As early as January, when the CNMI government first had an inkling of the COVID-19 outbreak, everybody knew that life was never going to be the same for everyone, especially for parents who are trying to create a healthy work and life balance. Today, with the pandemic very much in the picture and added to the daily equation, how do parents help their children cope with the restrictions, yet still have the kind of childhood that they want their children to have?
Carmen Hasselback of San Vicente said that good communication is an effective way to keep the bond with her 8-year-old son. “Explaining anything to an 8-year-old is challenging because you have to speak in a way that your message is conveyed clearly but making sure you don’t use words that are too big or too small for that age group to understand. With our son, explaining what COVID-19 is and why we need to wear a mask almost all of the time and why he can’t have ‘play dates’ was tricky and so we capitalized on his caring nature, letting him know that wearing a mask protects his friends from getting sick,” she said.
“It is important to also talk to your children about their mental and emotional health. We consistently ask our son how he is feeling and even exploring the option of talking to a therapist if he wants to. We try to do more family-oriented activities and make sure he is included in some decision-making, especially when it involves him. Finally, our family strongly believes that open communication makes any challenging situation lighter and an opportunity to learn and self-improve,” she added.
Leith Poole immediately thought how he and his wife could help their children adjust to a long break from school and then again adjusting to school days filled with government restrictions. “…Parents should realize that there will be an adjustment period when returning to school,” he said. The couple have three boys who all go to Brilliant Star Montessori. They initially returned to school full time until the government closed all private schools after one week of instruction. They have since returned to school for over three weeks since the last order was lifted and have face to face classes with other students and teachers. “My wife and I have discussed identifying emotions, letting the boys express themselves and talk about how they feel going back to school. This has been cool to witness, especially with Evan, our 6-year-old. We realized that letting them talk and listening to them intently are vital tools during this challenging times,” he added.
Poole said that his children initially had a hard time adding the wearing of face masks to their daily routine. “…But they adapted quickly as they saw their friends wear them and pick out cool designs together. …Their grandma sent some different ones from the [U.S.] mainland, which they liked. I feel fortunate our boys returned to school, learning, and having recess with the protocols of COVID-19 in place in the classroom. I believe most of the students have adjusted after a few weeks. …Children crave the interaction and they need it,” he added.
Poole admits that trying to keep one’s perspective is challenging but it can de done. “…Remain positive through thick and thin and this is what I want to pass along to our children. I never realized until becoming a parent that it is true what they say—’Children are smarter that most people give them credit for.’ [They are] awfully resilient, they adapt and adjust more easily than many adults,” he said.
“…Living on Saipan, we are lucky to be nearly COVID-19-free and that has led to an amazing childhood for these island boys, even during lockdown and after,” he added.
Being an athlete and married to an environmentalist, Kimiko McKagan encourages her daughter to enjoy the great outdoors while also spending quality time at home, bonding with mom and dad. “We try to keep our daughter, Mika, get used to a routine starting when she was much younger. So even before COVID-19, she is pretty well-adjusted with her surroundings and now, we try to make her socialize with many friends from different ages in accordance with COVID-19 safety and health protocols,” she said.
“Our routine when outside includes swimming, hiking, and scootering. Going to Pau Pau Beach and Capitol Hill are her favorites because it is like a big playground for her. At home, we make her finish her homework, let her help us with easy chores and we play music in the house all the time as Mika loves singing and dancing,” she added.
Not sugar coating what reality is like is what Michelle and her husband, Charlie Atalig, are going for. “When COVID-19 began, Charlie and I had an honest conversation with our children. We explained what we knew about the virus at that time, how serious it was and why we needed to stay at home. They understood and were actually very happy to stay at home,” she said. “The experience was very positive for them and I believe it was because we did everything we could to ensure they were comfortable, with lots of time for learning, play, snacking, eating, and rest.”
The Ataligs also took time to explore the island and maximize activities with their children. “Having to isolate in the Marianas is the best place, in my opinion. When COVID-19 restrictions began, we took advantage of our parks and beaches. We made it a regular thing to go for a run, walk, swim, fly kites, fish, and enjoy other outdoor activities. It was a great way to bond, de-stress and stay active,” she said.
“I believe that to be the best parent for my children, I too need to be at my best. Finding strategies to de-stress, whether it is reading a book or listening to a podcast, running, or doing yoga, squeezing in a nap, or stepping outside for fresh air were all healthy ways for me to keep a clear head. Undoubtedly, the pandemic, remote learning, and working from home all at the same time is a lot. It is manageable because of the structure we set at home,” she added.