Families in Isolation Q&A – Welcoming Your Questions, Comments, Concerns

I’ve been at a loss trying to figure out how I can support parents and professionals during this difficult period in our lives. For parents of young children, feelings can run the gamut from minor discomforts and inconveniences to overwhelming fear and grief. Sometimes it can be the whole spectrum in a span of minutes. Caring for children is challenging enough without these additional stressors.
I have the honor of hearing from people every day through email, FB, Twitter, Instagram, and comments on my website. But I’ll admit that I get scattered. My organizationally-challenged brain, along with the volume of questions I receive through these various channels means that most are left unanswered. I hate that.

So I had the idea today to invite readers, browsers and listeners to reach out to me here in this quieter place, where I will attempt to prioritize replying to your comments — and in a timely manner. If I don’t have an answer for you, I’ll try to refer you to another person, a resource or a post of mine. I’ll be checking in regularly. It will help me if you can keep your questions to one or two paragraphs, because I’ll need to keep my responses brief as well.

I really hope this will be helpful! I’ll also be hosting some live Q&A sessions on Instagram and you can follow me THERE for updates. And I’m committed to continuing my podcasts for as long as I can.

Please take good care. Together, we can do this.

UPDATE: After reading through your wonderful questions so far (thank you for sharing them!), I thought it might be helpful to add these  relevant recent podcasts to this post. They provide detailed responses to many of the questions you’ve asked.

In this first one, family therapist Susan Stiffelman and I discuss explaining the pandemic to young children and also how to focus our energies at this time:

In this podcast with ECE icon Lisa Griffen-Murphy, we discuss home-learning through independent play! We encourage parents to release themselves of the burden to entertain and teach. Your kids can do this!

I hope these are helpful!


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Kathryn Meier says:

    Hi Janet,
    I have a three year old daughter who is typically very well behaved and very smart. Part of the issues we struggle with has to do with her intelligence she back talks quite a bit like example: refused to sit still at the table to eat and because of that often falls off. I constantly correct her and remind her I need you to be safe when sitting at the table or “you are not being safe at the table you must be ready to get up and are done eating” her responses range from screaming o and holding on to her plate so I can’t pick it up to “sorry I am just a little girl so I am just learning it’s hard to sit still” then two seconds later it’s the same. Sometimes she makes up stories that the “voices” told her to do things or one of her dolls told her she had to. Moreover the biggest issue is her constant torture hitting kicking pulling pushing etc of our two dogs. She also hits kicks and bites us frequently. It is not feasible for me to keep the dogs away from her all the time and when I see her do it I typically just remove the dog and say “I can’t let you hit the dog” often she burst into tears and screams until she get to then hug the dog, often apologizing but then does it again in a minute. When she does not listen which is not all the time but happens, It’s usually something like for example it’s time to wash hands after lunch, we always do this it’s a routine and she knows it. She sometimes runs off and begins to destroy the house while I’m trying to pick up the food I give her a minute or two reminder “we are going to wash hands in one minute” she ignores me. I give her a choice, would you like to go wash your own hands or would you like me to help you?” Ignored (while doing something she should t be usually. ) “ok looks like you are having some trouble I am going to help you. “ the moment I pick her up it is a full on tantrum hitting me trying to bite me screaming. I would have to hold her hands in water or forcefully while she fights me wipe them with a wipe or something. It will go on for 45 plus minutes. I have to carry her to a safe place where she can’t hurt herself because she is flailing and tantruming so bad attempting to hurt me or anything she gets near the most she can. I will have to sit with her or she will run through the house hitting and kicking things including the animals. Which means she continuously tried to hit and kick me. I have to hold her hands and legs so she can’t which is very traumatic for me because she is fighting it so hard there is literally no way to gently do this. I get she does these things when tired but this just prolongs being tired because these tantrums almost always happen in response to having to get ready for nap or bed. She takes hours to go to sleep at night laying up until midnight or longer . I can’t get her not tired because she refuses to sleep. I feel like all the things I should do do not work and me “helping” her do anything is a physical struggle which is very upsetting. I do not like to physically force her to do anything or struggle with her. The only alternative I see is to let her have her way. I don’t know what to do. Lastly, after the tantrum is over she says stuff to me like “I’m afraid of you because you yelled at me” I won’t have even yelled. I am very focused on remaining calm during the fit and even trying g to sooth when she lets me touch her. When I tell her I did not yell she will I sit I did and then tell me she is going to tell her dad and her will tell me I’m a bad mommy. This all seems so vicious and manipulative for a three year old. Both my husband and I are worried we are doing something very wrong or there is something wrong with our daughter

