An Interview with Dr. Joanne Foster: Parenting During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Apr 1, 2020 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

  1. Joanne, on Thursday April 2nd from 7:30 to 9:00pm you are doing a presentation for SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted). What exactly is the title of your presentation?

The presentation is entitled Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Curiosity Creativity, and Concerns. It is a free webinar (or SENGinar) that will be accessible through SENG at www.sengifted.org and it will also be broadcast on Facebook and Twitter. Click here for the registration link.

  1. What do you hope to accomplish during your presentation?

This session is for parents who are grappling with the “new normal”—the ever-transitioning day-to-day reality of trying to answer kids’ questions, provide meaningful homeschooling activities and learning opportunities, keep the household running smoothly, maintain a buoyant family dynamic, and support children’s well-being.

In this presentation, I will provide strategies to help parents carve a path forward so that their children’s curiosity and creativity continue to be nurtured. The coronavirus is worrisome and destructive, but it need not have power over the imagination, the spirit, family bonds, or ways of nurturing the mind.

  1. Parents in general—what are they going to face over the next few months?

These are extraordinary times—unpredictable and unprecedented. Although the future is unknown, parents will inevitably have to continue to work hard to nurture their children’s emotional, social, and academic growth, and also attend to other needs. Families are staying at home more and will be doing so for the next while; the nature of schooling has changed dramatically; and routines have been upended.

Daily life is now different—no get-togethers with friends, closed parks and recreation centers, restricted family gatherings, curtailed extracurricular programs, and so on. And, this will continue to evolve as circumstances dictate, and as people have to deal with the challenges, uncertainty, devastation, and worldwide havoc being wrought by COVID-19. Amidst all this, there is information overload—countless articles, posts, podcasts, resources, webinars, breaking newscasts, statistical data, government updates, medical reports, and more… Emotions are running high, and for many parents the situation is becoming overwhelming. It may not be abating any time soon.

Nevertheless, parents are supposed to be calm, informed, resourceful, patient, and optimistic, and they are expected to provide a safety net when their children are struggling with the reconstituted way of the world. Above all, parents must sustain their own health, and that of their family.

Parents are protectors, providers, and gatekeepers, and they will be called upon to reassure, guide, and inspire their children. This virus has taken hold, and as a result the job of parenting (which was never easy) is becoming more demanding every day.

In the webinar, I will be discussing ways to encourage children’s questions and curiosity, and spark their creativity, so as to motivate their learning and infuse it with enthusiasm. This will help foster children’s ability to cope with the current reality, and better prepare them for what may lie ahead. I will also talk about parents’ concerns and share ideas for easing some of the difficulty that families are confronting.

  1. Gifted learners—how are their needs different from other children? What should parents consider?

The coronavirus is stoking fear and uncertainty around the globe. It knows no distinctions between gifted or not gifted, short or tall, affluent or impoverished. When it comes to COVID-19, everyone is vulnerable.

In ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, I suggest the importance of “calming the spirit while educating the mind so both work in harmony,’ and I emphasize that “safety is a defining element for any child’s optimal growth and well-being” (pp. 130 and 131). Parents who keep these caveats in mind are well-positioned to support their children, whether they have designated high-level abilities or not.

I also suggest (on p. 86), “Try and look past any label and pay attention to the child, and the specific needs he or she might have in one or more areas.”

It’s prudent to remember that the pathways to high achievement are complex, diverse, develop over time, and can be influenced by myriad factors. Although gifted learners may aspire to excel, or they may experience intensities in certain areas (for example, relating to their intellectual, psychomotor, imaginative, sensual, or emotional functioning), the same may be said for many individuals who are not identified as gifted. Possible giftedness labels aside, children are still children—and parents are guiding lights and conduits for their learning.

That responsibility holds true from infancy onward, across domains, and in tranquil and also turbulent times.

  1. Learning still goes on even though we are experiencing a pandemic. What recommendations do you have for parents for the next few months?

