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108: How to cope with the Coronavirus pandemic
15th March 2020 • Your Parenting Mojo - Respectful, research-based parenting ideas to help kids thrive • Jen Lumanlan
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In this episode we discuss how to cope with parents’ and children’s fear and anxiety related to the Coronavirus pandemic, how to keep the children busy so you can get some work done (without resorting to hours of screen time), and how to use the time that you are focused on them to develop your family relationships as well as their learning, rather than you driving each other nuts. To download a FREE sample routine to help you organize your days, and also join a FREE one-week workshop to give you the tools you need to cope with this situation, please go to   Other episodes mentioned in this show Talk Sex Today Understanding the AAP’s new screen time guidelines Raising your child in a digital world   Resources List of video conferencing companies offering free services Geocaching website Nature journaling videos with John Muir Laws   [accordion] [accordion-item title="Click here to read the full transcript"] Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast!  I know that listeners who have been with me for a while know that an episode is going to be different when I dispense with the music at the beginning – I think the last time I did this was six months ago when I announced that I was taking a break from the show.  But have no fear; I’m not going anywhere – I just did it today to indicate that this is not a normal show because these are not normal times.  I’m recording this on March 15 2020, four days after the World Health Organization declared that the coronavirus outbreak is a pandemic, which means it is dispersed across a very wide geographic area and affects many individuals at the same time.  Many, many things have been canceled in the last few days – most schools are canceled for at least the next few weeks; big events are canceled or postponed, and we’re being advised to practice ‘social distancing’ by remaining six feet apart from other people. This all seems really big and super stressful and I’m not going to go into the details of much of the epidemiological information because frankly that isn’t my specialty.  But I also know that a lot of you are struggling with issues that very much do fall into my wheelhouse – things like “what on earth am I going to do with my kids for the next six weeks when we usually start to get on each other’s nerves on day six of a vacation,” and “will my child get behind on school work,” and “how am I going to still get my own WORK work done so I can get paid and keep us afloat while we’re all cooped up in this tiny space?” So in this episode I’m going to cover two main things – firstly, resources for you, because you may well be feeling quite anxious and approaching the end of your rope already and unsure how you’re going to make it through the coming weeks. Then we’ll talk about issues that affect your children while we’re going through this and how to answer your children’s questions about the virus and how to be thoughtful about screen time when it seems like there’s nothing else to do and also how to support their learning while they’re out of school. And because I know some of you are REALLY stressed out about this, I also want to let you know about a FREE one-week workshop that I’m running starting on March 23rd. It draws together elements of many of the paid workshops and memberships that I’ve built over the last few years into resources that you can use RIGHT NOW.  So for example, I’m in the middle of hosting a workshop on Taming Your Triggers, where we spend weeks digging into the many sources of your triggers because we often find that if we understand those better it creates space for us to choose a different reaction.  But right now we KNOW the source of our triggers – for many of us it’s our anxiety about the virus and about being cooped up with our kids – whom we love and cherish and enjoy, but just not ALL DAY EVERY DAY.  So we go right to the strategies that you can put in place immediately to feel less triggered by the situation, which will allow you to respond more effectively to your child when they’re acting out. We’ll also cover similar, immediately implementable strategies to cope with sibling fighting in a way that gives your children tools to solve their own problems, ways to keep children busy so you can get things done, and how to use their own interests as a jumping off point for real learning that isn’t based on worksheets or spelling drills or math problems for when you do have focused time with them. So if all that sounds like something you could use, just head on over to and sign up; you just have to enter your name and email address and you’re in.  There’s no charge whatsoever, so if you know of other parents among your friends, family, colleagues, and online networks and groups that could benefit from this then please do feel free to forward the page. The workshop gets started on March 24th, and as a bonus, as soon as you sign up I’ll email you a sample daily routine that you can use to bring a sense of order to the few days that we have until we get started.  I don’t think you necessarily need a formal schedule, and you may do just fine even without the parameters of a loose routine, but since many of our children will be coming from the highly routinized worlds of daycare and school, they may find the structure gives them a sense of security when so much around them might feel uncertain.  So that routine should carry you through the days when this is all still new and being out of daycare or school is still somewhat exciting, and then when you’re starting to get on each other’s nerves and you’re wondering how you’re going to do this for the foreseeable future, I’ll be standing right alongside you with tools to help.  If you’d like to download that sample schedule and sign up for the workshop, just go to, and as a reminder it is completely FREE, so please do share it with anyone you think might benefit. OK, so on to our topic for today – and in the spirit of putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others with theirs, let’s start with you. I know a lot of you are really anxious about what’s happening in the world at the moment, so I want to be really specific about our language here and define our terms.  