  2. Hi Janet!

    My daughter just turned one, and has started to express her frustration by screaming. I’m working very hard to hold her, try to sportscast her frustrations, and give her the time and space to express herself. The problem is that my husband is downstairs, working remotely; and it’s becoming more and more frequent that her screaming interrupts his phone conferences and meetings.
    I’m not sure what to do. I can distract her and take her upstairs, but now we’re in a far less baby proofed space, with more frequent “no”s.
    Do you have any suggestions?

  3. We have been talking to our almost 3 year old about why daycare is closed and we are not visiting others… basically to help everyone stay healthy while there is a strong virus, etc. Thanks in large part to your advice I feel comfortable with how we have been dealing with all the feelings- acknowledge, name, empathize but not pity, be responsive to questions, observe emotionally-driven play (e.g. I am building a staircase to Gram because I lost my Gram. *knocks it down* Now I can’t see Gram!” ) Lately I am wondering about window visits with grandparents, or even distanced visits in the yard as the weather gets nicer. We have only done video calls so far and our toddler comes and goes from the screen, playing and talking. I am wondering if there is a benefit for our child to adding window or yard visits, or if it is better to stick with the status quo. I want to help us be as connected as possible. Yet I’m concerned that the physical limits he’d have to follow with these just-out-of-reach visits would be too much, emotionally. Thoughts?

    1. Christina says:

      I had the very same fear initially, but both my 16-month-old and my 4-year-old seem to have loved the couple of window visits and yard visits we’ve done recently with my parents and my sister’s family. Of course every child is different. I think its helped my 4-year-old to talk through what will happen and the ways it will be different than a normal visit ahead of time. And another key thing for us has been keeping the visits relatively short. Good luck!

  4. Hi Janet

    I have a 7 years old. On his 3rd birthday, my husband found out that he’s positive to a Breast Cancer genetic test since he lost his mom, uncle and his first cousin on a same year. So we decided to stop making more babies until we can afford an adoption. My son doesn’t like to play on his own. He always wants my husband to play with him. We didn’t have any problem before pandemic and used to get involved in all different group playing with his friends. It’s been two months that we have been home and it’s really hard to keep him busy. He’s not focused on his school work. He’s tired of staying at home. Please I need help. He doesn’t want to do anything with me at home . All he wants to do is to watch TV or playing Minecraft which is pretty new to him. I let him to talk with his cousin on phone for long time while they play game. He doesn’t want to go on a walk or bike ride . It’s really really hard for me. I hate to see him doing nothing . He loves to build legos and I keep buying him more but I can see this doesn’t help . Once he’s done setting one, he’s walking around bored.

    Help plz !
    Thank you

  5. Dear Janet,

    With the start of lockdown my daughter (3) has had to remain home as her nursery school closed. We brought in my husband’s mum to care for her as both he and I are essential workers and could not work from home. Her grandmother does not live nearby and her interactions with my daughter are infrequent (maybe 4 or 5 times a year when we visit our hometown or if she comes to visit us) and never last longer that a week at the most. My daughter has been relatively fond of her grandmother pre-lockdown but I find with the continued isolation her behaviour towards my Mother-in-law has altered drastically. She no longer wants to remain with her alone in the house – for example, I cannot leave the house except for work and she insists either her dad or myself stay with her even if we need to go to the shops or run any errands. When prompted about why she doesn’t like to stay with her granny her responses are vague and range from “I don’t like her” to “She doesn’t do anything with me and I only have to play on my phone”. The intensity of her responses increases dramatically if either her dad or myself are at home with her. She barely acknowledges her grandmother and her attitude towards her has become very defiant and borders on disrespectful. I’ve tried engaging her to find out the root of the problem as well as reprimanded her for the way she speaks to her granny (which I feel bad to do because I feel there is definitely an underlying reason for her behaviour). I’m at my wits end and I really hope you can offer some advice on how to tackle this problem. I don’t know if it has anything to do with it but my mother in law has also made it clear she didn’t expect to remain with us for this long (it’s been over 2 months) and that she wants to go home. Perhaps my daughter picks up on her negativity and possible resentment at having to be away from home this long? I just don’t know. Looking forward to hearing from you.

