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Black American Parenting During the COVID-19 Crisis

May 12, 2020

May 12, 2020

I am a parent and an assistant professor who teaches an introductory course about humanitarian crises and children, Child Protection in Emergencies (CPiE). What we are experiencing with COVID-19 is a humanitarian crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an abrupt shift in the “normal day” and has brought challenges to all of us. In times of crisis (humanitarian), the needs of children and youth are often the last to be attended. While the global community appears to have been a bit better about considering the needs of children at the forefront versus later in this crisis, we haven’t been super great at utilizing systems or putting systems in place swiftly here in the U.S. Even more so, the needs of Black Americans are often the last to be attended. To assist with coping, particularly for Black Americans whose higher contraction rates of COVID-19 and morbidity related fatality is only now being publicly acknowledged, stay inside, hang out with your children, and try some of these suggestions to help you through this dynamic and challenging period in your parenting and in our lives.

Black Americans have had to manage marginalization and acute societal contractions in the United States differently every time we have an occurrence.”

Many parents are now at home parenting 24/7 and attempting to maintain a fulltime job that helps to keep the lights on, the mortgage or rent paid and the refrigerator full. Other parents are on the front lines and have limited time to have hands-on oversight. If you are home with your children or you are preparing to work all day, parents and adults often don’t know what to do to keep their children busy 24/7. In this list are simple tips and strategies for integrating the awe-inspiring resilience of African Americans who generationally had to overcome crises too often associated with being Black in America. The deterioration of Black communities have impacted how we think and transfer skills and knowledge to our children. Our care for our children should be infused with our ways of being who we are and our care and value for ourselves.

  • Breathe, deeply. When you breathe deeply you allow more oxygen to reach your brain and tension is released. Your brain needs a good supply of oxygen to function at ideal levels. Deep long breaths are also restorative and centering. 
  • Pray, meditate. Both mother wit and research have demonstrated faith is a protective factor for Black Americans. It helps with healing during sickness, with ailments and is calming. Spiritual or religious practice involves positive prayer or meditation. In spite of what is occurring, Black people historically relied on faith to get us through difficult periods of time. DO NOT let go of this practice. If you don’t already, include your children in your faith practices. I have a toddler. Sometimes she is in the mood to pray or practice gratitude, sometimes she isn’t. Today I found her in her room praying on her own, praying and expressing thanks to God. Works for me!

  • Express gratitude for those who came before you and made a way. Look to what they did for strength and practical ideas to get your family through crisis. If you have living family members who can tell you how “they made it” through segregation, the civil rights movement, serving in the military, or being the “first” in their field, now is the time to listen up. Black Americans have had to manage marginalization and acute societal contractions in the United States differently every time we have an occurrence. Call to ask this information, call, don’t text. Remember, telephones were made for talking. If you don’t have blood relatives to connect with, who are the close friends and family that you can reach out to for this conversation? A worry for many parents is the lack of inter-generational knowledge — again this is a conversation in which to invite your children. Learning about how others they know and have handled difficulties will likely prove useful to them as they learn about culturally based coping strategies. High school and college seniors are understandably disappointed with the status of graduation celebrations this year due to COVID-19 quarantines. How might their perspective change if they heard family stories of resilience and persistence during times when public celebrations and appreciations of academic accomplishments for Black students were non-existent or could only be private and intimate? Turn these interviews into family histories. Record them. Tell our stories as keepers of our own culture.


Take an inventory of what you have at home to engage your children and not just the TV or video games. For example, do you have board games, playing cards, a jump rope, books, craft kits, gardening tools, etc? Listen, these are connected to life skills and they are disappearing yet OUR children need them. “Old-school” will become “new school”. Back in the day the stories “my mother,” “aunt,” “grand mom,” and “big mom” told us are extra valuable right now. I remember the accounts my mother told about growing up in Florida. These stories helped to center me and made me focus on making it through this rough period of history.

Photo by Robert Coelho on Unsplash


Organize Hand-Me-Down Recipes

There is no better time to document grandma’s or mom’s recipes as an activity than right now. As a family you can work together to organize family recipes in a notebook or write them in a pre-filled blank cookbook journal like this one on Amazon titled, “Grandma’s Kitchen and Her Extraordinary Recipes.” The journal is 7.5 X 9.50 with 120 pages to fill in for recipes. Each page is formatted for easy recording and features prompts for ingredients and directions. 

Grandma’s Kitchen is available on Amazon for $10 and is a blank journal that makes a great project for the entire family to complete.
Cooking together can be a fun activity and an opportunity for conversations about family recipes or traditions you have been meaning to share.

4. If your children are young, you may have to child-proof your workspace. Young children will make their way into your work space, especially now. Older children may become more interested in what you actually do every day. Consider this a period of additional or new career exploration for your children. Whether you like your current career, job, or position, you have plenty to share with your child about the skills and expertise you use daily. This is super important for middle school and high school students who may have career aspirations but not in-depth knowledge about what it takes to get there. You could also turn this into an at-home assignment. Have your child interview you about your job or interview your kinfolk. My little learner is searching for her own .com site right now and joins me for Zoom meetings.

