How to Keep Your Family Safe During the COVID-19 Crisis

With all due respect to those who are sick, COVID-19 is hard on everybody.

Governor Ducey’s statewide stay-at-home order went into effect on March 31. Katie Gallego and other mayors fully support it. They even hope the guidelines get stricter in the coming weeks.

The order is officially titled “Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected.” That may be easier said than done.

Pandemics bring out the best in some folks, like health care workers, but the worst in others. In households across the Sonoran Desert, teenagers are slamming doors. Bored preschoolers are kicking each other. Husbands are accusing their wives of hiding toilet paper. Everybody has a terminal case of bedhead.

How do Arizonans stay safe, stay fit, and stay sane during COVID-19?

It goes without saying that you play by the rules for avoiding infection. They change all the time as scientists track the virus and learn as they go. Regularly visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for updates.

With any luck, your most significant challenges will be managing stress, home-schooling, and keeping the peace. Here are some tips worth following.

Get the Facts from Trustworthy Sources

Social media is either your best friend or your worst enemy right now. So-called coronavirus experts post a lot of inaccurate, alarmist information.

It’s essential to stay informed but be selective about your sources. Feel free to unfollow people who incite panic. Spend more time on accounts that take your mind off the pandemic.

Limit the time you spend following mainstream news, especially if you have young children. The last thing they need to feel safe and secure is a TV blasting gloom and doom all day.

Have “The Talk” With Your Kids

This is an excellent time to have that other awkward talk as well but focus on COVID-19 first. You might start with a generic lesson about viruses and the body’s immune system.

With younger children, share only age-appropriate facts. Answer questions in a way they can understand. Keep it simple and stick to what they ask you. Oversharing will do more harm than good.

When you explain odd circumstances — such as why your kids can’t see their grandparents right now — do so in a calm, reassuring way. Model a positive outlook: “I miss them too, but it won’t be this way forever.”

If your kids never bring up the virus or the sudden change in routine, don’t breathe a sigh of relief and assume they’re all right. A ball of anxiety might be rolling around inside.

Ask them if there’s anything they don’t understand. Encourage your kids to open up to you if they’re worried about getting sick. Listen well and correct any misconceptions they have.

If you thought your teenagers were sulky before, wait until they haven’t seen their friends for a few weeks.

Teens and college students scoff at social distancing for a couple of reasons. For one, they think they’re invincible. They’re also aware that their age group is not as at-risk as some others.

Bending the rules could prove catastrophic. Around 70 students from the University of Texas ignored warnings and partied in Mexico over spring break. As of early April, 49 of them had tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, urges parents of teenagers to lay down the law. Emphasize that the rules are not all about them. As asymptomatic carriers, they could be walking lethal weapons.

Even if they’re not carriers, Anderson points out, their seemingly healthy friends might be. Why should the rest of your family live in fear because one child is willing to take that risk? Outline severe consequences for sneaking out and follow through.

At the same time, though, understand that socialization is everything to a teenager. A stay-at-home order feels like a life sentence in prison.

Let your kids vent their frustration. Listen sympathetically and without judgment. It can’t hurt to allow a little extra time on social media.

Stick to a Routine

Young kids probably think of this as a fun-filled, recurring snow day. Set them straight as soon as possible.

You can be a little more lenient on bedtimes, video games, and TV, but don’t go crazy. Kids like structure more than they know.

Have a family meeting to create a day-by-day schedule. Monday through Friday should closely track the school day.

If adults are working from home, set office hours. That will take some brainstorming if younger kids need supervision, but things will go more smoothly if you have “shifts” in place.

The importance of scheduling breaks for healthy snacks, exercise, and fun can’t be overstated. All three support physical health, brainpower, and mood. Fitness, especially, keeps depression at bay.

Schedule movie nights, game nights, and plenty of outdoor activities. Set up regular Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime sessions with friends and family members. Arrange virtual playdates with other kids. Accommodate anyone who craves an hour alone each day.

All the experts agree that family members should get up, go to bed, and share meals at the same time each day. Don’t let teenagers sleep until noon. Don’t binge on Netflix until the wee hours. Resist the temptation to skip the shower and work in your pajamas. Remember, you’re modeling confidence, calm, and normalcy.

With all that said, remain flexible. There’s no getting around the fact that none of this is normal. If your kids show signs of severe cabin fever, pause to read a story. Take a walk, work a puzzle, or watch an animal video online.

Stay Hitched

When COVID-19 subsided in China, an alarming number of couples burst out of quarantine and headed straight for divorce court. Filings surged in mid-March, and harried court clerks struggled to keep up.

Aside from retirees, few people realize just how annoying their partners are. If ever there were a time to let things go, this is it.

That pair of underwear on the floor a foot from the hamper isn’t worth arguing about right now. If you’re sheltering at home with toddlers, you’ve got bigger fish to fry.