  6. Christina says:

    Hi Janet! I just listened to yesterday’s podcast episode and found it to be particularly therapeutic for me. I think this is because I am in a very similar situation and struggling with many of the same challenges. While my husband is incredibly supportive and my family and friends are too, it would be really great to connect with other working moms with young children (mine are 16 months and 4) who are trying to balance child care and work during the pandemic. Have you heard of any groups like this?

  7. Hi Janet,
    My question comes out of struggling to find resources on parenting that specifically deal with that early toddler stage where they’re definitely not babies but they’re not yet verbal enough to use language to communicate much. We have been in lockdown for over 2 months now with our now 19month old who was previously in full time daycare from age 12 months and loved it. He never cried at drop offs and apparently was happy all day. He is very sociable and we really think he misses the social interaction. He has never shown signs of separation anxiety and has always been quite happy playing independently for short periods. Since being in lockdown he has become very clingy to both me and my husband and has also become easily startled and fearful of things (eg the bath tap made a loud noise one day and then we couldn’t get him near the bath for 2 weeks).
    So, I was hoping for your thoughts on this –
    First, is this new clingy and fearful behavior age related or lockdown related, or maybe both? And secondly, what is an age appropriate was to help him through the new fears/scary moments. He understands a lot but is not yet talking enough to use words to communicate. And it seems there are some big scary thoughts and feelings he’s working through.
    Thank you for all the many wonderful resources you have made available. Finding your podcasts was such an ‘ah-ha!’ moment in parenting for me. Many thanks!

  8. Hi, Janet! I just found your page, and have already got your e-book. I have a question about my just 4yo son. He’s a very bright, verbal kid, but also very social. We notice that during school holidays and the like, he becomes more physical with his anger (pushing, leaning on us, hitting). Since school has been closed, he’s taken to picking fights with us, getting angry when we try to set boundaries, then pinching or scratching at us because he’s angry. I have claw marks all up my arm. We try to send him to time-out only for willful disobedience (I haven’t gotten to reading about time-out here), and try to help him with actual feelings before it becomes a hitting/scratching affair. Example: we tell him to wash his hands before dinner, he says he won’t probably 3 times, so we send him to time-out for saying no. But he won’t go to time-out, instead, he runs at us and starts scratching. We grab hands and say “you cannot hurt us because you are angry, stop” and let go, but he runs right back at us, so we pick him up, he scratches, and we put him in the time-out chair. He will also scratch if we try to let him just be mad, he seems to need us involved. We try to stay calm, but I’m sure it’s obvious we’re frustrated. I don’t like feeling like I’m in a physical altercation with my child (and he’s not small, so picking him up isn’t good for my back). How can we do better at this? Why does he hit us when he doesn’t get to go to school?

  9. Courtney Gardner says:

    I’m writing you today because I seem to have hit a difficult journey with me almost 4 year old. (He will be 4 in July). There are two concerns:
    1: He is disrespectful and nap and quiet time at daycare and home. I continue to get daily messages from my sons daycare teacher that he’s not being quiet at nap time. She says he doesn’t have to nap but he must be quiet. We’ve tried everything! Reward systems (toys, candy, sticker charts, tv show), punishments (spankings, no tv, loses a toy, daycare takes away fun activities), and of course just talking to him. The goal is for him to listen and simply be quiet while the other kids are napping. I’m afraid if he doesn’t master this simple feat, that we are in for trouble in his later years. Listening seems to be the main issue. He will sing or talk or whisper or want to play or wake up his friends. I’m at lost for words but I fear he could get kicked out of daycare for it. It’s been going on for several months (even before covid). What should I do? I need to figure out a system for daycare and home that works.

    2: My son won’t let go if his penis. He constantly grabs it! I keep asking him to not hold his pants. And then I ask sometimes if his penis hurts or itches. The answer is no. What do I do?! It’s been happened for almost a year.

  10. Hi Janet, I have an 11 months old baby. I’m concerned about his social development and ability to comfortably be around people as he has been cut off from them due to lockdowns/ COVID 19. Video chats aren’t nearly as good as physical interaction. I’m wondering if there are any resources you can point me to, on how to help our babies in such situations, particularly this age group. Thanks.

