We’re all overcoming a variety of struggles during this unprecedented time and doing our best to adapt to the changes that seem to be happening daily. As if it wasn’t difficult enough as it is trying to keep productive after having our routines completely disrupted, we’re now having to figure out how to keep our kids learning and entertained, all while keeping our sanity!
Parents are in a tough spot right now, so I really wanted to put together this webinar with my friend and parenting coach, Kiran Gaind, to reassure us parents, that we’re not alone. Listen or read below as Kiran provides us with some grounding advice and incredible resources on how to get through this. I’ve listed Kiran’s information, along with some helpful links, beneath the transcript in case any of you would like to get in touch with her.
Transcript from our call:
Ruth Krishnan: I am here with Kiran, who is a parenting coach and close friend of mine. We were in a birthing class together, but friends long before that, and prior to becoming a parenting coach, she was a teacher. As you guys know, I’ve been working really hard to bring together professionals to talk about things we’re facing right now as we deal with COVID, staying in place, and other stuff we’ve been dealing with forever, like parenting. These are tips that, regardless of what’s going on in the world, I think we can use, anytime. I asked Kiran to share some things with us, so let’s get started. How are you, Kiran?
Kiran Gaind: We are all doing as well can be under the circumstances. My kids are on “spring break” this week, so that’s been pretty interesting. We’re managing. My husband is working from home too, so it’s the little things that keep us going. We try to make sure we get some fresh air, and the dogs get us out. I have to get the kids to not just sit on their screens all day, so anything that gets them up and gets them moving makes me happy. We’re doing okay for now.
Ruth Krishnan: Kiran and I both have kids and oddly enough, we had our kids within a week of each other. She has two girls (7 and 10) and I have two boys (7 and 10). Kiran works with parents with kids of all ages, so she will talk about that. We’re also on spring break this week, so I’m sure these kids will be running in here at some point to ask me for something, I think they’re building some matchbox cars out of CDs right now:)
So what can parents do to stay sane right now? I heard a statistic that drinking has gone up by about 66% during shelter in place. I think mine has gone up 200%. I normally don’t drink very much during the week, but now I’m like, “It’s five o’clock, where’s my tequila?”
Kiran Gaind: We could’ve brought a cocktail onto the call! This situation is so inherently frustrating and anxiety-producing, and all the ways we would normally cope with something like this, by seeing a friend, doing something else, getting out of the house, and dealing with those feelings, are not available. These feelings can be here, regardless, but right now the volume on them is up very high, and not just for us, but also for the kids. They’re missing their friends, they’re missing their structure, they’re missing their teachers, they’re missing the amount they usually learn; and this curve ball was just thrown at us, so our schools were not prepared, we were not prepared, and the kids were definitely not prepared.
In the midst of all that extreme emotion– extreme fear and danger on both a medical and emotional level– the sanity comes from acknowledging those feelings, instead of trying to ignore or avoid them. I think it’s partly just sometimes taking a moment to feel it. My twin sister is in the medical field, and the emotions around being so scared for her have resulted in a couple of days where I’ve had to go to the bathroom to have a really good cry. I think that sometimes allowing that emotion to come up and release itself is something that our bodies need. I think it’s also something our hearts and minds need. It’s like running too many programs on your computer– those emotions are like that for us in our bodies, hearts, and minds, where they take up a lot of our energy. Whether we acknowledge them or not is immaterial because they’re just going to be in the back of us and they’re going to drain our battery.
A great way to try to take care of the emotions we are carrying right now is to pause and acknowledge those feelings, take a breath, and maybe even journal from a more mindful space. I used to be a high school history teacher, and I think journaling is a great primary source of identifying “what is this thing.” Everybody is sort of fumbling their way through this and it’s scary, anxiety provoking, and frustrating– it’s all of those things. The tightness we’re experiencing is constraining, so being able to find ways to relate to that is important. Ask yourself questions like, “How hard are we being on ourselves? How hard are we being on the kids? How much are we holding ourselves to the same standard emotionally that we were before this happened? It’s not possible to hold ourselves to the same standard. So just giving a little bit of space, having ways of breathing, and having ways of moving the body and moving all that energy through the body somehow, whether it’s through an actual cry, good sweat, or getting some fresh air, is key for everybody. I also think journaling is key. Depending on your personality (i.e. if you’re an extrovert) there’s a whole other layer to this, and things like having chats with people you really care about and creating time for them could be key for you.
