#88: CORONAVIRUS - Parenting Q&A with Dr. John Duffy

"The first thing you want to do is acknowledge what your kids are feeling. And then you want to bring reason to it.  We want families to look at this more as a situation than a crisis."

-Dr. John Duffy, talks about how to talk to our kids during these uncertain times.

Dr. John Duffy

Dr. John Duffy
in 10 seconds

In today's conversation, you'll learn 3 key things:

Clip: How To Manage Your Kid’s Anxiety (and your own)
Watch Time: 4 minutes

Rob: Next question is from Carolina. Carolina asks, “How do you you manage your own anxiety and keep older kids (ages 10 and up) calm?

John:  Yes, Carolina, it’s difficult. I think one thing we tend to do at times like this, and it’s totally understandable, is we end up staring at our phones — at CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and inundating ourselves with information.

It’s important to be well-informed, but if you’re like most of us, we are overplaying that and are probably stressing ourselves out.

I’m working with a lot of people who are in very much a crisis mode, which is also understandable, but at some point, we do have to find a new temporary normal for ourselves so that we can be calm.

So if you can kind of think that way and start to structure your days so that you feel like, “Okay. It’s going to be like this for a while. We’re not going to be in crisis mode all day long.

We’re not going to survive that very well with cortisol flowing through our systems, so we’re going to approach our days with some sense of calm and some sense of structure.

That way I, mom or dad, will be able to breathe, and if I can breathe, then I can bring that to my parenting.

And there even may be some familial upside to a situation that has seemingly nothing but downside, in that we are going to be able to spend some time together.

We might be able to get some things done around the house that we would normally not be able to do.

We might be able to create inside jokes, or to play a board game, so that this isn’t just bad news.

Rob: How about talking to your kids about it?

We have younger kids here, seven, five and two, so they’re a little easier to talk about it with, but I’m imagining 10, 13-year-olds that are consuming this.

How would you talk to them to quell their anxiety, and also keep them informed?

John: Yeah, that’s a good question.  So first you want to ask them what they know, because by the time kids get to even 10, 11, 12, they know an awful lot of what’s going on. They have access on whatever screen is in front of them or through friends or other siblings.

So, don’t assume your kids don’t know.

Ask them how they feel.

Ask them what they know.

Ask them what they’re thinking.

Let them talk about their fears and their anxieties.

And do not, I really encourage parents on this point, do not dismiss them or minimize their fears because your kids know to be anxious and fearful.

And if you, minimize the fear or the situation, that will actually spike their anxiety. It will not bring it down.

So the first thing you want to do is acknowledge what they’re feeling.

And then you want to bring reason to it.  So we want to look at this as a family more as a situation than a crisis.

So what can we do? Kids like action steps. So if the action step is we’re going to hole up, we’re going to stay home.

And we’re going to make sure that we kind of create that social distancing that’s going to be a part of what we do as a family.

Or when we go to the grocery store, we’re going to pick some stuff up for the neighbors.

But to have some action plan as a family for what we’re going to do to help mitigate the situation.

Kids do well with that too. At the very least, we want to make sure you’re available to all your kids to talk about any of this stuff, anytime. 

Including your kids who seem fine or are quiet about this.

Don’t assume that because they’re not talking about it, that it’s not on their minds.

Clip: How To Talk To Your Kids About Coronavirus
Watch Time: 2 minutes

Rob: Next question, Julie asked, “I’m friends with a lot of parents of teenagers. With the social distancing going on, and with teenagers always pushing back and wondering why they can’t hang out with their friends,

How can parents of teenagers hold strong? Especially the ones who don’t always feel strong enough to tell their kids no?”

John: Okay, so one thing to keep in mind is a lot of parents are, I find, negotiating with their kids about the social distancing.

“Can I get together with a couple of friends? Can I get together and just go out for a quick bite of ice cream?”

And once you find yourself in a negotiation, you’ve already lost.

This isn’t an area where we want to negotiate, but we also don’t want our kids thinking this is forever.

So the idea of getting physically together with friends for now is off limits.

And with our teenagers we can just explain without negotiating that this social distancing, which in the margins, is not a phrase I love a whole lot, Rob.

I like the idea of physical distancing, but socially connecting.

That might be a discussion for another podcast.

But I think it’s important also to let your kids be in touch with their friends. So whether it’s a phone call or FaceTime or some time on Snapchat or Instagram.  Some time to connect with their friends every day is important.

A lot of the kids I’m working with are teenagers and there is this fear that other kids are getting together, or they’re missing out on something.

And one way to help mitigate that, because that’s a reasonable thing for kids to feel, is to give them some access to social media.

Or if your child is a gamer, let them play games with their friends, virtually for some time during the day — not hours and hours, but a couple of hours on the long end.

