We’ve been ‘winging’ parenting since 2017. There’s no manual that comes with your baby that tells you what to do and not every child responds in the same way. We have to learn to adapt. Parenting can be challenging at the best of times but being stuck in at home with children has definitely taken its toll on the nation. I am lucky enough to not be home schooling BUT I have embarked on many challenges whilst occupying two under three on my own. I am in a (fortunate possibly unfortunate) position to be on Maternity Leave currently and therefore can only sympathise with those who are juggling their own work, home schooling and keeping sane! People say to me, “you’re a teacher, it must be a doddle.” FALSE! Looking after two children constantly and not being able to escape without them there is so incredibly intense and a totally different pressure/feeling to teaching a class of 30. What can we do to survive lockdown with our little lovelies?
I don’t have a straight answer for that and it’s at this point that I’ll say my top tips work for me and my family and I am by no means an expert and far from the “perfect parent”. Tantrums still happen in our house (more frequently recently) with the latest meltdown being caused by not letting our 3-year-old blow his nose on a tissue that had been thrown down the loo…I know, we are awful parents!
Anyway, here are my five tips on how to have as positive an experience as possible whilst staying at home with your little ones.
1. ESTABLISH A ROUTINE
This might sound ridiculous, or equally obvious, but establishing a routine whatever the age of your child/children is paramount. Keeping bedtimes and mealtimes the same is hugely important for everyone’s sanity. A routine will ensure that your youngsters are feeling reassured and safe at such a bizarre and ever changing time. Obviously, some form of structure and entertainment will (usually) stop your child from getting bored and misbehaving. Win, win situation for everyone involved!
Breaking the day up and planning for little activities across the day will keep your kids entertained. I sometimes even do a timetable so I know how I’m going to entertain my eldest who constantly wants challenging and to learn new things (yes, this is absolutely exhausting)! Activities can be cheap or free and will just need your enthusiasm and time to run and keep them happy. Here are some things that I’ve done during lockdown to keep my 3-year-old content:
- Arts &crafts (scrapbooking is a fave)
- Baking – whether that be the lockdown favourite banana bread or cupcakes
- Number games
- Cinema afternoons (DVD with popcorn or “cockporn” as he sometimes calls it)
- Construction (LEGO or Duplo etc)
- Reading – you can then base activities on this e.g. puppet show, role play, crafts
- Exercise (Cosmic Yoga or Joe Wicks work a treat in our house)
Personally, I will aim to do at least one form of activity a day but often Child #1 will ask to do another one or will be keen to dress up as Catboy/Spiderman and save the world. Follow their lead but have some tricks up your sleeve in case they get restless. Doing these in short bursts will not only allow you to spend some quality time with your child but give a clear structure that will stop those, “Mum, I’m hungry/bored,” conversations.
“Mummy, we’ve not done my sounds in a while,” was what we often heard our eldest say. We have been amazed at how engrossed and keen to learn he has been. In the last few months, he’s learned to independently write his own name, recognise numbers and count them correctly and consistently and he’s also started reading some sounds and words with some phonics learning.
It is at this point that I feel I should also mention that I am only human and not every day is all singing and dancing. In fact, we often have a day of Netflix/Disney + to give myself a break as it can be pretty intense (and the housework won’t do itself)!
2.GET OUT INTO THE FRESH AIR
Fresh air and exercise are hugely underrated. We have made it out of the house in ALL weather conditions whether that be snow, ice cold wind or torrential rain. Oh, and sun when that occasionally appears! Getting outside, whatever the weather, instantly lifts your mood and will help with your child’s mental health.
Children of all ages love exploring outdoors (I think I’ve lost count of the number of sticks we have by our front door). It is a safe space to exercise and allow them to roam freely in a time that’s got so much restriction. The best thing is that fresh air and exercise totally wears them out and, in theory, makes them sleep for longer at night (oh if only…6am is classed as a lie in in our house)!
