Navigating the New Normal: Q&A


What basic information can you give to a child about this crisis?

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris: One of the things that’s really helpful for little ones, because they don’t have a sense of how long this is going to go on for, is to really focus on being honest.

And then another thing that’s really helpful is to focus on the time period that makes sense for a five-year-old.

What can we do today? What can we do tomorrow?
We can focus on activities that can keep them engaged and understanding of what’s happening right now.

Is it OK for me to say “I don’t know right now?”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris: That’s absolutely OK to say “I don’t know.”

I think that one of things that we’re learning is that it’s an opportunity to teach our kids.

What do we do when times are difficult and we’re not sure what’s going on?

How do you explain social distancing to a child?

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris: So for my little ones – my seven-year-old and my four-year-old, one of the things we talk about when we say “remember social distancing!” is that we try to make a game of figuring out how far six feet is.

How far is six feet? Is it as long as that hammock? Is it from here to the stop sign?

And that helps us to be able to play. Still practice social distancing but doing it in a way that it’s not this very awful thing it’s more this game that we can all interact with.

What’s the best way to address big-picture issues like why kids can’t go to the grocery store, to someone who has a smaller capacity to understand them?

Dr. Jenny Radesky: Explaining rules in really simple language, in ways that just say “Right now Mommy needs to do this by myself. But we can play grocery store later.”

If you think of the reasons why she loves that experience with you and maybe try to recreate some of those later on in your day, it may help her cope with the new limit that’s placed.

Is it OK to cry in front of your kids?

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris: This gives us a chance to model for our kids what it’s like when we’re feeling really sad. When we’re feeling really overwhelmed.

And you know what? Sometimes that means that we’re going to cry. But the really important thing is how we come back together.

Letting go of the notion that as parents we always have to have it 100% together. 100% of the time.

It speaks to the issue that self care isn’t selfish. Our well being as parents is really important and it impacts the way that we parent, the way that we respond when our kids have questions.

Is it OK for kids to see their parents snapping or feeling frustrated?

Dr. Jenny Radesky: It just shows that you’re thinking so hard about what your kids need right now. And when you’re thinking hard about what your kids need during a stressful time, you’re doing awesome.

So don’t worry about it, don’t be hard on yourself.

The act of messing up actually lets you repair with your kids, and actually say “Oh, I’m sorry I yelled at you! I was just feeling so full of tension because of X Y and Z.”

How can we help kids process emotions that maybe they don’t fully understand?

Dr. Jenny Radesky:  Emotions are complicated for grown ups to understand too.

And you can have many of them at one time. I actually find that kids understand emotions better in terms of colors and pictures.  So I use a curriculum called “Zones of Regulation”, it has all these nice visuals that I draw out. Where if you’re in the blue zone you’re feeling kind of bored and cranky or just sad. When you’re in the green zone you’re calm and relaxed and focused. When you’re in the yellow zone kind of silly or amped up or agitated. And then red zone is out of control.

And the other nice thing about this is that we can say, “You’re in the yellow zone, how can you get back down to green?”

That’s one approach you can take with a young kid where those colors kind of really resonate with them as a way of thinking through what’s a really abstract concept.

Do you have any advice on helping families combat stress during this time?

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris: It’s really important for parents and kids to understand that when we’re feeling more stress that it isn’t just all in our heads.

That during this time our bodies may actually be making more stress hormones.

But there are simple things that we can do everyday at home to help to regulate the amount of stress hormones that our bodies make.

Regular exercise – everyday, even if it’s just an indoor dance party.

Sleep – having those regular hours of going to bed and waking up at the same time, keeping to that routine is really important.

Mindfulness – that really helps to regulate us and kind of calm our nervous system down.


Social support – having those safe and stable relationships are really important.

And for those who are finding themselves really struggling, now’s a great time to reach out to get mental health support.

A lot of parents are also worried about what to do if their kids get sick during this time, not with COVID, and so should they go to the doctor or is that risky right now?