We’ll allow them some time to connect. So they don’t feel wholly disconnected with their friends, because that’s not reasonable, especially as time goes on.  They’re going to get more and more antsy and eager to be in touch with their friends.

But, to be physically with them right now, from my understanding of what’s recommended here is, non-negotiable.

And that’s been the discussion in my office for the last several days.

And kids understand.  They’re not thrilled about it. They’re not excited about it, but they understand.

Clip: How To Homeschool & Work (without losing your sh*t)
Watch Time: 2 minutes

Rob: Here’s a question from Allison Hare, she’s the host of the Little Left of Center podcast.

Allison asks, “How do you not lose your sh*t on your kids, while you are trying to work and be a good parent?”

We’re all homeschooling right now, so I’m sure you could speak to speak to this.

John: It’s a great question, Allison, and I think it’s going to get harder, not easier as time goes on..

I think we’re looking at, at the very least a few weeks of this. So, it’s a very relevant question.

And I think the key is to protect some time for yourself.

I think some of the parents I’m working with now, feel overwhelmed and like they’re drowning in their kids and their work.

Despite the fact that they’re at home and this does not feel like any kind of vacation from anything for them, but actually a burden and a bigger workload.

What I’m encouraging parents to do is to protect some time for themselves, away from the kids, away from the family, in a different area of the house.

Download the Calm app or the Headspace app.

Do some meditation, listen to some music, do some yoga, do some exercise.

Get out of that kind of crisis thinking that I need to be with the family every second, every waking moment, and protect some time for yourself.

Then you’ll have some juice, some goodwill, and positive energy to bring to the family, as opposed to just feeling tapped out like so many parents already do with their families.

We want to get you out of that space and into a space where you do some self-care every day so that you can feel energized. 

And to some extent, invigorated enough that you have the energy to parent effectively without losing your sh*t, which is a very reasonable phrase in these circumstances.

Clip: How Can Parents Come Together?
Watch Time: 2 minutes

Rob: Here’s a question from Steven Nullman, he’s a family law attorney at

Steven says, a lot of my clients are freaking out, especially parents where you’re seeing: some are of the alarmist type and others think there’s a lot of ‘fearmongering’ going on.

How can parents and spouses specifically connect with each other?

This is a whole new dilemma where parents have never been around each other this much, especially if they’re going through some conflict.

How can they come together in a time like this when they might not always agree on what’s going on in the world?

John:  I’m so glad you asked this one. Thank you, Steven.

A lot of parents I’m working with, disagree about how to approach this with their kids.

Some feel like, okay, we need to make sure they know that we’re in a crisis situation.

Some say they want to protect their kids as best they can.

The first thing I think it’s important for parents to do is to approach this like so many things in parenting.

It’s difficult to do as a united front, to  co-parent and have that discussion before you’re sitting down with your kids and disagreeing in real time about your parenting approach in front of them.

This leaves kids kind of unmoored and unglued unnecessarily.

But if you can talk about how are we going to approach this with the kids together and what tone do we want to set?

What vibe do you want to set?

And if I can just throw a note in on this, Rob, the vibe you want is something below crisis, and above, ‘I couldn’t care less’.

You know your kids are going to have some degree of anxiety, you’re going to have some degree of anxiety.

I think it’s okay to share that.

But again, once we’re in crisis thinking, I don’t think we’re thinking very clearly.

We’re not making very good decisions and we’re not modeling a very good approach to the situation for our kids.

Because they’re going to follow our lead.

So we want to present a united front and something that consolidates the calm, yet heightened approach that we want to bring to the situation.

Clip: Is Coronavirus Straining Your Marriage?
Watch Time: 2 minutes

Rob: You’re seeing a lot of parents stuck at home for work and around each other more than normal.

I’m sure a lot of conflicts are going to arise.

Any tips on how spouses can get along during this time?

I’m sure getting outside and taking some alone time is a valuable tip.

John: Absolutely. Yes. I think it’s really important.

I think marriages are going to be strained, because we’re not protecting a whole lot of time.

And I think in these first few days of the kind of lockdown, it’s ok to get acclimated, but very quickly, it’s important to spend some time on your relationship.

So just spend some time at night together, just to take a walk, to have a meal together while the kids are doing something else in some other part of the house.

Where you can just, normalize your relationship as well.

That will help the kids feel better too.

But it’s also important to fuel that relationship, because I think we’re in for a reasonably long haul here, and none of our marriages have ever been through anything like this before, just like none of our parenting has.

So we need to attend to our relationships, no doubt about it.

And I think protecting some space and time for them every single day is going to prove very important.

Thank you Dr. John Duffy, for giving us actionable tips on how to talk to our kids, our spouses, and ourselves during these volatile and uncertain times.


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