Tinkergarten founder Meghan Fitzgerald joined HiMama CEO and co-founder Ron Spreeuwenberg on the Preschool Podcast recently to talk about re-entry, kids’ regression during quarantine and more. Below is a condensed transcript of their chat; listen to it in its entirety here!
Ron Spreeuwenberg: I'm starting to have some quarantine isolation fatigue here. How can parents deal with that?
Meghan Fitzgerald: I think we're feeling fatigue in a number of different ways. We're feeling the fatigue of isolation. We're also feeling a fatigue of trying to be caregivers and teachers to our children. Many of us who aren't teachers, weren't trained to be teachers, are filling that role for our kids, making sure that they have engaging things to do all day.
And then for many of us, that's also balancing the work full-time. My husband and co-founder Brian and I are working on Tinkergarten all the time. That job has not changed, but this additional job of being the teachers to our three children, on top of that, is a mathematical impossibility. Even though I'm a trained educator, it's overwhelming. Balancing all of those pieces is really tricky too.
To support families, we can start with the social isolation. There are a series of resources on our blog to help families navigate this process of reopening, and thinking about how to move from this point of isolation back into a more integrated social world. And that really comes with some uncertainty and fear. How do you help small children be prepared to reenter public spaces and social interactions in a way that keeps them safe? That can feel overwhelming.
And what we've been doing as a family, and what we're encouraging families to do, is to practice social distance at home, where it's safe. So, we have some great tips, like lying down the tallest parent, and then playing with your child at the two ends of you marking the head, marking the foot, and playing games together, so that you feel what it's like to be six feet apart.
If you are willing to try and step back in, schedule some really quick playdates with friends, and do them outside. The New York times cited the mounting evidence that the rates of transmission of germs and disease are so much lower outside.
RS: Something has been on my mind a little bit more, as we start to talk about reopening of the economy, and childcare programs, is separation anxiety.
MF: It's been a very intense time. And I think we, also, as adults, need to prepare for that separation anxiety. It seems ironic because a lot of us are a little overwhelmed and long for the day when we can go to work and have work time, or while you're working at home and then our kids can go to care, and we can have some of those clean lines. But at the same time, we've had the benefit of knowing they're safe and having them with us, and there have been very sweet moments sprinkled throughout. So, I think parents will also have a lot of feelings that we need to prepare ourselves for, as well.
Practice some of the things that are going to be important for your child; if they're over 2, they may need to wear a mask. Different schools and settings will have different criteria. If that's a piece of what your child will need to experience, and what you'll want your child to experience to stay even safer, we have a whole post in our blog about how to make friends with masks, because that is a very big thing for kids, that you have something on your face, especially for children whose sensory systems really have strong responses to touch. Children are actually quite good at adjusting to new situations, but they need the opportunity to build familiarity.
RS: A lot of parents will be experiencing guilt. How do we deal with that?
MF: We consistently hear from our families and each other that we just feel like we're failing on all fronts. So, one of the things to do is to redefine parenting success. I think success, right now, looks like getting through, and reframing what our expectations are for our kids.
In terms of our kids' wellbeing, they have a lot more covered than we think, because we are here all the time. So if we can take care of ourselves, and start putting the oxygen mask on ourselves a little bit on the airplane, and we can just say balanced, and make sure that we are giving ourselves reasonable expectations, and not be too hard on ourselves, we will be sustainable for our kids, and our kids will cue off of us.
One thing that we can benefit from, that they'll benefit from also, is focusing on the climate in our house, rather than the weather in our houses. So, if we have a day that's rough, or moments where siblings are squabbling, or we're just not feeling like we're really nailing it as a parent, we can always grab a moment and just cuddle our kids, or read a favorite story, or just build in a few sweet moments, that actually get some touch and some connection. It doesn't have to be a long period of time. It just has to be of quality.
We can really help ourselves with lessening our expectations, and think about setting up a schedule for our kids in a way that's age-appropriate, and then build in as much independent play as possible. Remember how much children learn through play: They're hitting cognitive goals, physical goals, social goals, even if they're playing on their own. Having some really well-designed prompts for play for your kids will not only lead them to play longer and more independently, but they also can help you rest in knowing that the time that they're spending at play is really helping them learn.
Think about setting up areas in the house for play, or setting out the right materials and giving the right kind of prompts for kids.
RS: Can you give an example of those prompts?
MF: That's what we've designed our Tinkergarten Circle Time classes to provide. Really simple ways to set up prompts, and then support independent play. When kids are really independently driving their play, they're getting the full benefit.
RS: As parents, how do we know if our kids are doing OK or not?
MF: We have another blog post about regression. In this moment in time, children are regressing, certainly, especially in their social and emotional growth. They can appear to move back several stages. It can be a comfort to parents to realize that that's quite natural, if not to be expected. To many experts, that is actually a defensive response to a very extreme situation.
You sense that your parents are stressed. You are confused because sometimes they're working, sometimes they're available. You're isolated from friends. It's actually quite natural for children to decide to move back a few stages in order to get more attention, in order to solicit some of that comfort that they need without even realizing they're doing it.
In many ways it's even a protective mechanism. So, it's not such a terrible thing. It can be frustrating as a parent because this is already a hard time, so to have your child regressing on top of it is stressful. But sometimes it helps just to frame it as very much a response, and maybe even a helpful response for your child. That's an important thing to just take some of the edge off.
And then patience, and knowledge that kids are really resilient, and they really do adjust again.