Dr. Jenny Radesky: It’s understandable that parents feel nervous about going to the doctor.

If you’re unsure and you’re feeling worried about bringing your child in for a checkup or vaccination or an injury, it’s really important to reach out to your child’s pediatric provider.

And just ask – say, you know “I’m feeling nervous about COVID, what are you doing to keep things clean, to keep kids separated?”

How do you manage getting the workload done and giving individual attention to each of the kids?

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris: If it feels like a lot, it’s because it is a lot, so I want to acknowledge that. 

A lot of us who have our checking boxes and our lists and all of that kind of stuff, we may not get as much done as we would hope to.

So just start by giving yourself a break.

You can tell your spouse or your partner or whatever or yourself, you know the Surgeon General of California says it’s OK to give yourself a break.

Dr. Jenny Radesky: If you don’t, you run the risk of burning out. 
This is gonna be months and months, we’re not really sure when it’s gonna let up.

And if we try to over do everything and check off all those usual boxes that we would when life is normal, then you might actually risk making yourself overly anxious.

Lower your expectations of yourself and of your kids, and just focus on the few things you think that really matter.

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris: One of things that I have heard of, is some parents actually take shifts. It’s simply not possible to be a full time employee and a full time educator and a full time parent all at the same time.

Dr. Jenny Radesky:I was just going to add that it’s really OK to ask teachers if there’s some flexibility around the tasks that have been assigned.

And also to just make some decisions, some executive decisions on your own about what’s gonna work for your family.

Dr. Jenny Radesky: And also remember that we’re not all trained as teachers and educators. And it’s not actually normal for us to be around our kids all day.

They need independence from us, and we need independence from them, so it’s OK to be a little creative about what we set up our day as.

The first week when we had no idea what we were doing, my husband did paper planes with my six and ten year old and they just fixed around with it for a couple of hours and we called it science class.

So you can be a teacher in those ways and those life skills matter just as much as the sight words or math facts that your child is maybe missing out on right now.

How will this impact kids socially since kids are not in school, socializing with kids their age?

Dr. Jenny Radesky: I think the way that we set kids up for success to do that is to really try and work on their flexibility.

When you’re playing with them you can work on turn taking, flexibility, seeing things from someone else’s perspective, working together on something, following commands, following steps and finishing something out, not losing your attention span.

All those things will help kids with the re-entry process.

And kids are resilient, they will bounce back from a lot of this.

So I don’t want people worrying about long term damage.

Should I feel guilty about the amount of screen time I’m giving my child? 

Dr. Jenny Radesky: I want parents to know that we’re all gonna have a lot of more times on screens during this pandemic.

And it’s because we need them.

I don’t even like the word “screen time” because it only talks about duration, we’re not talking about the other things that matter.

One way to think about this is promoting the Three C’s.

The first C is who is your child?
Are they the sort of child who becomes obsessed with certain media and needs a lot of rules? Or are they pretty easygoing?

The second C is content.
Violent content really just riles them up and makes it hard for them to sleep. It’s a good idea to choose something positive like Blue’s Clues and You.

Three is context.
So you are one of the parts of your context, you know, how are you watching or talking to your child about what you’re seeing?
Another part of context is what emotions were you feeling right before you started using media.

I hope that reduces the guilt, guilt we often feel when we feel powerless or we feel like we aren’t meeting up to some expectations. There is no expectation right now because this is so different then what we’ve ever experienced before.

So if there’s one thing I would say for parents is to just let go of the guilt.

If you could have a moment especially for your own self care. It’s OK to relax a little on the screen time so that you can have that time.

How do you keep your kids happy, engaged and learning when they’re not able to leave the house?

Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek: One thing to keep in mind is that play and learning aren’t separate.

First of all, believe it or not, one of the things that helps kids learn math is being able to recognize a pattern.

So to follow a pattern when you do a hand clapping game or a simple board game, has the kids roll a dice, ah yes they have to add.

And a simple game of Simon Says, teaching self control.