Moms share their secrets for occupying kids during these uncertain times
By Reed Alexander | @reedalexander
March 19, 2019
On a recent evening in Milan, Alessandra Baldeschi put on her heels and her favorite lipstick. Her husband, meanwhile, slipped into a jacket and necktie.
In the other room, their two kids, ages 12 and 14, were following suit, her daughter in a dress, her son in a blazer. The Baldeschis looked like a well-heeled Italian family with dinner reservations at a stylish spot in the country’s fashion capital. But tonight, they had a reservation at their own dinner table, quarantine-style.
“My husband made a special dinner for us,” says Baldeschi, 47, a mom of two who specializes in media relations for the hospitality industry. “We started with smoked salmon. Then he made us this pasta with big shrimp,” she explained. “He went and bought a nice bottle of Champagne.”
This special home-cooked meal is one way that the Baldeschi family has combated the mixture of monotony and fear that comes with being on lockdown. Outside their doors in northern Italy, life looks grim for the southern European nation, which surpassed China with nearly 5,000 deaths stemming from the coronavirus. The Italian government has frozen more than 60 million Italians in place through at least April 3.
Worldwide, millions of families are changing their lifestyles and adopting strict recommendations to remain under self-imposed quarantines. In the United States, nearly 43 million students have been displaced after more than 100,000 public and private schools closed to slow the spread of the virus, according to Education Week, a data tracking group. Now, parents are searching for tips and strategies to keep their kids occupied, and keep themselves sane.
The Pivot asked three moms, including Baldeschi, to share their strategies. Here are the tips that are working for them:
The tablet is your friend: For younger children especially, having a tablet like an iPad can be just the tool you need to keep kids occupied. “Your default is a tablet or movie,” says Marissa Hayes, a mother of four who manages a communications department for Retreat Behavioral Health, a healthcare provider in Palm Beach, Florida. But, Hayes cautions, set limits on how long they use it: “I’m going to set the timer. You have 20 minutes,” she tells her four boys, and afterward she engages them in more tactile activities, like Legos, coloring books, train track sets, or other games.
Use the backyard to your advantage: The great outdoors are safe for walks, hikes, or other physical activities, experts say. “The older ones are pretty easy; I can have them go play outside,” Hayes says of her two older sons, ages 8 and 9. The fresh air and nature have a calming mental effect, too, but be sure to practice social distancing during outdoor activities.
Fit in a workout: Each afternoon at about 5 p.m., Baldeschi and her family assemble in their living room in Milan and pull up a workout video for a “total body workout” on YouTube. The family sneaks in some much-needed exercise together, a powerful tool for improving not just physical health, but mental health as well, research shows. “Exercise is such a vital part of mental health,” agrees Julie Catalano, 43, a mom of two in Douglassville, Pennsylvania, who is the director of people and culture for Vertex, a global tax technology firm. “We are fortunate to have a treadmill, weight, and pilates machine in our basement, and we use them daily.” Her daughter, a ballerina, has been taking virtual ballet classes on Instagram Live taught by Tiler Peck, a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, from their dining room.
Celebrate special occasions: Making time for special occasions is key for keeping spirits high, perhaps now more than ever. “My son’s 16th birthday is this week,” Catalano says. “I know what kind birthday cake he wants, and I know he wants monkey bread for breakfast, so that’s easy.” She’s planning to virtually gather friends and family around the dinner table, having them sing “Happy Birthday” via FaceTime while her son blows out the candles. “When you’re 16, you want to be with your friends, and you want to go get your learner’s permit,” she said. “He’s not going to be able to do either one of those things, but it’s a small sacrifice in the bigger picture.”
Plan a time to regroup together every day: Set up brief daily family check-ins, Catalano recommends. “Discuss what worked each day and what didn’t, and talk about the plan for tomorrow,” she says. The conversation could get as granular as determining “what rooms will we be taking our calls from,” she added.
This is temporary: Your children may wonder how long this new way of life may last — but the answer to that question is unclear. One solution is to embrace it, and make the most of this time while it lasts. Catalano says: “Appreciate that this is a moment in time when we all need to do things differently. Before we know it, we will go back to the insane pace, and we may miss this togetherness.”
No matter how you choose to keep your kids occupied, moms like Baldeschi, Hayes, and Catalano are keeping their eyes on the bigger picture. “I remember the snowstorm of 1996, trapped inside with my parents with no power,” Catalano recalls. “We cooked on the fire, we played Monopoly. Those were great memories. I hope my kids will look back on this and remember how we made this scary time fun for them.”
And, for Baldeschi, gratitude is the key takeaway. “I think we’ll have much more of a sense of what’s important,” she predicts of when her family finally emerges into the world-after-coronavirus. “We’ll be more conscious of how grateful we’ll always be.”