I’m going to walk through the difference between fear, worry, anxiety, and panic. When we’re thinking about fear, then that’s a response to a known or definite threat.  If we’re hiking in the woods and we see a bear, fear is a normal response.  Our bodies use fear to trigger us to do something productive, which is usually fight or flight, or sometimes the freeze response which can mean playing physically – or emotionally – dead.  For many of us, we are very fortunate that in the situation we’re in with the virus, objectively speaking there really isn’t a lot to fear.  If we are healthy and our children are healthy and the elderly people we know are staying home and staying away from people who might have been infected, then there really isn’t a lot to have actual fear about.  Yes, there is still a possibility that we might catch the virus and we’ll probably feel crappy for a couple of weeks, but the transmission rate in children seems to be very low, and the fatality rate in healthy adults and children is very very low, so we probably won’t be too severely impacted. But if we think out beyond our immediately fortunate circumstances, then there actually is quite a lot of reason to be afraid.  If our elderly relatives can’t be completely isolated, or if we or our family members are immunocompromised, or if we care about people who are forced to live in close quarters like prison, or who are homeless and lack access to the basic sanitation practices that we are able to take for granted, or if we are working on the front lines in hospitals then that fear suddenly seems very rational because there IS a threat.  The threat is HERE, and it’s happening now. When we feel fear for an extended period of time – longer than it takes to run away from a bear - we often worry.  Worrying is defined by being exact; we’re not generally worried about things in general; we’re worried about something specific.  We’re worried that we are going to catch the virus and pass it on to others.  We’re worried that our vulnerable friends and relatives are going to be seriously ill or die. In many cases, in regular life, worry is actually adaptive, which means it’s useful.  It tells us that there’s something we need to focus on and maybe shift our approach.  The problem here, of course, is that many of us are already doing the things we’ve been told to do to reduce the transmission of the virus, but if there are things we simply can’t do – like not going to work if we’re a nurse and we’re not sick, or completely protecting our parents who are in ill health – and then it’s much more difficult to reduce the worry by changing our approach. When we can’t reduce our worries, they may become generalized into anxiety, which is a diffuse, unpleasant, vague sense of apprehension.  It’s possible that you might not even say what’s making you anxious – yes, you’re anxious about the virus, but even after you’ve rationally told yourself about the relatively low risks to most people, you might still feel anxious and not really be able to fully explain why.  We don’t often feel worry in our bodies, but we feel anxiety.  The official diagnosis requires three or more of the following six symptoms to be present – restlessness or feeling on edge; being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance.  These reactions aren’t going to help you to cope with any specific threat, so they are maladaptive.  A good test is to tell a friend about your thoughts – if they can understand, you’re worrying.  If they say “that makes no sense,” or if you already know yourself that it makes no sense, that’s probably anxiety.  Worry might make us nervous, but anxiety makes us afraid; it feels beyond our control, and it changes our ability to function in life for a substantial period of time – the diagnosis criteria say six months on this, although I’m guessing that in acute situations like this that the six month criteria may not be as relevant. A panic attack is like an acute onset of anxiety.  Instead of having ongoing, low to moderate intensity physical symptoms and a generalized sense of apprehension, the official diagnosis of a panic attack is defined as periods of intense fear or discomfort in which at least four of the following 13 symptoms develop quickly, reaching a peak within 10 minutes.  The 13 symptoms are pounding heartbeat, sweating, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, feeling of choking, chest pain, nausea, feeling dizzy or faint, derealization (which means you have altered perceptions about your self and/or your environment), fear of losing control or going crazy, numbness or tingling, and chills or hot flushes.  If you are already anxious then it’s possible that you might experience the symptoms of a panic attack if you’re in a public place where people are coughing and sneezing, especially if that place is your work so you can’t escape from it. And when we’re experiencing these things one of the things we’re probably also worrying about the impact that our experience is having on our children.  Some children aren’t terribly perceptive and might not notice that something is wrong, while others will be sensitive to every shift in your mood. Either way, many of them will notice if your symptoms cause you to snap at them or lash out at them, and of course it’s hard enough to be patient with your children when you’re cooped up with them in a small space, even if you WEREN’T experiencing fear, worrying, anxiety, or maybe even panic attacks yourself, along with all the uncertainty that comes with the constant change in status of what’s open and whether we’re still going to have a job in six weeks and if our city is going to be put on lockdown. So what can we do?  If we think about what helps us to feel less afraid, worried, and anxious, it’s usually not that someone tells us “Don’t worry; that thing you’re thinking about is never going to happen.” These aren’t rational responses in us, so they often don’t respond well to rational logic. It’s far more powerful to reach out to a friend (via phone!) and say “hey, I’m really worried.  Can I talk with you about it?”  Hopefully if your friend is a good listener they’ll empathize with your feelings and your experience first, and connect with you as a human being to show you they care about you before letting you know whether or not you’re being irrational.  And if they’re worried too, hopefully you can do the same thing for them. When we are ready for some rational information, we can try to understand what is the real risk to ourselves and our family.  