Covid-19 has upended family life in the US, with social distancing measures, parents working from home, and school closings. How are families responding?

We recently interviewed parents of kids aged 2 to 11 in the US to find out about the struggles they’re facing, the new routines they’re engaging in, their news habits, and how they’re keeping their kids entertained. Here’s what we learned:

These are stressful times for parents, who are struggling on many fronts. According to a recent Ipsos Kids & Family study, most parents (58%) say they are feeling “high anxiety” – significantly more than non-parents, at 41%. Parents miss their family and friends, and mourn the experiences their kids are unable to have. Many fear they’ll lose their jobs as a result of the stay-at-home order. And many are having difficulty working from home while also caring for young children and schooling their kids. Ipsos found that 59% of parents worry about working from home, and that parents are 1.75 times more likely than non-parents to worry about balancing work and school. As one parent told us, “Staying at home with young kids is hard. I’m not used to daycare, homeschooling, working, and having a college student back in the house.”

A few weeks into this crisis, families are settling into new routines – with both positive and negative implications. Parents appreciate having more time to eat meals, watch TV, and take walks together as a family. As one of them told us, this pause has been a welcome break from their overly scheduled lives: “I’m actually loving this reset. There is no more crazy running around to activities. The kids are actually learning at home and they seem to love it as well.” Another parent is enjoying the opportunity for more leisure time: “We get up when we want. My wife and I turned our backyard in to a gym and we try to do that in the mornings. My daughter loves a hot breakfast. Homemade pancakes and bacon several days a week has made her mornings great.” But while some enjoy the lack of structure, others bemoan it. When kids sleep later and go to bed later, it’s hard to keep them on a schedule.

Parents aren’t shielding their kids from the news. For one, it’s hard to do because information is so easy to get. One parent told us, “I’m not shielding her because she will learn about it online from her friends or teachers anyway. She’s almost 10, so she’s fully able to understand how we’re going to do things differently.” The news is also serving as an educational tool to help kids know what to do (and what not to). As we heard from one parent, “I’ve talked to them about what is happening, and how to remain safe and maintain distance from everyone to avoid sharing germs.”

Parents are lifting restrictions on kids’ media time. They feel badly that their kids’ lives have been turned upside down, that they can’t see friends or participate in activities. With more free hours in the day, they’re easing up on screen time rules. In the words of one parent, “It’s okay if our kids aren’t learning as much as they should. They’ll still graduate high school, go to college, and be productive members of society. We need to lower our expectations for what we’re going to accomplish at home and let them enjoy their TV and game time.” At this time, parents are not cutting back on media services for their kids – although the longer this goes on, that could change.