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mother and daughter reading on a couch

parents should consider orders to stay-at-home as a time to learn what their children are learning, says K-State child development specialist Bradford Wiles.

Manage your own anxiety to help your kids’ stress, too

K-State child development specialist offers tips to help families during COVID-19 outbreak

March 31, 2020

MANHATTAN, Kan. – In this most uncertain of times, many of us are experiencing anxiety for a number of reasons. Who will take care of the children if I don’t get home before my spouse goes to work? How quickly will my unemployment benefits kick in? What if a family member gets sick?

A Kansas State University child development specialist says it’s understandable for you and your children to have anxiety right now, but there are steps you can take to manage it, for yourself and for your children.

“When it comes to managing anxiety, the most important component is taking care of one’s self. Just like when we’re on an airplane, you should put your own mask on before you put someone else’s mask on,” said Bradford Wiles, a K-State associate professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences.

“None of us are going to be perfectly calm and easy going during difficult times,” he said. “But as we’re working through things with our children, making sure we can respond in intentional and kind and compassionate ways, is really critical.”

Listen to Bradford Wiles on the radio program, Sound Living

He encourages parents to be honest to the extent appropriate for their age: “The most authentic thing is to be honest. Now, obviously, you’re not going to talk about disease transmission with your two-year-old. But you can say ‘Mommy and Daddy or Grandma and Grandpa don’t want to get anyone sick.’”

The idea isn’t to scare them, rather be positive, using words they can understand.

“Little ones won’t understand words like ‘pandemic’ or ‘coronavirus.’ But they’ll understand that by staying home right now, we’re helping keep our neighborhood and community safe,” Wiles said.

With the closure of Kansas schools through the end of the school year, districts are scrambling to take the learning online so teachers can teach and students can learn at a distance. That means parents or other family members are playing a much greater role in the day-to-day teaching.

“One thing I have learned is that schoolteachers don’t get paid nearly enough,” said Wiles, who added that he himself had been home with his own children for several days at the time of this interview. “I should be as equipped as anyone to be able to homeschool my children. It’s very difficult.”

He suggests parents:

  • Lay out a lesson plan that’s reasonable. You don’t have to always get to everything, but know what you’re going to learn. Children, as with everyone, like to know what to expect.
  • Take advantage of help. Some resources can be found online.
  • Cooking and baking are not just to keep our bodies nourished, they can be ways to incorporate chemistry, math and reading skills.
  • Have meals together and make them social science lessons. Even talk (and listen to what your kids think) about the benefits of having meals together.  
  • Give yourself a break. Children and adults both need them. None of us right now under these conditions are at our optimal performance, Wiles said.

“There’s a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot of restlessness. There’s a lot of sleeplessness. Things that wouldn’t normally get to us, get to us,” Wiles said. “It’s not anything that any of us want. I don’t want to be Pollyanna-ish at all, but making the best of it is no joke.”

He encourages parents to consider this time an opportunity to learn what their children are learning.

“During these long school days, when we want our children to keep learning, and this is so critical, we need to honor that people are paid full time, day in and day out, five days a week (to teach) our children, and so to try to take on all that, and keep our normal routines is just simply undoable. Something has to give.”

Parents can’t expect to teach children everything they would normally learn in school in the next six weeks, “but what you can do is teach them how to handle things and learn from their activities, and also learn what it’s like to be a strong, helpful, and competent human beings.”

Wiles said physical activity is important, not only for children but also their parents. Get the energy out. Take a walk. Go fishing.

Striking the right balance with how much screen time children can have is always a challenge, but Wiles believes it’s better to let children have a little more screen time than for adults to be on edge and unable to handle the parent and educator role. He encourages parents to check out online educational programming by zoos, museums and aquariums.

“Yeah, they’re on a screen, but they’re walking you through the life of a hippopotamus or some of the great works of art, so those can be useful tools,” Wiles said. “What we don’t want is some of the mindless programming on screen time. It’s when we just plop our kids in front of it and hope for the best that things go quite wrong.”

Wiles said he’s dealing with the same challenges other parents with young children are facing: “There are so many worrying things that are going on, but I can promise you that I will likely never in my lifetime have an opportunity to spend this much time with my family all at once. And they grow up fast. Everyone who has kids knows it. Blink and you’ll miss it.”

“It’s not easy. None of this is easy. Parenting itself isn’t easy,” he added. “It’s very hard, but it’s a really good time to recognize and take stock in how beautiful our families are and how important they are to us and just how much we’ll do to help them and make everybody feel a little bit safer, a little happier and stay healthy.”

A Sound Living radio interview with Wiles on this topic is available online.

At a glance

An important component to managing anxiety and taking care of others is to take care of oneself first, says K-State child development specialist Bradford Wiles.


K-State Research and Extension COVID-19 Resource Page

Notable quote

“It’s very hard, but it’s a really good time to recognize and take stock in how beautiful our families are and how important they are to us and just how much we’ll do to help them and make everybody feel a little bit safer, a little happier and stay healthy.”

-- Bradford Wiles, child development specialist, K-State Research and Extension


Bradford Wiles

Written by

Mary Lou Peter

For more information: 

Sound Living interview with Bradford Wiles


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans.
Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.