Five Influential Black Moms Share How to Keep Your Children Engaged During This Pandemic and Some Encouragement for Parents

Parents have it hard on a regular but add in a national pandemic where the children are unexpectedly forced to stay home takes on an entirely different hardship.  The Chicago Defender turned to 5 moms who are killing this pandemic with their children by keeping them engaged and making parenting during shelter-in-place life seem easy.

How the Pandemic is Affecting Children

Just like grownups, children are nervous, filled with anxiety, and feel stuck.  Children are more affected than we know.  Dinai, an event planner and mom of 2 to Dreux and Dyllan “DJ”, gives some insight into what her children are going through.

“Literally, no less than twenty minutes ago, my 8-year-old had a meltdown. I think we forget that this pandemic is affecting them too. Their norm has been disrupted. She is missing her friends, missing gymnastics, missing family, and tonight it all came to a head. She understands what is going on, and just wishes that it will be over so her life can go back to normal…My three-year-old has his days where we can tell his emotions are getting the best of him as well. Crying for no reason, we have seen a regression in him going to the bathroom (more accidents than usual), very clingy. I’m just trying to understand and be patient, as this pandemic has caused a rift in their everyday lives as well. They have a hard time expressing it, but I know it’s hard on them too.”

Jenny LeFlore, a community builder and mom blogger whose son ObieQ is 3.5 years old says,

“My son hasn’t played with another child since March 13th. That is truly the hardest part. Even e-learning and homeschooling can’t replace the joy when kids play with their friends.”

Many children have had to abruptly stop their daily routines, seeing their friends, and stop their extracurricular activities.  Dr. Kiarra King, an Ob/Gyn Physician, says,

“Kai [her 4-year-old daughter] is a very observant and emotionally expressive child. She has an age-appropriate understanding of what is going on. She knows that because of the virus, we have had to change our normal routines. She misses her preschool teachers and classmates. She misses swimming, gymnastics, and ballet but is able to do some of her activities virtually, so that helps.”

Keeping Children Engaged

Some children have also come home from college in the middle of the semester of college and keeping them engaged while supporting their desires is essential.  Dr. Suzet McKinney, who serves as the CEO and Executive Director of the Illinois Medical District, here in Chicago tells us about how her daughter Joia, age 18, is staying engaged after having to leave during her freshman year in college.

“She is finishing up the semester via online learning. We give each other space while I’m working and she’s doing schoolwork. When we aren’t working, we have been cooking together, grocery shopping together, sharing Instagram posts. I also supported her desire to drive for DoorDash as a means to have an activity outside of the house while she searches for summer internships.”

Both older children and younger children are engaging at home and safely outdoors.  Like Dr. Suzet, Michelle Thames, whose daughter, Riley (5), is supporting her daughter’s desires.

“We have been doing art projects, tie-dye shirts, and all the fun things. We’ve been reading, learning multiplication, and utilizing resources like as well. We’ve been having a lot of conversations about life too! 5-year-olds are very interesting people to talk to. We’ve also been outside in our yard a lot. Riley loves to play basketball so she has been working on her dribbling skills.”

The balance of education and playtime during a shelter in place is also essential.  Dinai says,

“The kids use watercolors, and my daughter draws quite frequently. Anything to keep them busy and learning is the key. We’ve also gone on nature walks around our block and taken pictures of “cool” things we find like a “unicorn track.” On nice days we make it a point to have PE in the backyard and have even had lunch outside.

Dinai also tells us how she gets her family outside the home involved in keeping her children engaged.

“This past weekend, we planned a “Den Slumber Party,” and we all slept in the den. We watched a movie, popped stove popcorn, ate s’ mores, had a dance party, and had a virtual game night with our family.”

A little structure is essential as well, so children feel safe and have a sense of normalcy.  Jenny says,

“The first few weeks we kept it pretty loose. Once it became clear we were in for a while, and we decided to make an “order of the day”. It isn’t strict with time allotments, but it does help letting him know what is next and what to expect. He loves it. We have taken full advantage of all the amazing virtual programming. In one day, we can attend a storytime with the former First Lady, visit a zoo in Cincinnati and take a yoga class with one of my son’s teachers.”