5. Healthy snacks and comfort food. Cooking together can be an opportunity for conversations about family recipes or traditions you have been meaning to share. All children regardless of sexual orientation should learn how to cook. It is a life skill that is timeless. Cooking at home means that you can make healthier serving sizes and meals. Sautéed vegetables can be made with less salt, without butter, and still taste good. Sweet potatoes aren’t called sweet for nothing, why add a ton of sugar? Hand me down recipes, dishes, pots and pans-storytelling time — everyone will learn from this experience.

6. Like back-in-the-day, plan and prepare a sit-down meal. Prepare a meal and not from a can or take out. Make a true home cooked meal. Right now, I bet there are plenty of people to clean the dishes. Turn off the technology, eat, and converse. Initially this may be awkward, but give it time to evolve. Conversations at the table often lead to storytelling, tall tales that mix fact and fiction. I still remember, my Uncle William, who loved to fish, telling a story about the “wolf fish” he caught that was barking at him! His story made me laugh deeply until I cried and it sent me on a mission to discover whether there is an actual wolf fish, and there is! If you are having conversations with family elders, record them. My uncle recently passed, but this memory warms my heart. I am sure some of the stories you share will be heartwarming and you will be creating new memories to reminisce in the future.

7. Create photo collages or family play lists together. You can also have your child/children do this project while you are at work. This gives them something to work on while they are contributing to the family. This project will create memories and spark additional family stories and conversations. These stories are important in a child’s development and sense of self.

8. Home is the first educational space. Lessons at home don’t have to replicate school. My learner is a little one. For example, we count steps, we look for things that began with a specific letter, and more. You can access plenty of educational resources for free online that mimick school and there are also interactive learning platforms. Be sure to check out the blogs of Black moms that home school, blogs and websites that house Black history, both historical and contemporary. If you haven’t been teaching your child Black History at home, believe me, they are not getting it at school but they do need it. My research has shown that knowledge of Black History is associated with higher career aspirations, which is super important, given the quality of our public-school systems, the absence of

our experience in American History courses, and the lack of Black classroom teachers to hold our children to a twice as hard standard. Your child may not want to hear it, but I love this quote from Black Enterprise magazine founder, Earl Graves Sr. from the March-April 2017 Publisher’s Page column, “It saddens and alarms me that so many people—and especially young people—seemingly embrace ignorance of history as a badge of honor. They tragically, mistakenly believe that if it didn’t happen in their lifetimes, it’s not worth knowing. It’s a confounding paradox: In an age where we have easy access, thanks to innovations such as Google and Wikipedia, to near limitless amounts of information, we are increasingly disinclined to acquire knowledge and wisdom…”

9. For children who can write, have them pen letters to family members. It is always nice to receive a personal note. This is a life lesson. Today’s youth barely know how to utilize the post office. Teaching children how to address an envelope is a lost but practical skill.

10. Ask your child to teach you something they have learned. This may seem like a small task but let your child teach you. Be sure to give your child your complete attention and then provide praise and support. We learn best and retain more information when we teach others.

11. Set up a movie night. Pick a classic, how about The Wiz or Roots? I know these movies are very different in content and genre, but both are conversation starters. I also know, firsthand that Black History and culture are nonexistent or diluted in our national public school curriculum. Our culture is also absent at many “American History” museums and our youth don’t have deep connections to Black culture or an awareness of how elements of Black culture have been mainstreamed without any deference or acknowledgment of the origins. I remember taking my aunt to see The Butler, she had lived through this era, talking through the movie, her stories were better than what was on the screen.

12. Take walks or have a dance challenge. We do this with our toddler all the time. My daughter almost lost her natural born rhythm. That is another story and yes, it was traumatic for me and my husband! We instituted “Operation Get it Back” with Friday Night Dance parties to ole’ school music with a clear baseline and beat. Lately, we enjoy listening to D-Nice Home School Club Quarantine and our own playlists of favorites. She will request, “Play DJ D-Nice mom.”

13. Laugh. I mean really LAUGH. Find something good to laugh at and laugh loudly from your belly and out loud! It might be the recent surge in Teddy Riley memes from the Verzuz battle with Baby Face that are full of inside (our community) jokes, a good sitcom, or a recording of a stand-up comedy favorite — just be sure to have a good laugh.

14. EVERYBODY, take naps. Rest is restorative. Turn the lights down low or totally off and go to sleep. When I was young, on occasion, my mom would have everyone in the house take a nap. Even though I pouted all the way to my room, we were all refreshed and better to one another after our nap. If you happen to make a delicious and healthy home cooked lunch, the itis’ will make napping that much easier.

Practice social distancing, stay in the house and if you must go out, use all the recommended precautions.

This article was edited and reprinted with full permission from In The Know by Valerie Adams-Bass.


Valerie Adams-Bass, PhD

Developmental Psychologist

Valerie Adams-Bass is a developmental psychologist who earned her PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Development from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She focuses on adolescent development. Dr. Adams-Bass is an Assistant Professor of Youth and Social Innovations in the Department of Human Services at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education. She is a faculty affiliate with the Youth-Nex Center to Promote Effective Youth Development in the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia and an affiliate faculty member of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative with the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Pennslyania.

Dr. Bass’ research examines the relationships of racial socialization and racial identity with the developmental processes, social and academic outcomes of Black children and youth. She is particularly interested in how Black adolescents interpret negative media stereotypes and whether the messages presented are internalized or buffered as a result of racial socialization experiences. Her research on stereotype media images resulted in her being awarded a Ruth Landes Memorial Fellowship.

 Pennsylvania, USA

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