Parenting Q&A: What’s a working parent to do this summer?

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Q: With closures of a lot of in-person summer camps, what are parents supposed to do? I have to work from home, and I am back in school for my master’s degree. I do not have a lot of time to give my child. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and disappointed that I can’t give him the playtime and interaction that I would like to give. Any suggestions on how to figure things out? I feel bad, because he has been on his tablet a lot, and now that school is over, all he wants to do is go on YouTube and watch “Ryan’s World.” The tablet has now become a problem; I get attitude when I ask him to put it away. Because of this, we have taken the tablet away completely. I have encouraged him to play with his toys, but he does not like to play by himself, and he is the only child. Do you have suggestions?

A: Based on the “Ryan’s World” mention, I am guessing that your child is between the ages of 3 and 6. Parents of children 7 and under (and children who have any special needs) are especially suffering right now, and I don’t want to blow smoke: There are no easy suggestions for parenting during a pandemic. So, let’s accept some new truths.

There’s going to be more tech. Period. And you will go through periods of gratitude and guilt for the extra screen use, but I cannot conceive of how else to work and go to school – and not lose it.

There will be good days and bad days, no matter how well you plan ahead. Young children are the hardest to plan for, so you will need to cut yourself a lot of slack.

As you learn to accept that you are embracing tech and that some days will not go well, here is my first idea: support. You don’t mention a partner or spouse, but if there is someone else there, please work out a schedule with them. A young child needs to be run like a puppy (and often), so if someone else is there, create a schedule that works for everyone. If you are solo parenting, this is a time to reach out to your network. Nanny-shares, mothers’ helpers, you name it. I even know teens who will work free to simply help parents who are drowning. But you have to ask for the support you need. If you have family nearby (within driving distance), consider getting everyone tested for the novel coronavirus so that your family can help you care for your son. It is not ideal, but we need to find ways to get the help we need; this virus isn’t going anywhere.

I would also try to find, buy or borrow whatever equipment you need to tire your child. Indoor trampolines, swings, obstacle courses, bikes, scooters, chalk, all the things! (I’m seeing a lot of offers from neighborhood parents, in Facebook groups, on Craigslist and on mailing lists as people clean house, so keep an eye out for those.) Set up zones in your house, sort of like a classroom: “science zone,” “reading nook” and “art zone.” This will require some work up front, but it will become helpful as you create a schedule.

Also, there are resources galore online; be sure to check out what fun activities you can share with your child. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. I love both Tinkergarten (tinkergarten.com) and Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org).

Then, make a flexible routine. Call a family meeting (no matter the age or the people in your family), and write down the general plan for each weekday in whatever way makes sense for you. Taking your plans from your head to paper will help you immensely, even if you decide to abandon the plan because your son is young. You can revisit the schedule frequently.

Finally, gauge your own energy, day-to-day. Whether making dinner out of leftovers every night, allowing lots of tech and movies on a rainy day or making a nest for your son next to your desk with his tablet, favorite toys and snacks, you are allowed to do what you need to do to get through this challenging time.

Stay safe, and try to play as much as you can. Laughter helps everything. Good luck!

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Meghan Leahy is the mother of three daughters. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education, a master’s degree in school counseling and is a certified parent coach.

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