So, has your daily life (and all around world) been turned upside down this past month? Do you look at it all and just say to yourself …… [insert wordless gasp or sigh here]. I think all we can really say is – WOW!
If you are prone to look at things in a positive light, then you might just say that your kids (and you, by default) have been handed a very extended summer break. But in reality, that extra “break” has no fun vacations, or trips to the beach, or block parties with friends, or meaningful moments with extended family. Instead, it’s just you guys and just in your home and just a completely new way of life (for now).
Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids to the moon and back! Everyone knows the love a parent has for their child is like no other. But being with them (only) and them spending every waking moment with you (only) for days and weeks and months on end is not easy. I think we can agree that these are extraordinary times and that calls for extraordinary measures in order to accommodate everyone’s needs as much as possible so we all stay healthy, and happy, and sane (at least halfway).
While we are all navigating some big adjustments to our usual day to day life, I wanted to share some ideas, tips and thoughts to help with that. I think the goal here is to make sure our children are feeling relatively safe and secure and happy (and rested, too!) while also keeping our own sanity. Hopefully something here can help.
Stick to the script
Playing peek-a-boo can be cute, especially the first few times. But how do you feel about it after the 47th time? Pretty darn bored and annoyed I would expect. However, your little one thrives off that game as they have an expectation of what will happen and that expectation is being met! That’s why little kiddos can engage in the same activity for (what seems like) ever and really enjoy it. Doing something familiar is actually entertaining as they test their knowledge and development.
But the familiarity of activities, and routines and expectations, gives them a sense of security as well. The fact that they know what to expect throughout the day is actually helping your little one be more confident as their own skills change and develop. They have one less thing to worry about and that puts their mind at ease. While these times will most certainly call for some compromises here and there, make your best effort to keep things as consistent and predictable (overall) as possible.
Just embrace screen time
I admit that I am “that mother” that limits my kids’ screen time daily and weekly. But even I have slightly upped screen time (maybe 10% more or maybe 700% more …) and I may not be very thrilled about it. As much as we all would like to be celebrity influencer parents who are teaching our children a new language and baking sourdough bread from scratch for the needy, we have to face reality. That is an ideal that is unrestricted by the basic laws of homeschooling, working from home, household needs, and space and time. For those of us in the real world, a little extra screen time could make the difference between a total meltdown and enough down time to recharge for the rest of the day.
So you should give yourself permission to allow a bit more learning apps or cartoons in your kids’ day. My only caveat is to try and stick to the rule of turning off screens at least 2 hours before bedtime. The blue light emitted from screens has a large effect on the body’s natural sleep rhythms, and it does not adhere to ANY social distancing.
Keep ringing the dinner bell
While I could have talked about this in the overall schedule discussion, mealtimes are important enough that they need their own section. The timing of when we eat has a fairly large impact on our body’s sense of timing/routine and so consistency in this arena is very important. Not only could you upend your little one’s schedule by fluctuating their meals and snacks day-to-day, but you may alter their overall nutritional intake. A great example of this is a toddler who is spending his days grazing and snacking when, just a month ago, he was getting his meals and snacks at set times. And that could lead with concerns of hunger before bedtime or even too much junk food leading up to a rough go down and restless night of sleep.
PLAY the house down
It is still a priority to get your kids (and yourself) outside in the fresh air and sunlight. You will want to find ways to help your kids tire themselves out like a bike ride, brisk walk outside, or chalk an obstacle course on the sidewalk. That sunlight, especially early in the morning and day, will also help maintain the circadian rhythm in the body. And try to make it happen more than once a day.
Even multiple times outside might leave your kids with energy abound throughout the day (it’s quite a different “recess” experience without friends to chase or playgrounds to climb) so make sure and continue some energetic play even indoors. Some of those activities could include a temporary play area made out of chairs and cushions in the living room, a lively game of freeze dance/dance party or even a “follow the leader” type parade throughout the house.
Early to bed, early to rise…
I get it! Without the call of work or a morning bell, it is super tempting to turn off the alarms and sleep in until … whenever. And that decision usually goes hand-in-hand with later bedtimes as well. But for the sake of your kids’ sleep needs, I encourage you to keep sleep times on schedule. Remember, predictability and structure are a source of comfort for your little ones, and another form of sleep hygiene that promotes restful and rejuvenating sleep (yes – even for the adults in the family).
So, even if things shift by a small amount (in my house everyone has adapted to a schedule that is just 15 minutes later than it was before staying safe at home) it will be important to not let it all go wild. And, don’t forget, we are going to be back to our usual schedules at some point (hopefully sooner rather than later) and the farther off you move your kids, the more challenging it will be to move them back. You’re probably better off just sticking to what you know works!
Inhale …. Exhale
My 7 year old just learned about “belly breaths” from his school counselor as a way to manage his feelings about what’s going on in the world. It’s not like he is doing meditation or anything that formal; but the breathing can help kids settle down at the end of the day in addition to calming some big emotions. And deep breathing is not JUST for older kids; even toddlers can do some deep breathing games and relaxation exercises. My favorite thing to tell young kids to help them understand deep breathing is to smell a flower with their nose and then blow out a candle with their mouth. I find that three “flowers” and three “candles” is usually amazing to help them calm and relax.
Monkey See Monkey Do
You know how your kids inevitably mimic the things they see you do (including that curse word you blurted out when you stubbed your toe)? Well, they are also going to pick up on how they see you behaving during these times. They probably already understand that this is serious stuff we are all dealing with; even if they have not said anything to you about it or are too young to verbalize it. Their own uneasiness can be amplified if they see that you are constantly concerned and on edge. So I want to remind you to try and keep the atmosphere throughout the family as light and cheery as you can.
I KNOW that is not an easy task. We are facing it in our home too. But we make it a point to include some fun and play and laughter whenever we can. And when the kids ask questions, we answer them with as calm of an attitude as possible. I figure that this whole situation is tough enough as it is, and having stressed out kids is certainly going to make things worse, not better.
In the end
I am already “over this” as a way of life (and I know I am not the only one). While this is not how I would chose to live my life, or raise my kids, I have accepted it all. But I am also looking forward to the time when schools open again and families can go back to earning their livings and friends gather for a healthy dose of love and laughter. Until then, wash your hands, stay safe at home, and make the best of this quarantine. Who knows. We may end up remembering this time with some affinity for the opportunity it’s given us to reconnect with our kids.
I mean, not likely, but it’s possible.