Ruth Krishnan: Those are some really good points. I’ve been through two things in my life that were especially difficult. One was the death of my brother, which happened a few years ago, and the other was
when my parents separated really late in my life. I actually found it to be very shocking that my parents’ separation was so difficult for me, given that it happened so late in my life; it was a very odd and emotional experience that completely caught me off guard. When you mentioned the importance of feeling your emotions, I could really relate. I would say in both instances that was what got me through. Rather than running to the tequila bottle, I sat there and concentrated on where I was feeling grief, what that felt like, and absolutely felt every minute of it.
I don’t feel that way about being home with my kids (thank God), but to your point, giving yourself some time to recognize, “all right, this is not that easy,” instead of running away, is important. I think most of us have been touched by this pandemic in some way. For instance, Kiran, you’re dealing with Anita’s situation and at this point, most of us have known of someone who has died or we know people who are sick. I have a mastermind group of 11 people, and someone mentioned that their relative had died of COVID the night before, and then in the last 24 hours, two other people out of those 11, have lost someone.
Kiran Gaind: This is the big equalizer of everybody; we’re all in the same boat. A good friend of mine here in Palo Alto, had her father pass away in London and she can’t go and be there, and it’s so rough.
Ruth Krishnan: One of the things I noticed with the kids (and I’m by no means the best parent on earth) is that different kids require different things, and I have two kids that are very different from each other. My oldest, Nikhil, is very structured, and my youngest is anything but structured. Should parents be worried if their kids are not learning enough? I don’t think my kids are learning very much right now. Do we need to worry about whether they are going to be able to catch up? What is the best way to deal with this? Should we just let them watch TV for two months and not worry at all, or should we be hyper vigilant about making sure they’re doing certain activities to stay caught up?
Kiran Gaind: Great question. When you’re teaching in a classroom, you’re always trying to meet the needs of diverse kids and diverse learners. It’s a classic educational problem, so I’ll answer some of the questions you asked. These first couple weeks of transitioning were difficult, so now that the kids have a break and I’ve got a break too, I’m letting spring break be a break for the most part; although I’ve tried to keep them doing certain things so that next week is not just a complete flop. Kids do respond, and their inner sense of safety and self regulation is partly influenced by routines and consistency, and we’re all that way to a degree.
So the first big question: should we stress about the kids not learning? I think that during these first couple of weeks especially, there is no way kids are going to be learning the same amount they were learning at school. Dan Siegel has this cool visual I always use in my presentations, it’s called “the healthy mind platter,” and it’s a serving platter that has a bunch of different things on it. Only one of the things on that “healthy mind platter” is what he calls “focus time,” which is what we think of as school. He says that to have a healthy mind, humans need focus time, physical time, connection time, and we need time in. There’s about six of those things on this platter and it’s getting at all the different parts of development, the cognitive only being one of six.
As a teacher, when I’m in the classroom and I’m designing a lesson, sure, I’m thinking about the facts. I’m thinking about the test they have to take and do well on at the end of the year and I’m thinking about when they grow up and have conversations about history, how I want them to know the difference between this country in World War II and other countries. It’s knowledge and, of course, I want them to have that; that’s my job. But additionally, as a teacher I am also thinking about that platter. I’m thinking about how when kids develop, their minds develop, their hearts develop, their bodies develop, and their social skills develop, as well. So part of what kids do every day in school, is a very interesting mix of all of those things. Try to think about it this way, learning is a very global thing– it’s not just facts– so as long as your kids are tapping into some aspect of learning, they will be fine.