  11. Hi Janet,
    I’ve been struggling lately with how to handle my almost 4 year old’s tantrums. Part of my issue is that I see a lot of myself in my child and I’ve had lifelong problems with controlling my own strong emotions. I can easily get to a negative place where I can’t stop crying. At the beginning of my marriage I expected my husband to drop everything and console me when I was upset. I’ve tied this back to how my mother would react to my crying fits as a child – hugging me until I stopped.

    Fast forward to now – my son demands that I hug him whenever he is upset. If I’m busy doing something else (often a reason for his tantrum) I feel confident with my reaction. I validate his feelings: “You’re upset and angry. You want me to hug you, but I am making dinner.” My problem is what to do once I am no longer busy or if my being busy was not the cause of the upset. Do I provide the hugs my son asks for? He is unlikely to stop crying without my physical attention and typically hugging will resolve the crying quickly. I know from reading your blog posts that you recommend staying with your child while they have tantrums. But should I be providing physical comfort? Am I crazy to think that this will cause my son emotional issues in the long run? Thank you for any insights.

  12. Hi,
    We have been at home (wfh for me, furlough for my husband) with our 2 and 4 year olds for 6 months now.
    My 4 year old has become so incredibly clingy – only with me- I just can’t cope. I can’t go anywhere or do anything without preparing him before and then he tags along, literally physically holding on to me. He says things like ´I want to be with you all the time, always’. And is absolutely hysterical if I go anywhere. I long to have a shower on my own haha!!
    He doesn’t want to go out of our house /garden and convincing him to go for a walk (with me) has become a major deal. He just wants to be at home and have become so socially withdrawn.
    School starts back (I live in France) in a week and is mandatory and I am going to go back to the office part time. I just don’t know how this is going to happen. We have talked about it a lot and for him it is inconceivable that he goes to school. But he might consider it if I went with him and stayed with him all day.
    As we will have to leave him at the school gate due to covid protection measures I am at my wit’s end. Do you have any advice on how to help gently prepare him for this ordeal? I tried contacting the school but they told me basically that it will be difficult for all kids so suck it up..
    Thank you so much for your precious advice

  13. Hi Janet

    My 15 month old daughter seems very shy and anxious around people she doesn’t know – particularly adults. Before lockdown (when she was still very much a baby) she was very sociable and outgoing and loved classes etc. She is now at nursery and while it took her a little while to settle in I’m told she is generally happy. However, we have a babysitter take her to classes some days and she is fine until other adults are present, then she wants to be held and cries and seems overwhelmed. Similarly with adults – even my mum – because she has seen them so little she is very cautious at first. I don’t mind this as much because she warms up eventually – but the anxiety at classes is making me anxious – do I need to be? Thank you

  14. Hi Janet,

    We have a 3yr old boy who tends to turn to mild violence when seeking for attention (hitting us, throwing a toy at us, hitting his brother). We understand this is a way of saying “I need attention” or “I am sad” and we tend to huge him / comfort him than that happens. Unfortunately, we are struggling with finding the right balance as sometimes it feels we are encouraging such a behaviour with our reaction. Any advice on how to get a right balance would be much appreciated.

  15. Kristy Miller says:

    Hi Janet,

    I am a pediatric physical therapist who has a high percentage of children in the birth to three-year old age range. I have had multiple parents ask me how to socialize their children during these times when we are trying to remain socially distant. Do you have any suggestions?


  16. Thanks for opening up room for this Q&A.

    We are in a weird situation. I and my husband work full time from home. Our friend didn’t want to return to work during covid due to the risk for her 5yo daughter who has lung issues. So we hired her to care for our 4yo son during the day.

    I’m trying not to sound too judgemental but friend’s daughter has quite a range of behavior issues that have rubbed off on our son – she is an extremely picky eater, has very poor table manners, she is very clinging and attention seeking and her “confidence” leads to her insisting on dictating the rules of every game, loudly proclaiming winners and losers for arbitrary situations such as tying shoes. She is a clumsy child and plays up her spills for attention, and she has an exceptionally piercing whine when she’s being scolded. My friend is a single mom and having grown up with a single mom myself I can empathize with their situation and I can see my friend trying to work on the behavior but it’s been six months and I just see my son picking up her daughter’s bad behavior and nothing getting better. Normally I’m all for letting folks make their own parenting choices but it’s directly affecting my family and I wouldn’t even know where to start to model behavior for someone else’s kid while trying to do my full time job – not to mention the disruptions to our work when she has a tantrum as they are in our home 5 days a week. My friend knows the behavior is a problem for all of us but there has been no improvement in 6 months and we have another six months at least under this arrangement. I try to pass along resources but as I said, my friend is a single mom and she’s usually far too exhausted after work and her own home responsibilities to read a book or a blog. Is there anything at all I can do or is it out of my hands?