You may resent the hours your spouse fritters away watching “Tiger King.” However, door-slamming or the silent treatment will get you nowhere. Calmly ask for help when you need it and be specific. Spouses are terrible mind-readers.

In a pandemic, communication is more crucial than ever. Carve out opportunities for adult-only discussions. Concentrate on listening rather than dispensing advice or trying to fix things. You can’t fix this virus.

Respect each other’s anger, fear, or disappointment. A derailed career might trump a canceled Mediterranean cruise, but both partners’ feelings are valid.

If there was tension in the marriage before COVID-19, this is a prime opportunity to address it. Take walks together. The exercise will help you think more clearly, and it’s easier to speak honestly side by side than it is face to face. If you get nowhere, consider engaging a reputable online counselor.

Finally, don’t neglect intimacy. At the very least, it’s a good excuse for exercise and a great stress reliever.

Let the Good Times Roll

For some parents, home-schooling is child’s play compared to keeping everybody entertained the rest of the time.

Get creative. Think back to the days before you’d ever heard of PCs, smartphones, and streaming services. Here are some ideas for all ages to spark your imagination:

• Make puppets, paper dolls, paper chains, or tissue paper flowers.

• Make jewelry out of beads or pasta.

• Decorate a plain T-shirt or pair of sneakers.

• Throw a dress-up tea party.

• Plant some seeds outdoors. Make a custom watering can out of a recycled milk jug.

• Take a sketchbook on a family walk. Have the kids create a map of the neighborhood.

• Organize scavenger and treasure hunts.

• Measure rainfall.

• Play balloon volleyball indoors on rainy days.

• Have the kids quiz you on state capitals or U.S. presidents. Nothing delights them more than stumping their parents, and they’re unwittingly learning.

• Check out online classes such as knitting, calligraphy, or origami.

• Do science projects. Conduct experiments.

• Camp out in the backyard for a night.

• Plan and cook meals as a family. Emphasize the importance of eating right to boost the immune system.

• One week, schedule a different cuisine for each night. Take time before dinner to explore each country’s culture.

• Couples turn off the TV at mealtime. Eat by candlelight more often.

• Help the kids organize, rearrange, or paint their bedrooms.

• Clear a play space in the attic or basement. Address conditions that invite unwanted pests while you’re at it.

• Plant a garden.

• Take turns sketching one another’s portraits.

• Go through old photos together. Lay them out to form the family tree.

• Gather unwanted items to donate when it’s safe to do so.

• Teach soon-to-be drivers how to change a tire.

• Teach kids of all ages about saving and budgeting. Show teenagers the value of investing and the wonders of compound interest.

• Plan a dream vacation. Take virtual tours of your destination online.

• Have a family talent show. Hold a contest for the best original rap song.

• Encourage teenagers to research colleges, majors, and scholarships.

• Tour famous zoos or museums online.

• Create a mock podcast by writing a compelling serial or interviewing one another.

• Tackle The New York Times Crossword as a family. It calls for experts in geography, science, ancient history, kids’ literature, rap music, food, movies, Harry Potter, politics, technology, “Game of Thrones,” and a host of other topics.

By the time you work through this list, movie theaters, restaurants, and theme parks might be in full swing again.

Know a Stress Reaction When You See It

Expect a few unpleasant surprises as family members learn to cope.

Even toddlers who are oblivious to the pandemic pick up signals. Don’t be surprised by more frequent temper tantrums. Something you thought was far behind you, like bed-wetting, may come back.

Teenagers may be unusually grumpy. Good students might suddenly have trouble concentrating. COVID-19 has ruined dreams of starring in the high school musical or playing in the Final Four. Be prepared to give your teens a wide berth for a few weeks.

As for spouses, all bets are off. You’re in uncharted waters, so expect some rough sailing.

The point is that everybody reacts differently to stress. If you need to leave the room and remind yourself that the chaos is temporary, do so. You can’t manage everyone else’s anxiety unless you manage your own.

Psychologist Mark Reinecke warns against catastrophic thinking, the tendency to dwell on worst-case scenarios. You shouldn’t have a panic attack every time you cough.

When you get a little freaked out — and everybody does — try not to express your worries within earshot of the kids. Don’t obsess over the number of new virus cases or deaths. Instead, focus on things that are within your control.

Look forward to solutions. This is a great time to exercise your faith, even if you must worship online.

When should you seriously worry about yourself or a family member?

An extended period of withdrawal or profound sadness is a red flag. Rapid weight gain or loss is a bad sign. Sudden chronic health problems, increased use of alcohol, or escalating anger are all good reasons to call your doctor. Take advantage of the pandemic resources and hotlines listed on the CDC website.

Maintain a Sense of Humor

There’s more to a sense of humor than appreciating a good joke.

Humor is learning to laugh at your own foibles. It’s keeping things in perspective. It’s taking a deep breath when you’d rather take off in the car and never come back.

In trying circumstances like COVID-19, a little humor goes a long way to make close-quarters more bearable.

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