For example, let’s say you put up five goals for the day: learn your subjects, talk to a friend, get some exercise, help mom with a chore, and get fresh air. Those are your five goals and those are really great to stick up on the wall. Sit with the kids and have them generate a chart that looks like a tic-tac-toe board, and in each square of that board, have the kids use those five goals to write down different tasks. It can be to do a Zoom, walk the dog, help mom, go take a break, walk outside and do math, do social studies, etc. Let them use that every day to cross off their goals (like a tic-tac-toe board). The more we let kids self-generate some of their activity, the less resistance we’re going to get. I also think noting ways in which they are getting their activity right right now is really important– it’s a kind of management technique.
Appreciation goes a long way. I’ve noticed for a couple of weeks, my kids were really on it for the first few days. Of course, that’s not going to last for months on end because they’re human beings, but I’m trying to catch them doing things right. So I say things to them like, “I noticed you picked up that stuff off the deck without me having to ask. That’s so awesome. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you being helpful.” In this way, we wrap down the pressure around pure academic achievement (which is high here anyway) while still always having it in the background. But at this point in time with everything that’s going on, the way we need to think about having a good day is getting it day by day, having those mix of goals, having the kids choose some things that are good for them, health-wise and learning-wise, and maybe have a weekly way of assessing.
I’m having my kids create presentations on subjects and then present them at the end of the week. My little second grader presented on some silly thing last week; it was on fruit. But she ended up learning about fruits she never knew about, and about other countries that eat them, and she’s only in second grade, so what’s the big deal? She was standing up at the end of the week with a little paper, presenting. My older child did a PowerPoint about plastics in the ocean. Even though this wasn’t following the curriculum, that’s okay because this gave them something to work on that they really enjoyed, and at the end of the week, they had fun and we cared about listening to them. I do want to see kids learning, but at this point, it’s going to go off script a bit… or a lot, and that’s okay.
Ruth Krishnan: I really like that you help them set goals. On my team, we talk a lot about outcomes, which is the same. The outcome is getting fresh air, so the activity could be basketball, it could be playing soccer, it could be going for a walk. There are a lot of different ways to get to your outcome. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Danielle LaPorte before, but she has a thing about “core desired feelings.” It’s the same thing– you’re deciding how you want to feel, and then figuring out what kinds of things are needed to get there. This could actually be a really good time for us to be having those conversations to teach our kids some new really cool things.
We were initially letting Nikhil design his own schedule, but now his teacher started sending a schedule every day. Roshen’s teacher doesn’t send him anything, but he doesn’t like to design it either, (that’s all a whole other thing). Whereas Nikhil puts a lot of self-imposed stress on himself. He was showing me his schedule one day and said, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this,” and I said, “Well, ask yourself how much time do each of these activities take,” and he’s like, “15 minutes, five minutes, etc.” There were 30 minutes left in the day and I told him, “Great, there are four activities, you can get three of them done based on your timing within the next 30 minutes, so maybe just knock those out, and then there’s just one left,” and he was like, “Ohhhhh.” This was a good opportunity for me to talk with him about things we talk about at work all the time (i.e. how to be productive with time). The next day he came to me and said, “I feel like I was able to learn a little bit more about how to do that,” and so we’ve been trying to look at his schedule that way.
Kiran Gaind: That’s awesome. Since parents are good at so many things like yourself– you run a team and an incredible business– to realize that you can use a lot of the same things you use at work with your kids right now, it’s important not to discount that, because parenting is like managing a team. It is about having conversations about time management, goal setting, how you feel about yourself, or about whatever thing arises between you and your child. That is really valuable interaction, and it’s lifelong learning. Even if it’s not about the tests they would have normally been taking next week, it’s okay, because these skills are going to stick with them probably more than any other thing they would’ve learned in school.
Ruth Krishnan: It seems like there’s some teachers who are doing differently. I have one friend who has a seven year old, and the school is giving about six hours of academic work, and meanwhile, she’s trying to do her job at the same time. I told her, “just say no.” No one is doing it. There’s no way they are.
Kiran Gaind: Are the kids doing it, or are they pushing back?