It can be hard to see countries on lockdown and not think that this virus is coming to get us personally, and while the risk to the community is very large, the personal risk to you as an individual is actually quite small.  We just can’t extrapolate the community risk to the personal risk and assume that because the community risk is large, the personal risk is also large.  Finding trusted sources of information on issues like this is really important – so look to places like the World Health Organization, or your healthcare provider. You can look at what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is doing as an advisory, but I will say that in general the American government has not been good at detecting, understanding, and reducing risks associated with all kinds of public health threats over the years, and that they it tends to be more reactionary than proactive so I personally don’t necessarily trust that I’m getting all the information I need in a timely manner from them. You can do a simple mental risk analysis and ask yourself if you know of anyone who has been infected with the virus, and if you’ve been in contact with them.  If you have, then there’s definitely more of a reason to worry than if you haven’t. And thirdly, what are the steps you can reasonably take to prevent the spread of the virus?  These are fairly simple – regular, effective handwashing for 20 seconds, not touching your face, and staying away from someone who might be infected.  That’s where the advice to maintain social distance comes into play, and most of what I’m reading says to stay around six feet or two meters from other people when you’re out.  There’s probably not a lot of point in wearing a face mask unless it’s a very high quality one and you’re trained in how to use it and you are disciplined in using it – I was at the hospital the other day picking up some medicine for poison oak and I can’t tell you how many people I saw with masks pushed down around their chins.  Masks are actually mostly designed to keep nasty stuff in rather than out, so they’re designed for sick people to wear so they don’t get other people sick, not for healthy people to wear to keep other people’s germs out.  There are mask shortages as well at the moment so it’s best to save those for people who are on the front lines dealing with real exposure risk. For those of you who are in these situations where you genuinely do have an elevated risk of exposure, my heart goes out to you.  One of the things that seems to happen when we experience symptoms related to anxiety is we feel alone, and like no one else can possibly understand.  But since there are thousands of people experiencing this right now, it’s highly likely that there are very many people who do understand how you’re feeling not only about the exposure, but the fact that this is happening in a situation that you can’t get out of.  One thing you might try is to create a virtual social community for people who are at increased exposure risk using a phone or video conferencing tool so you don’t actually have to be together in the same room.  I’ll put a link in the references to an article about video conferencing providers who are offering free services right now. It could be as simple as you and a colleague sending out an email saying you’ll be on the line at a certain time; if nobody else shows up then you’ll have one other person to talk with, but you might find that many others have been feeling a need for connection like this but didn’t know how to make it happen. When we’re anxious it’s possible that understanding rationally that our actual risk of exposure is fairly low if we have access to adequate protective equipment, but you also need to address the emotional aspect as well which seeks reassurance and solidarity and empathy, so by going at this from both sides you’ll stand the best chance of making it through this with your sanity intact.  In the free workshop we’ll go more deeply into some other tools you can use to create space for yourself when you feel triggered so you can choose a different response, as well as resources to help you have conversations about your fears with your colleagues and your partner that invite them to help you and allow you to offer your support to them.  We’ll also talk about a concept from Buddhism called grasping, which is the idea that we tend to get attached to certain outcomes (like keeping our families safe) that in reality we really can’t control.  Taking steps to stop grasping – even as we continue to take all necessary precautions like handwashing and social distance – can go an enormously long way toward releasing the grip that anxiety has over us. This is really powerful work, and I’m excited to share it with you in the workshop. OK, so that was a lot on anxiety specifically related to the virus.  For those of us who aren’t feeling especially anxious about our risk of exposure, there’s still the anxiety of knowing that while we love our children, we really do better when we spend a significant chunk of the day apart from them.  Even for those of you who have chosen to be stay-at-home-parents, getting out of the house and socializing both with other children and other parents has probably provided a big part of the resources that you use to feel connected and have a purpose beyond that of raising your children, and with that rug pulled out from under you, you too may also feel very isolated.  One thing I really want to underscore here is that I don’t think you need a minute-by-minute schedule that tries to replicate the kind of schedule your child has at school, and when we talk about children more in a minute I’ll also make the case that keeping up on school work is a pretty low priority. But I do think that if your children have been in a very structured environment and will probably be going back to a very structured environment in a few weeks, that there’s a strong case for maintaining some semblance of a daily routine. A routine is different from a schedule in that a schedule says exactly what you’ll be doing and when, while a routine is more of a loose structure that you use to guide you.  If neither you nor your child thrives on routine and you’re both welcoming these unstructured days with wide open arms then I’d say to go for it and run with





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