3.TALK – KEEP COMMUNICATING
There are two strands to this; talk to your children and make sure you stay in touch with other adults!
Regardless of their age, it’s important to talk to your children about what’s going on at the moment. Be vulnerable and let them know that you’re finding not seeing people, going places, etc difficult too. It is crucial that you give them time to express their own feelings. We have a magnetic calendar where he uses the emojis each day to tell us how he’s feeling and why. We had, “I’m feeling sad because I’m not going to nursery.” Not only did this break our hearts but it allowed us to shower him even more love than usual, snuggles and, inevitably, hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows. Remind them what they’ve got to be grateful about. We often tell him how we are feeling and emphasise how proud we are of him. It’s probably a bit sickening how much we are praising him at the moment just to make him feel super secure. Reassurance is key.
Despite all the praise, we found that our eldest’s behaviour could become pretty challenging at times; violent outbursts, night terrors, general non-compliance. On the one hand, the going to nursery one minute, having to self-isolate the next, followed by going back and then the country going into another lockdown won’t have helped but you can only make some allowances and certain behaviours cannot be excused!
If you are the adult who’s been stuck at home with children all day, it is important to keep in contact with your friends and family. It can be overwhelming and isolating being restricted to your house/one outing each day. Sharing your triumphs and laughing at the failures will ensure you don’t keep things bottled up. In line with the guidelines, you are allowed to meet one individual for exercise each day. This has been a saving grace for me. I am fortunate enough to have lots of wonderful friends living fairly close by and we often meet for a long walk and a good chat which really makes a difference – thank you, you know who you are!
4.REMIND YOURSELF THAT THIS IS BLOODY HARD!
Remember to be realistic and to not set ridiculous goals for the day. Recognise and manage stressful situations and remember to not put too much pressure on yourself or your children! We’ve spent many a day as a “PJ day” and sometimes a sign of a successful day was me putting some make up on. (My eldest son had even started to let me know that I “looked nicer” with my make-up on. He’s such a charmer!)
Utilise a support bubble, where allowed, to be mutually beneficial allowing some child free time as well as meeting all together. Respite is really important for mental health. We’ve never been a couple who have spent much time away from our child/children but we would always look forward to a meal out once in a blue moon – can’t wait until we can do that again. As much as we love our children, we all need some form of escapism to keep ourselves sane.
I think it’s also fair to say that my kids are sick at the sight of me. By the time Nick comes in from work on an evening, they practically run and jump on him.
If you need a laugh, I thoroughly recommend listening to ‘Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicome’s Lockdown Parenting Hell’. Beckett’s laugh alone is enough to lift your mood but it’s great to hear other parents share their trials and tribulations!
An absolutely hilarious podcast that will have you chuckling away to yourself!
Links for inspiration
When lockdown 1.0 started, I was determined to keep a scrapbook for my eldest (baby #2 was still cooking) so he could look back on 2020 with positivity and see how much we did together, at home, as a family. If I were to look through it now, I would see how much fun we all had; making pancakes and bread, playing in the paddling pool in the sunshine, painting and drawing (basically anything messy), spending quality time with each other whether that be in the garden, on the PlayStation or reading a book inside.
If you were a fly on our wall, I think it’s fair to say that we’d all look pretty bonkers! With this said, we try to make as many fun and different experiences for them as possible whilst making the most of this bizarre and morbid time we find ourselves living in.
I hope that you have found these useful and I am always looking for new things to do so please leave a comment if you’ve found something that works for you that I’ve not mentioned!
I have to admit that our eldest has now returned to nursery three days a week which has made a HUGE difference. It means 3/7 days a week can be focused on my 8-month-old and that I have to think of fewer activities for the week! I’m still totally exhausted at the end of each day whether it’s been full of different things or if we’ve just been sat on the sofa, eating popcorn whilst we sit and watch Toy Story, Larva Island (yawn) or PJ Masks on repeat!