active develops social and emotional skills, too. Of course, that’s difficult to achieve when self-isolation rules out going to a gym or participating in team sports.

“Kids aren’t unique. We all miss our friends. We all long for social interaction. I think we’re all struggling with anxiety over how long this will last,” Kuhrasch says.

Parents of children with autism or developmental disabilities have had additional challenges during the pandemic that include loss of access to school counselors and health care providers.

For these children “worries, fear, and frustration can be expressed as challenging behaviors,” says Sigan Hartley, associate professor of human development and family studies in the UW–Madison School of Human Ecology. “It can help to anticipate these challenges and to make sure the child has access to coping or calming activities and items.”

Parents, too, have had to learn coping strategies. “Although it is often hard to do, it is important for parents to invest in their own health and well-being,” Hartley says. “When parents have their own needs met, they are better able to focus on the needs of their children.”

She suggests taking a few moments for mindful breathing, keeping a gratitude journal “or writing a compassionate letter to yourself as if you were a friend who you were supporting through a bad day.”

Blanco and Mancilla of WIDA also urge parents to find ways to lessen the stress they’re under. “Whatever you can do to take care of yourself is definitely going to flow to how your children are reacting,” Blanco says.

Blanco has taken note of several positive community responses to the pandemic in her neighborhood near Tenney Park. “People are putting things in their windows, whether it’s rainbows or hearts or teddy bears. That’s for people out walking about to see,” she says.

“Another thing I’ve noticed,” she adds, “are people nodding or saying ‘hi’ knowing that we’re a little bit more isolated than we’ve been. So that’s been really nice to see as well.”

In her neighborhood, Mancilla says, little girls are drawing pictures with brightly colored chalk in their driveways for their friends to see when they’re out for walks with their families. “It’s the cutest thing,” Mancilla says. “They’ll draw the picture and their mom will sign it, ‘Love, Lexi and Nora.’”

Blanco expects such expressions of neighborly support to outlive the virus. That’s the hope, anyway.

“I think we’re in this for the long haul,” she says. Social distancing measures “may not have to be as stringent as they’ve been, but until there’s a vaccine this virus isn’t going away.”

Click here to read more stories about how we coped with stress during coronavirus.