Parents everywhere are getting emails from kids’ principals and pediatricians explaining that lengthy school closures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus have gone from a “can you imagine?!” hypothetical to something resembling a distinct possibility. While the information out there remains scarily vague, we are not new to the notion of being stuck inside with little ones as moms with six kids between us, ages 7 to 17. It might be COVID-19 this week, but when you’re a parent, there’s always something. Snowstorms, stomach bugs, and strep throat are clear and present dangers to a life involving fresh air, for parents and kids alike.
And while there are plenty of lists out there telling you what to stock up on, when it comes to keeping kids occupied, hand sanitizer and zinc lozenges will only get you so far. And while your kids might think unlimited screen time sounds fantastic, the rebound crankiness your preschooler will have after a day’s worth of even the gentlest, most educational programming will not have been worth those few productive hours. So here are the things we think parents should prepare now for ahead of being stuck inside with your kids— and how to avoid the shack-wackys, once you are.
Get A White Board
The best way to get through the new reality of being in each other’s faces all day? Make a plan. Write the activities for the day on a white board— mealtimes, reading times, movie night— and post it near the kitchen table. (Draw pictures for the non-readers.) The true wonder of a white board is that kids never try to negotiate with it. If Mom says to turn off Mario Kart at 10 a.m., there will probably be wailing and gnashing of teeth, no matter how many reasonable warnings were given. But if the white board says “screen time” ends at 10 a.m., kids just fall in line! You don’t have to save the white board for quarantine situations, but it’s a must to have around if that’s where you end up.
Hit The Library
Even our reluctant readers were always happy to settle down with a pile of books they hadn’t seen before. Take out an assortment of titles for your kids and stash them away until the stir-crazies set in; then deploy a “book trap.” While your kids are out of the room, spread a blanket out on the floor picnic-style, and scatter the new books across it. Let them discover it themselves. If your kids are anything like ours, you’ve just found an hour of peaceable silence.
Diapers, Wipes, & Chicken Nuggets
It’s not that the items we go through the most as parents will be suddenly unavailable in a pandemic; it’s that you don’t want to discover you’re almost out of diapers once you’re trying not to leave the house. Get an extra pack of diapers and wipes while you’re thinking of it. And if you’ve got a picky eater who only eats certain sorts of Lunchables, stock up on those too. When you’re already tired and cranky, convincing your toddler to try sardines probably won’t go so well.
Sneak In Productivity
Cabin-fever days are perfect for attacking the back of the closet, the pile of unmatched socks, and the Tupperware that never seems to have a top. Have your kid do a fashion show with the dress-up clothes they only wear a couple times a year, then put the too-tight stuff right into a bag for the thrift store. Pay a nickel for each pair of socks that get matched. Sharpen all the colored pencils (and throw away the broken ones) when it’s time to color. If your kids give you a hard time, set a timer and make it a game. Little hands can do a lot in 10 minutes!
Our families live by “sky rules” when we travel by air. Basically, it means that at 35,000 feet, anything goes. If eating Cheetos and watching Paw Patrol keeps them happy as we fly the not-always-friendly skies, then it’s okay with us. And even though we believe in routine and schedule and variety, there are times when a pandemic quarantine might need some “sky rules” too. Our kids may eat too much pasta. They may watch an entire Disney+ series in one sitting. They may fight with their siblings. A lot. And that’s OK. You’ll know when it’s time to say “how about we all do some homework?” and when it’s time to let things slide. Your number one job as a parent is to get your family through it all. So let the rules you set help you — and when they don’t, let them be. Finding the right balance will be what makes each day go by in the easiest way possible.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.