Ruth Krishnan: He is pushing back hardcore, and she’s crying multiple times a week. It’s horrible that she has to go through this, and for what? He’s in second or first grade. It’s just like, come on. There’s no repercussion here. The schools are not going to flunk your kid. Just do what you can. I think it’s okay every once in a while to say, “F it. I’m not doing that.”
Kiran Gaind: A lot of what I work on with parents as a coach has to do with the locus of our attention, our philosophy, and our family mission, if you will. Right now, we’re not only in charge of the family mission, we’re now in charge of the educational mission, as well, which we are in charge of all the time anyway, but it’s magnified right now. Before you invited me on the call, I was reflecting about something that seems important to say right now, which is that this is actually an opportunity to revisit a lot of this stuff around, “what is my mission or vision about my kids’ education?” Of course, schools are amazing and they’re such a big support to us, but do we always want the school to be calling the shots as far as what we believe and value about our kids learning? I would say no. This is not to say that we don’t want to cooperate– I know those issues can arise in my community a lot, where parents can be difficult for no reason– and I’m not saying that. I’m saying that the locus of defining it is really up to us, and it’s empowering to be able to practice that and to be able to decide on your own what’s best. Sometimes the schools are sending us so much stuff; they’re just as anxiety provoked right now as anyone else, but they’re trying to do a good job.
So with regard to your friend who is getting hours and hours worth of emails, the school is trying to do the best they can, but it’s ultimately going to be up to us to be the interpreters and decision makers around where the limits need to be for everybody’s wellbeing and sanity. There are going to be kids out there that want to do that, and good for them. If that works for a kid, great, knock yourself out. But if another kid needs more of that platter with all those other things to feel grounded, that’s okay. If your kid is getting through a day and they’re painting their nails for 45 minutes, but then they read a book for an hour, it’s all good, because you’ve sometimes got to throw them a bone so that they will be motivated to do something else. People are like that.
Ruth Krishnan: In terms of being able to motivate them, you mentioned catching them doing things right– which I think is great– but we’re a little past those star charts that worked really well at one point. Maybe star charts could still work for some people (Nikhil loves badges and stuff like that), but what are some other ways that we can have a little carrot to dangle out there that says, “Hey, get to three o’clock without bugging mom and dad, because we’re both working.” What suggestions do you have?
Kiran Gaind: Different kids are motivated by different things. You can have a conversation together with your spouse, and even with the kids, to figure it out. Let’s say you think about it as a week by week process. Maybe at the end of the week, there’s going to be some kind of cool thing that the kids value, whether it’s being able to order their favorite kind of food, or having a family movie night where they will get to choose which movie to watch. If you need to get them through to a certain time because you’re devoted to other things, which is challenging, I would suggest setting aside 15 minutes before you lock into work mode, to get in a little morning meeting at the breakfast table with them so that you load up their emotional cup and put in the connection in the bank right at the beginning of the day.
You’d be surprised. As much as we can think of these “do this to receive this” tactics, a very quid pro quo strategy in terms of motivation or dangling out rewards, the reality for most kids is that if that connection comes in the beginning of the day, it’s actually inherently motivating for them to get that done because that’s the internal way their brains work. I would do a mix of both concrete and emotional things so that you fill that cup as much as you can before going into your meetings. The more you do that, the longer they have something to be drawing from throughout the day. Then at the end of the day, I would suggest closing their day with something connection-oriented; for example, you could go on a walk together, play a game together– do something that fulfills them emotionally.
Ruth Krishnan: Back to “special time.”
Kiran Gaind: It’s always worked.
Ruth Krishnan: I think that’s good. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but we’ve been doing morning walks.
Kiran Gaind: That’s great.
Ruth Krishnan: Our morning walks are in lieu of commute time. It’s been one of my favorite things about the break we’re on because I’ve noticed that as we’re out walking, we end up having very organic, interesting conversations. Sometimes we talk about the architecture of houses, which, of course, I love to discuss. They’re going to be such housing nerds, because I’m like, “Let’s talk about how you would redesign this house,” and then I’ll say, “No, no, no, no, no, that couldn’t work because of this or that, etc.” So we’re doing those kinds of things, and a lot of times some very serious conversations will come up, like when Nikhil asked me, “What do you think about this whole COVID thing anyway?”
