Working from home while teaching and caring for your kids isn’t easy during this crisis. In today’s edition of “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction,” CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks to moms and dads about parenting in a pandemic.
You can listen to it on your favorite podcast or read the transcript below.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: If you’re a parent like me, you’ve probably gotten at least some questions from your kids about the outbreak. Maybe they’ve been asking just what is an outbreak? How serious is it? Or maybe just simply why are they not going to school?
You don’t want to scare your kids, but you also want them to be careful and understand why they can’t play with their friends.
That’s why in today’s episode, I invited my colleague – CNN anchor Kate Bolduan – who’s also a mother herself – to talk about how we, as parents, can get through this together with our kids.
I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent. And this is “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.”
Dr. Gupta: You have two daughters. I have three daughters. Your daughters are five and two?
Kate Bolduan: Five and two. Yeah.
Dr. Gupta: Five and … I can’t believe, Kate, that you have … I still remember. Before you had any kids.
Bolduan: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Gupta: Your kids are young? Did you talk to them about it?
Bolduan: I typically try to protect them from the news, which isn’t easy, obviously, because of my job. But, you know, that’s how I approach it when I’m dealing with a stressful situation.
But that strategy, speaking to, kind of, the unprecedented nature of this, completely failed on me here. Then my daughter came running out of school and she said, “Mom, there is something called Corona and everybody is getting sick,” says my 5-year-old. And I did not handle it well. I said, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about, Cecilia. We just need to wash our hands more.”
But then that failed because her imagination was running. She heard about this thing. And so we’re walking down the street in New York. She points at a man, the poor man. “Does he have the sickness?” “Oh, no no no, Cecilia. OK, c’mon. C’mon, sweetie.” “Does he have the sickness, mom?” And it continued and continued. And there was that moment. I was like, “Kate. It is time to call in the experts because this is a new situation.”
Dr. Gupta: So Kate asked her daughters’ pediatrician and other experts for advice on how best to talk to her kids about the outbreak.
Bolduan: First and foremost, through all my conversations, hours with them, the most important thing that children of all ages need is reassurance. While we don’t have all the answers, they need reassurance in this time of uncertainty, that they are going to be OK and that mommy and daddy are likely going to be OK.
For older kids, in terms of not avoiding the subject, that may come in the form of addressing misinformation that they are going to hear from their friends or they’re going to see on social media. Just having an open dialogue with them, asking them, “What questions do you have, what are you concerned about?”
For younger kids, they suggested, and I thought this was really fantastic, to start with, just demystifying terms.
Dr. Gupta: I love that. That’s great. It’s educational and yet reassuring at the same time.
Bolduan: Yeah. And they universally said, “Check yourself first, check your own stress levels first, because just as important as what you were saying to them is how you’re acting and how you’re saying it to them.” So if you’re behaving in a highly stressed manner, your children may simply be picking up on and emulating this behavior. And also then to my obvious faulty start, do not avoid the subject because their lives are being interrupted, just like our lives are being interrupted, and they have questions, and then their imaginations will run wild.
Dr. Gupta: School closures can be a nightmare situation for some parents, especially if you’re also working at the same time.
Like many parents out there, last week, CNN’s senior health producer Nadia Kounang found out her childrens’ schools were closing.
Nadia Kounang: In a way, it wasn’t surprising because obviously we were reporting that schools were closing, but it’s still not quite the same when it happens to you. Like it’s just a lot because we have two kids. We have a 4 year old, almost 5 year old and a 7 year old. And I mean, they go to school. And they have childcare, and that’s what we rely on so that we can actually go to work. And so it’s a lot of hoops that you’re thinking about, like, “How do I work and make sure we’re taking care of our kids?”
Dr. Gupta: Nadia is – like many of you – juggling multiple jobs right now. She’s reporting on the coronavirus while taking care of two young children at home.
Our team visited Nadia and her family at home last week to see how they’ve been doing.
