These past couple of weeks have been challenging in many ways.
Worldwide, parents are suddenly juggling kids at home 24/7, working from home, all while being restricted (for the most part) within their home.
There is no question, I absolutely love my two children. Every parent I know loves their kids more than anything in the world. This doesn’t mean that having them at home all day, every day, for weeks at a time, is easy.
I think we can all agree that these are extraordinary times. They require some extraordinary measures to keep everyone sane and halfway functional. For some of us, that means some big adjustments.
I thought I’d offer a few tips to keep your children feeling secure and continuing to get the sleep they need during this crazy time. So, in no particular order, let’s get into it:
Align your decisions with your family values
I’ve spoken to a lot of parents over the past few weeks. Some are continuing to send their children to childcare, some have decided to keep them home. Homeschooling is happening in some homes, others have moved to online tutoring. Some parents are leaving children with a family member whilst they attend work, and others have not had contact with anyone for weeks.
There are a lot of scenarios being played out across the globe. How do you know if you are doing the right thing? What I am encouraging parents to do is to make informed decisions based on individual circumstances and lifestyle. Whether you are working from home, going into work, living or caring for a vulnerable person, or parenting on your own, we all have individual circumstances that help shape our parenting decisions. Follow your instincts and go with what you feel is the most appropriate and safe option for your family.
I’d like to mention it’s more important now to respect the decisions parents are making and not judge too harshly. We do not know the road another parent is walking. Let’s remain as positive and supportive as we can in this current isolating climate!
Stick to the script
You have likely heard it many times before…kids thrive on routine. They love to know what is coming next. Have you ever played Peek-a-Boo with your baby, or a game of hide and seek with your toddler? No matter how many times you put your hands over your face or find your child in that exact same hiding place, your baby or toddler get SO excited! It almost looks like you haven’t just done this 30 times already! Have you ever wondered why they could play these games forever???
It’s because they know what the outcome is. When baby sees your hands going up to cover your face, or your toddler hears you start to count, they know your hands will drop and your face will be there, or that you will stick your head under the bed and say ‘boo, found you!’
Familiar routines provide safety and security. Sure, the routines may have changed slightly: we aren’t doing the school drop offs, and the extracurricular activities have stopped or happening online. But we are still able to provide some kind of predicable and consistent routine to our day.
Just embrace screen time
For a lot of parents, the new norm is working from home. I have heard a lot of apprehension about the amount of screen time children are having. Again, make your decisions around your family. Households still need to bring in some form of income so if you are able to set your little one up quietly with a screen while you attend a virtual meeting, make some calls, or have a quiet moment ‘at’ work, what’s the harm?
These are strange times that none of us have faced before. It will not last forever. You can tighten up the rules around screen time once life returns to ‘normal’. I also feel if a bit of screen time diffuses a full-blown tantrum, allow it…for now.
I have found when my kids have had extra screen time, they need lots of movement and fresh air! This allows them to expel all that built up energy by crawling, running, jumping, crashing, pushing, pulling, etc. More on ‘hard play’ later.
Being a sleep consultant, I do have to put a little reminder that screens do emit a lot of blue light. This can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Absolutely allow some extra screen time but turn them off two hours before bedtime or naps. Even if the TV is just on in the background, you may not be aware of how often your little one glances at it. It’s better to turn it off completely in the lead up to sleep.
Keep meals around the same time
When it comes to mealtimes, again, remain as consistent as possible. Sure, there might be a few lunch meetings or work requirements you need to ‘attend’, but our eating schedule directly affects our bodies’ internal sense of timing. We also need to make sure we provide enough time for little bodies to digest meals before bedtime.
Watch those sugary snacks. I’m not saying you can’t offer any sugar (it’s Easter!) but be mindful of the time your child consumes it. We know that the sugar rush greatly affects your child’s energy levels. We want to avoid hyping little bodies up when they should be settling down to sleep!
Make friends with hard play
Like I mentioned earlier, we want to make sure little bodies have the opportunity to burn off excess energy. Particularly if they have had a little extra screen time! Playgrounds and all those structured activities (swimming, dancing, sports, etc.) are not running. We can’t organise playdates, so what can we do?
Getting outside is always a good idea. Sunlight helps to maintain the circadian rhythm. The fresh air and opportunity to get out in nature also helps to reduce feelings of isolation. The weather is changing, but I still encourage parents to rug up littlies and allow them to get outside. We have jumped in puddles, gone for bike rides, bear hunts, nature hikes, and had picnics in the backyard.
With more rain on the way, you may need to find creative activities to expel energy inside. It might get loud, and it might get fast, but it’s all very necessary to get that energy out and prepare your child for sleep. Some things we have enjoyed are setting up obstacle courses, playing musical statues, jumping over toys, and playing hopscotch.
Early to bed, early to rise…
Without having travel time to factor into our days, some parents are starting to think it is a good opportunity for everybody to catch up on sleep. What’s the harm in turning off that morning alarm???
There are a few solid reasons to maintaining your regular routine. One of the biggest is that you maintain your circadian rhythm.
Sticking to regular bedtime and wake times is really important. Again, it comes back to predictability and routine. These provide structure and security for our littlies. Also, things will eventually go back to normal. It can be extremely challenging to get the family back to the usual schedule if things have drastically changed.
Deep breath in, slow 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 be a lot of fun!
If you hype the kids up to get out all that pent-up energy, they may need some help calming down. Some quick easy activities include blowing bubbles: encourage your child to take a deep breath in and slowly blow out. You can try reading to slow down busy bodies, or sing some nursery rhymes that involve actions like ‘Incy Wincy Spider’, ‘I’m a little teapot’, or ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ (you can change this to if you’re calm and you know it).
Reach out if you would like some ideas on calming activities for your little one.
I was tucking my little guy in a few nights ago and he said to me “Mummy, when will we go back to normal?”. He has also asked me “Was I naughty so I can’t see my friends?”. These little questions solidify that our kids know the world has changed. They do not understand why these changes have happened or how long they will last.
As parents, we are doing all that we possibly can to explain what is happening so our littlies understand. We are all making every effort to also make sure they know that isolation from family and friends is not a direct response to their behaviour.
Even if your child isn’t directly asking questions, there is likely something going on in their mind that possibly has them a little anxious. These thoughts can be amplified if they see that their parents are concerned and on edge. Try to keep the atmosphere cheery and light. I know it’s not easy given the current climate but stressed out kids aren’t going to help the situation.
If they have questions, of course you should be honest and forthcoming. Remember, your attitude towards things will work wonders in keeping their minds at ease. If you and your partner are discussing issues relating to COVID-19, isolation, or work pressures, try to have these conversations once the kids are in bed.
It’s great to remain informed of what is happening but remember kids are ALWAYS listening. I encourage you to hold off watching or listening to news reports until the kids are in bed.
Find the positive
Make sure you find the shining light moments during these difficult times. Some days will be easier than others. Stop and admire new skills your children are picking up, enjoy the extra family time, or set up video calls with loved ones. Try to carve out some me time and read a book, go for a walk, pick up a new hobby, or listen to some music.
Remember, this is temporary. We may not have a set end date yet, but these restrictions will eventually be lifted. We will go back to enjoying the company of others, attending sport events, dance concerts, and organising playdates.
Until then, wash your hands, stay at home, and make the best of this isolation. Who knows, down the track we may end up reflecting on this time with envy for the opportunity to slow down and reconnect with our kids.
Stay safe and sleep well!