More kids are engaged in homeschooling activities. It makes sense to think about alternatives to “formal” academics. Be open to new and perhaps innovative forms of instruction. For example:

  • Play is a form of learning, a forerunner to intellectual development, and a cost-effective investment in optimal growth—enabling children to explore, create fun, and pursue their interests.
  • Physical activity (exercise, yoga, aerobics, dance, etc.) is very important. So is down-time, relaxation, and adequate rest.
  • Aim for a routine that combines a variety of alternatives ranging from focused to technological to “recess.”
  • Opportunities for creative expression can extend learning and propel children in exciting new directions.
  • Character education involves teaching children about virtues such as honesty, empathy, integrity, resilience, gratitude, forgiveness, respect, and kindness—and will help fortify their moral fibre so they can forge ahead ethically, and with greater confidence.
  • Provide choice, including reading material, and opportunities to reflect and consolidate ideas.
  • Teach children inquiry skills—how to ask pertinent questions, and where to find answers.
  • Mindfulness (learning to appreciate the here and now) can be pivotal.
  • Life skills are critical to functioning at every age, so pay attention to the competencies people use every day, such as emotional literacy, time management, organization, communication, and personal care. (Have a look at the Parenting 2.0 online community.)
  • Think about critical thinking, problem-finding, and problem-solving possibilities.

In short, ponder any and all viable options that might help children stretch their horizons and strengthen their capacities.

  1. Joanne are there any resources that you would like to share with parents that they may find useful?

This is an excellent question, especially now that home-based learning has taken on greater emphasis for families navigating school-related changes in the wake of COVID-19.

I provide hundreds of links and references in ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, and I offer LOTS of material on the Resources Page of my website at www.joannefoster.ca.

Here are a few additional resources:

Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) Library – loads of excellent articles, and webinars, too.

The Do Good from Home Challenge – a brand new and awesome initiative to inspire kids to become invested in contributing to the greater good.

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – a go-to spot for homeschoolers.

Newspaper and magazine articles, such as this one from The New York Times – scope out ideas and hyperlinks. (Explore but be discerning.)

The Creativity Post – check out the resources that I provide in my column.

The online “bookshop” at Gifted Unlimited LLC – a wealth of material to support children’s learning and development. (I’d like to mention that Gifted Unlimited, is offering a time-limited discount on four of my books through to April 9th, 2020. People can go to the website www.giftedunlimitedllc.com and use the coupon code Foster3Cs for 20% off on ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids; Bust Your BUTS; Not Now, Maybe Later; and Being Smart about Gifted Education.)

7) How can parents help their kids cope with anxiety during this time?

Here are some helpful tips for parents:

  • Get your own emotions in check. Try not to overreact or send negative messages. Model effective coping skills. Create a calm space for yourself, and for your children.
  • Listen carefully to what yours kids say about what’s troubling them—and rephrase it to ensure that you have the message straight. Respond in ways that are appropriate to the individual child’s level of understanding.
  • If your child is deeply upset and cannot be consoled, consider consulting a professional with expertise in children’s emotional well-being.
  • Tell, read, or talk about stories that focus on resilience and courage.
  • Check into online resources by reputable professionals. Here are three timely and helpful articles. Each has a different but relevant focus.
  • Try to maintain some semblance of routine. Predictability and security are very important during challenging times.
  • Fortify family ties and other relationships, even though physical distancing makes this more challenging. Technology enables connectivity.
  • Help children find and appreciate the good in society, and contribute to it meaningfully by being kind, caring, and helpful.
  • Encourage your child to express ideas and feelings through the arts (such as music, drawing, and writing). Make time for happy and creative activities.

8) What have I neglected to ask?

Nothing!

Thank you, for enabling me to inform people about this upcoming free and timely SENGinar on nurturing curiosity and creativity, and responding to concerns during this pandemic. We are all striving to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak, and I wish you good health and peace of mind during these trying times.

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