After being stuck at home for months on end, many families are running out of steam. No matter how many brilliant activity ideas and family bonding moments you had at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s probably getting harder to keep things fresh and to fight the boredom, crankiness, and despair that come with social isolation.
While the burden has been monumental for parents, we can also choose to relish the positive aspects of being at home with kids: bonding, honing skills around the house, and appreciating the little things in life. But we could all use some new ways to bring out these positive moments during melancholy times. The following ideas will add some joy and connection to your days at home—plus help ease some of the strain that our mental health has come under.
Pass a journal back and forth
A child and grownup can open the doors of communication by passing a notebook back and forth and sharing questions, answers, or little tidbits from the day. There’s no pressure to make the writing too deep—you can even start with a joke or a simple drawing, and just see where it leads. If the blank pages of a notebook feel too daunting, you can Google “parent/child journal prompts” for ideas for what to write at the top of each page, or you can buy an inexpensive journal with preprinted questions. Anything you share in the journal will become a book of recorded memories that you can read again together someday—which will lead to more bonding time later!
Little hidden surprises
Since you’re home more, it’s a good chance to sneak little moments of joy into each other’s lives. Hide a special teddy bear or another meaningful or silly object in each other’s rooms, or draw hearts or smiley faces on post-its and sneak them onto your household members’ computers, mirrors, drawers, snacks, and more. It’s the kind of thing that only takes a minute of your precious time, but is bound to generate a smile or laugh.
Make a family mural
No matter how hectic life feels, it is possible to start and finish a creative project as a family. Here’s one idea: Cover a table with paper, put out markers and crayons, and start drawing. Let any family member add to it any time they want, even if you’re not doing it at the same time as each other—so in between Zoom meetings, or after lunch, you can sketch or write something big or small.
Leave out the mural-in-progress until the paper is filled or until you all agree that the masterpiece is finished. Take a picture every few days to record the progress, and you’ll have some interesting life-during-the-pandemic snapshots to look back on. Plus, working together on something creative is a great opportunity to connect in a new way.
Take turns leading an in-person class
Since all you have is each other right now, and you’re probably craving in-person experiences, you might as well learn what you can from each other. Maybe your preschooler wants to teach the family a new song, your tween wants to lead an exercise class, or you want to show everyone how to cook a certain dish. Have each family member pick their topic of expertise, and then put up an official class schedule. Encourage everyone to set up and prepare in advance, and discuss the ground rules (listening like you would in a real class, etc.). Even if you don’t end up being the greatest teachers—or students—the experience will certainly help shake up the routine and counteract Zoom fatigue, plus you’ll learn something from and about each other in the process.
Get creative with saying grace or making toasts
Before a certain meal of the day—now that you’re home more, maybe it actually works best at breakfast or lunch—start a tradition of saying something meaningful. Maybe for your family it’s a religious prayer, maybe it’s a toast to people you’re thankful for, maybe it’s a thanks to the farmers who grew your food, or maybe it’s just a pre-meal joke.
Kids and adults can take turns thinking of something to say. You can even have a set order so kids can be planning ahead for what they’ll say next. And when the person is done saying your family’s version of “grace,” your family might want to choose a unifying phrase to say together, whether it’s “amen” or “cheers,” “buen provecho” or “to infinity and beyond!” Whatever is the right vibe for your family’s pre-meal tradition, it can help you feel gratitude, learn more about each other, and simply make you feel like you’re part of a close-knit team.
Set aside one-on-one time
If you’re busy working and caring for multiple family members and yourself, it often feels like you’re spread too thin to give anyone your full attention. So every day or week, or however often you can manage, plan for just ten minutes to spend one on one with each of your children separately. Maybe you can catch that special ten minutes during another child’s naptime, shower, or Zoom class, or ask your partner to watch the other kids. Give it a name like “Joey and Daddy time” or “special time” or whatever captures your kiddo’s heart.
“For ten minutes we can be patient and truly present, and our kids thrive on our presence,” writes Alissa Marquess of Bounceback Parenting. What you play or talk about during that ten minutes is up to your child and you, but just knowing that you’ve set aside the dedicated time is enough to make them feel loved.
Track a daily natural phenomenon
Depending on the season and your location, you might be able to watch a sunrise or sunset with your child, or look for the moon every night. You can talk about your observations and what changes from day to day, week to week—or you can just take a quiet minute to gaze out the window while you snuggle together. Keeping track of the shifting times of natural light or the phases of the moon is an easy way to bring you closer to the calming rhythms of nature. You could even fill out a moon journal, or get an app on your phone for sunrise and sunset times. Plus, having something to do together for just a few minutes each day guarantees that you’ll have something to connect over.
Tell stories from your childhood
Talking about your own upbringing is a great way to connect with kids. To get you started, look at an old family photo album or yearbook together, or FaceTime with an older relative so your kid can ask questions about what your childhood was like. Telling little anecdotes from your old neighborhood or school, and about your relatives and friends, gives your kids interesting details that they’ll remember for years to come. It also gives them an important perspective on history, their heritage, and how similar or different their lives are now. Plus, it brings you closer and gives some purpose and depth to your time spent at home.
Even though there’s a lot to grieve and way too much to manage these days, finding ways to bond with our kids can help add some hope and joy to our time at home. Our kids have struggled but have also adapted so much during the pandemic, and what they need most from us right now, as always, is our love.
Dealing with school closures, childcare issues, or other challenges related to coronavirus? Find support, advice, activities to keep kids entertained, learning opportunities and more in our Coronavirus Parents: Parenting in a Pandemic Facebook Group.
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