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Home and Family

K-State publication offers tips for families separated by distance

Released: April 9, 2020

Technology helps family members stay connected

MANHATTAN, Kan. – When families are separated during normal times, it can be hard emotionally for members to adjust to periods of not having close contact with the others. It can be even more difficult during such times as the current outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, when travel is often restricted.

 A publication from Kansas State University can help to bridge the distance between family members who are apart. The publication, Loving Long-Distance: Families Separated by Distance, is available online for free through the K-State Research and Extension bookstore.

 Technology makes it easier for family members to stay connected, but maintaining meaningful contact takes some planning. Here are five tips outlined in the publication for staying in touch:

  • Establish regular routines. Plan how you will most likely communicate and set aside a specific day or time to make contact. This may include phone calls, internet chats, email, text messages or old-fashioned letters.
  • Take the initiative. Be the first to make contact. Take pictures of special events that the distant family member may have missed.
  • Brainstorm creative activities together. Read the same book or watch the same movie and spend time discussing it.
  • Work on maintaining relationship satisfaction. When you talk, be an active listener. Pay attention to what each family member is saying. Make the routine calls a priority.
  • Take advantage of technology. Make a video of daily life to share with family members.

 The publication helps to establish the concept that challenging times can be opportunities for a more meaningful future. Spending time being creative in maintaining family connections can help all family members feel included and valued.

K-State Research and Extension has compiled numerous publications and other information to help people take care of themselves and others during times of crisis. See the complete list of resources online.


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.”

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.