  17. Hey Janet,

    I had a question pertaining to your last episode on pandemic parenting on unruffled. You mentioned the mom that is not confident or back and forth with setting boundaries, specifically when it involves telling your child to go play. I am that mom! I feel guilt when I am not giving enough attention to each of my children. My question is – is this a generic mom thing or is there perhaps something else that influences one to behave this way? If one was neglected or felt neglected as a child would they more likely grow up to be apprehensive about setting such boundaries and tend to over-give themselves to their children?

    1. Hi Mandy! It is common for parents who were neglected or abused as children to have difficulties setting boundaries, because their own boundaries were either consistently broken parents or altogether nonexistent. I don’t have a study in mind to show you right now, but I learned this through online research. I was curious because I was seeing this pattern in parents I’d worked with who’d had difficult childhoods. If this is your experience, I hope you will get the support you need. Elisabeth Corey is wonderful, if you are not aware of her work. https://beatingtrauma.com/ She’s been on my podcast and you’ve reminded me that I want her on again this year if she’s willing!

      Please be good to yourself. x Janet

  18. Serena Sirn says:

    Hi Janet!
    Thank you for this Q&A! God Bless you. So my 2.5 yo daughter is overall a seriously great kid. However we just put her back in daycare in Jan tho bc shes having social issues. I cant completely blame covid. I think she had insecurities prior bc shes always been a shy, timid child—only child. Basically, when it comes to being around people shes not comfortable with yet, or just doesnt want to be bothered with, she snubs them and gets super clingy on me. But its so rude. She makes a sound of disgust, scrunches her face and clings to me or her dad. Its so embarrassing. I try to brush it off but i feel like i really need to address this bc shes been acting like this for about 8 mos now. With the people that she Is close with, if shes in a bad mood, she’ll definitely snub them too. Avoid them, cry, whine, yell at them if they try to console her…shes 2.5 yo so i cant exactly get her to understand Why she needs to be respectful. Im so desperate for an avenue to take. I feel like i walk on eggshells when someone comes around. If my in-laws come to visit, will she acknowledge them or snub them, cry and run away? If we go to a get together, will she be nice or cry all night. These people are not strangers. They are our family as well as neighbors so we see them almost every day! Patience is running thin with her. Please help. It makes us so sad how she can treat our family sometimes.

  19. Thank you all for these insights. I will definitely be sharing it on my parenting blog called Curiousbill Gentlebull. These comments fits in perfectly with my blog goals of sharing helpful tips and tricks (and books) that helps the parenting community get by.

  20. Dear Janet, I would loooove to hear your insights on this. I know you have talked about grandparents in other article..
    My mother in law takes care of my 13 months old son during the day since 2 months before. She would be with us for next couple of month until he starts going to daycare. My main challenge right now is really the fact that she is so uncomfortable with and can’t stand my son crying and whining in any circumstances. When my son expresses his emotions/cries, She right away starts to distract him with anything she can think of! She can’t just let him cry/process his feelings and being empathic or listening. Long car ride with them can be so challenging. As soon as my son makes some noise, she feels like she has to “comfort” him.. not sure comfort is the right word in her behavior.. she would try to entertain him , keeps talking to him in not very calm manner, almost panicking.. and telling my daughter to playing with him, trying to give him snacks etc. She won’t let him cry for even little bit and end up complaining he won’t go to sleep etc. (Of course, he won’t go to sleep in such a high energy environment!) She even sometimes says stuff like he has a bad temper (in my eyes, he really doesn’t! Just expressing his normal human emotions.!) and compare him with other children.. well, I guess that’s another story! I don’t know what to do! I really don’t understand why adult thinks baby should behave the way we feel comfortable with and should not show distress when we/adult can’t hardly sometime control our own emotions. Not sure where this expectations are coming from.
    Unreasonable one! What can I do? Talking and telling her is really not working.. I so appreciate your time and all the work you do and share with us.

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