Getting children engaged in new skills is fun and exciting for both the child and the parent.  Dr. King tells us how she and her daughter started gardening.

“One of the most exciting activities we have started during this time is our garden! I was inspired by my oldest sister Ashieka to play in the dirt and plant; I knew this was something Kai would absolutely love. We planted our herbs and lettuce last week and are already seeing some sprouts! So we have taken this time to really get back to some down-home fun!”

Some Advice and Encouragement

Dr. Suzet McKinney

“Establish a daily period of “me time” for parents and kids. Allow the kids to spend this time doing a favorite activity or watching a favorite movie/show. Parents use the time while the kids are occupied to do something for yourself, like a bubble bath, or just sitting still.”

Jenny LeFlore

Take this time day by day, and if that seems too much, hour by hour. You don’t have to have all the answers. Try being open and honest about how you are feeling with your kids.


“I read something that said, ‘We shouldn’t want this time of quarantine to be traumatic for our kids, so try to create memorable experiences.’ If you are overwhelmed, take a break, take a nap, and get some fresh air. No one is putting pressure on you, but you. There are no rules to this quarantine, do what is best for you and the sanity of yourself and your family. So what if the kids had breakfast later than usual, so what if you decided NOT to home school today, so what your kid had Cheetos for dinner. Loosen the reigns a bit when you have to and give yourself a bit of grace and breathing room to just be.  There is no true balance right now, so just do your best! Some days are better than others, so strive for those days. 🙂  Also,  “The carwash is a great and inexpensive outing for overwhelmed parents where you can still practice social distancing if you need a QUICK getaway!”

Dr. Kiarra King

“Do the best with what you have. These days we are all stretched thin! Some parents are working full-time jobs from home while simultaneously running a new home school program. That’s a lot for anyone to handle! Show yourself some grace! Realize there will be days when not everything will get done, and that is OK. Be flexible with screen time. Don’t feel guilty about needing to use devices more than usual; we have to remember that these are unusual times. I have found a plethora of educational activities that Kai enjoys online and on TV. I don’t substitute it for quality time but will use the tools at my disposal if I need to keep her occupied while I’m on a call. Meal prepping has helped me quite a bit. Now, I’m not saying you have to go hard-core with tons of compartmented containers. However, planning out how long a particular menu item will last, thinking of how it can be repurposed, and being flexible helps me not to cook a new meal every single day. Keeping a set amount of snacks in reach, for kids that are old enough, can help cut back on the number of times your name gets called per hour. Don’t forget to practice some form of self-care during all of this. Whatever that looks like to you, do it. Whether it’s going for a run, a long hot bath, baking, reading, praying, scrolling through social media, cackling in a group chat about a recent meme, or setting boundaries. Do something that feels good to YOUR soul. Finally, to reiterate a previous point, our children need to feel loved and safe. We, as parents, also need to maintain our sanity. If we can do that, it’s MORE than half the battle, in fact, I’d say it’s a WIN!

Michelle Thames

“My advice is just taking it day by day. This is a new experience for all of us. Our children may not be able to really voice how they feel about what is going on, but their emotions matter too. Take time to talk with your children about how they feel. If you are feeling overwhelmed as a parent, take breaks if you can. Go outside and get some air; it really helps. Me time is so important, and we can’t pour from an empty cup. Utilize your support system, talk to someone you trust. We are all trying to navigate through this the best that we can. Remember, there is no wrong or right way to feel.”

Thank you to these influential moms for giving a snippet into their lives.  You can learn more about each mom by visiting her website or socials.

  • Dr. Suzet McKinney: Instagram @drsuzet
  • Jenny LeFlore: @MamaFreshChi on all social media platforms
  • Dinai: Instagram @i_am_dinai
  • Dr. Kiarra King: Instagram, Twitter, TikTok @drkiarraking; Website
  • Michelle Thames: Instagram @Naturalista86; Website


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