Kiran Gaind: That’s him processing it. As much as they’re trying to learn all day, they’re also like the rest of us, thinking, “WTF is going on here with this.”And they’re kids! They’re also trying to figure out how to make sense of this. The fact that he’s bringing that up with you is huge, and it’s so juicy because this is a kid who trusts you and really wants to try to process his sense of the world with you. It’s a gift to be able to do that with kids; and the fact that you’re making space to do that with them is filling their cup a lot, and it’s also filling your cup.
Ruth Krishnan: These conversations don’t seem to come up the same way when we’re playing checkers or something like that. Right now, I’m with them more in the evenings than I normally am, but those conversations are limited to the walk, and that’s very interesting to me. It’s just not the same in the evenings; it’s such a deeper conversation when we’re out. There’s nothing else around, and we can just talk. So maybe that has been filling up their cup; and this is not to say that they’re perfect angels, because they’re not.
Kiran Gaind: We’re all getting through this period day by day, but this practice that you’ve developed very organically with your son could end up being something that you do now until halfway through high school because you’ve learned about your relationship, and that’s the priceless parenting wisdom stuff. Even as they get older in middle school and high school, sure they’ll roll their eyes and do all their moody stuff, but they’ll probably still want to do something like that with you, especially if you see how much it’s grounding them now.
Just don’t be hard on yourself; you are doing a lot of things right. And just like you do with the kids, try to note the things you’re doing right and remember that you are practicing really good parenting with them. And with regard to the sibling relationship, it’s been interesting to watch with my daughters because their relationship tends to fill a certain role normally, and they also have very close friendships that fill a different role. Now what I’ve observed happening (and I don’t know if this resonates for others because my kids are girls), is that everything is being compacted into their relationship, and they’re trying to figure that out.
What’s been interesting is that they have their own rooms, but they started sleeping together because they “need company.” And yes, they squabble and they get on each other’s nerves (my older one is bossy and the little one can’t stand that), but for the most part, I think it’s fine as long as they’re having calls with their own unique friends and have things to keep them in their own little domain. They always need to know who they are and that they are unique and valued for being that person.
Maybe these “special time” practices are teaching you that your kids could have different things that can help them (for instance, your older one really likes the walk, and maybe the little one really likes to play checkers). The reality is that we’re all in close quarters and things are going to happen; I wouldn’t expect there not to be any disagreement or bad behavior.
When I noticed this stuff coming up, if I’m there, it’s easy. I correct the behavior and I say, “You need to watch your tone and be more considerate,” etc. What’s hard is when you’re away or in meetings and you can’t pay attention– that’s where this stuff becomes a big challenge. So whether the kids need to pick some independent workspaces for a certain part of the day, or maybe just increase contact with their friends, it’s important for them to do things to help take the edge off this situation.
Ruth Krishnan: Thanks so much for your time today, Kiran. If somebody wants to get some professional parenting advice, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?
Kiran Gaind: There are two things I’m offering right now. One is a community thing, because I want to do something to help. I’m having community calls on Thursdays from 3:00 to 4:00 PM Pacific. I’ve had it for the last three weeks with a good number of parents (between 10-20) showing up. I host meditation to ground and help everyone, allowing them to have a nice space, and then we have open sharing time. This time is a listening circle to offer emotional and listening support with lots of laughs and good sharing. So please help yourself to that if that’s useful for you.
In addition to that, if you would like to talk about your family and discuss the kinds of things we were talking about today, you could call or email me. I usually offer about a 20 minute chat to hear a bit about what’s going on, and based on that chat, either provide some help during that call to keep you going or I give you information about other services that can be supportive to you and your family.
Ruth Krishnan: Awesome. Thank you so much, Kiran. I really appreciate your time. It was great chatting with you today.
Kiran Gaind: You too, Ruth. Thank you so much.