What can I say? These past few weeks have been...
I mean, wow. Right?
If you’re in the same boat as most parents in the world, you’ve had to accommodate the fact that your kids were suddenly and unexpectedly given an extra four months of summer vacation. And to top it all off, they’re unable to leave the house.
Now listen, I love my kids to death. Every parent I know loves their kids more than anything in the world, but that doesn’t mean that having them at home all day, every day, for weeks and months at a time, is easy.
So I think we can all agree that these are extraordinary times, and as such, they require some extraordinary measures to keep everyone sane and halfway functional. For some of us, that probably means some big adjustments to the usual routine.
This whole situation is, obviously, beyond crazy and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do here, I get that, but I just wanted to drop in here and give you some tips to keep your children feeling secure and rested, and to help you keep your sanity while you’re at it.
Stick to the script
Have you ever wondered why babies can engage in the same boring little pastime for hours on end? Why a game of peek-a-boo can make them squeal with delight as heartily on the hundredth time as it does on the first? It’s because, at least in part, their expectations are being met. They watch you put your hands over your face, then think to themselves, “Oh hey! I know what happens next! She’s going to move her hands away, and her face is going to be right there!” And sure enough, the hands drop, Mama gives her the familiar “Peek-a-boo!” and baby thinks to herself, “Oh, I knew it! I knew that was going to happen!”
Routines also give kids a sense of security. Knowing what’s on the schedule provides them with a road map for their day, and that knowledge makes them confident and puts their minds at ease, so even though we may need to make some serious concessions, there’s a lot to be said for keeping things predictable and consistent wherever possible.
Let’s just embrace screen time
In my case, and in the case of nearly every other parent I know, we’ve slightly upped screen time by about three thousand percent. None of us are thrilled about it, and we’d all like to be the Instagram-influencer parents who are using this time to teach our kids to make sourdough bread and macrame bespoke hoodies for their iguanas, but as we all know, those people aren’t restricted by the typical laws of space and time, and their kids are androids who have been programmed to smile and comply through whatever asinine Pinterest project their parents have dreamed up for them. For those of us in the real world, extra screen time for the kids might just be the difference between a peaceful afternoon and a mutual meltdown.
Just one caveat; screens emit a lot of blue light which can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm, so go ahead and let your kids indulge in extra screen time, but turn them off two hours before bedtime. (The screens, not your kids.)
Keep ringing the dinner bell
When it comes to mealtimes, again, try to stay as consistent as possible. Few things affect our bodies’ sense of timing like when we eat, so allowing meal and snack times to fluctuate too much can upend your little one’s schedule. Sugary snacks will likely leave them with too much energy come bedtime and the occasional upset tummy, so keep an eye on how much junk food they’re getting into.
Embrace your inner architect
With everyone being housebound, your kids are likely going to have a ton of excess energy. With no playground to frolic in and no friends to chase around, you’re going to need to get creative to help them tire themselves out. Getting outside is a good idea. Sunlight will help maintain the circadian rhythm and a bike ride or even a brisk walk can help reduce feelings of confinement and keep you and your kids from going stir crazy. Building a temporary indoor play area out of furniture and cushions can be a great project to keep your kids occupied and provide them with some stuff to climb on too.
Early to bed, early to rise...
Now, since many of us are no longer under any obligation to get up for work and school, we might get to thinking that this is a good opportunity for everybody to catch up on some sleep by turning off the morning alarms. I’m tempted to do so myself, to be honest, but sticking to the usual bedtimes and wake up times is really important. Predictability and structure are, again, sources of comfort for our kids, so even though there’s no morning bell, it’s still a good idea to keep things on schedule. Besides, things are eventually going to go back to normal, and trying to get them back onto their usual schedule is going to be a challenge. You’re better off just sticking to the tried and true.
Deep breath in, deep breath out
For older kids, some deep breathing exercises during their bedtime routine can help to settle them down at the end of the day. I’m not suggesting they start meditation classes or anything, but deep breathing games can actually be a lot of fun! Check out Coping Skills for Kids for a ton of great ideas.
Outside of the sleep realm, there are a couple of other tips I’d like to offer you. As you undoubtedly know, kids are perceptive little creatures, and they probably know that there’s something serious happening at the moment. They might not bring it up too much, but there’s likely something pinging around in the back of their heads that has them a little bit on edge. This can be amplified if they see that their parents are concerned and on edge as well, so try to keep the atmosphere cheery and light. I know it’s not easy given the circumstances, but stressed out kids aren’t going to improve the situation. If they have questions, of course you should be honest and forthcoming, but your attitude towards things will work wonders in keeping their minds at ease.
Focus on the good stuff
Last but not least, try not to watch the news coverage with the kids around. They’re always listening and hearing terms like, “death toll,” and “fatal disease” is going to increase their stress levels. It’s important to stay informed, but do so after they’ve gone to bed.
I look forward to getting back to a time when we can discuss less serious things with each other again, and look back at this time as one where we all came together (even while we’re so far apart) and made the best of a really bad situation. Until then, wash your hands, stay 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. :-)