Kounang: It’s challenging, it’s been hard to manage. obviously working at CNN covering this, has been really intense on our family. My kids have, whenever they’re like, “Oh, are you working again?” I’m like, “Yeah.” They’re like, “Is it because of coronavirus?” I’m like, “Yeah.” So that’s tough. So that’s already hard enough. But this definitely adds a whole other level of pressure.
Dr. Gupta: Fortunately for Nadia, a former teacher at Nora’s school reached out to families in the neighborhood offering childcare help.
Kounang: I think that’s the only way it would have worked for us. I mean, we’re fortunate we were able to do that. One, we have the funds. Two, we are lucky because there was someone available that had already been vetted and we knew and I felt comfortable with, so that helped.
Dr. Gupta: Even with the extra help, it’s been challenging to manage her son Max’s home schooling.
Kounang: I don’t know if we didn’t realize … Or I don’t know what we were supposed to expect. But Max’s teacher – so Max is in first grade – she e-mailed us this giant schedule. I’ll read it to you. But it’s crazy. It’s like goes from 8:15 to 3:45.
Nadia’s husband, Craig Hesterlee: It’s their regular school day.
Kounang: Yeah. I mean, this is a lot of work. We haven’t done it that way. We just can’t. Like one, I’m not even here. I’ve had to have someone else help me with that.
Dr. Gupta: Nadia says her kids know that school is out because of the coronavirus.
Kounang: I mean, we’ve talked about it. And it’s interesting, I think they’ve had little lessons at school. They’ve been much more aware about washing their hands. They’re, like, we have to wash for 20 seconds. They know about, like, we have to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice. I wouldn’t say they always remember to. But, you know, they’re aware of it. I think they’ve been watching a video about germs. That’s what they said.
Dr. Gupta: Not everyone has been able to make it work like Nadia’s family.
Kounang: But there’s still a large population of kids, I think, who really rely on the school for their services. And there are parents there who, I mean, they work shift jobs, you know, they either … They have to go into work or maybe they don’t have work now … The other thing is, they may not have a computer, like the work that we have to do for school relies on us having both a computer or a device of some sort and Internet. What if you don’t have that stuff, right?
Randi Weingarten: And frankly, you have a digital divide between wealthy and non-wealthy.
Dr. Gupta: Here’s Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Weingarten: So why would you actually think that you’re going to replace schooling with online when so many kids at home don’t have wi-fi? So we’re going to have to just figure out how to help create engagement and how to help create calm and how to get the facts out to help kids as much as possible.
Dr. Gupta: But schools – and communities – are doing what they can to lift some of the childcare and financial load.
Arne Duncan: Schools aren’t just schools, they’re amazing social safety nets, and over 30 million students rely on schools for their meals.
Dr. Gupta: CNN spoke to Arne Duncan, the former Education Secretary under President Obama.
Duncan: And so we have places like here in Chicago giving out 100,000 meals. You have in LA distribution centers around the city where they’re feeding kids. We’re now working on the learning part, and you’re seeing some very different things. You’re seeing high-tech and low-tech. In places like Cleveland, you’re seeing it on bus routes, the people dropping off both food and homework.
Dr. Gupta: He says he’s been seeing a lot of great leadership and creativity on the local and state level.
Duncan: You’re seeing in places like Miami, where every child has a device in their – a little bit farther ahead, some very good blended learning going on there. You’re seeing school districts from Indiana to Utah, where there isn’t access to wi-fi, wi-fi enabled buses being parked in those neighborhoods to close that digital divide. So you’re seeing amazing creativity, you see people working really hard.
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Dr. Gupta: Again, I want to be really careful because there’s people who are legitimately suffering out there, for sure, but the reality is that these things are unfolding in front of us in real time. And for my girls, you know, it’s going to be one of the most significant events in their lives. My 11-year-old’s birthday was this past Monday. And she was upset because we canceled her party.
But we still spent time together as a family – we went for a walk outside – and while she didn’t get her party, I reminded her it’s a birthday she’ll never forget.
We’ll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.