I have never felt more grateful that my kids are all grown up – and therefore think I’m too lame to spend any time with - than I have since Coronavirus came along. Don't get me wrong, there have been times when I would give anything to have my little boys back chattering away to me, but I can only imagine how tough it must be to have to cope with the most stressful event of recent times while trying to keep kids happy and educated and do it without the support of the outside world.
Whether you’re a single parent, keyworker, working from home with World War 3 going off in the background, have a grumpy teen that can’t see their mates, or are just stressed with worry about health or finances, the next few weeks will be tough so you’ll need to think about how to do it without coming out the other side a blubbering wreck.
Here are my three main things to think about to stop yourself becoming unhinged in the next few weeks:
Make Sure They Get Enough Sleep!
If there was one gift I could give to all the kids I work with, it would be a good night’s sleep (the parents too). Without sleep, everything seems harder. We’ve all felt cranky after a bad night’s sleep –and that includes your kids. If they’re angry, short-tempered, grumpy, anxious or even hyper-active it could be due to lack of sleep.
When the body doesn’t get enough sleep it releases cortisol (the stress hormone) and adrenaline to keep it awake – this can cause a spiral of the child staying awake longer, being even more tired in the day, creating even more cortisol and adrenaline to keep them awake during the day and therefore struggling to sleep at bedtime.
Signs your child could be overtired:
difficulty with emotional control
You probably recognise most of these in yourself if you don’t get enough sleep, but you may be surprised to see hyperactivity on the list. If your child is hyperactive, or if you think they may have ADHD, then it could be caused (or at least exacerbated) by the constant flood of adrenaline and cortisol caused by lack of sleep.
What can I do?
Create a regular bedtime routine 30-40 mins before you want them in bed
Keep them upstairs during the bedtime routine
Turn off main lights and use lamps to encourage their body to realise it’s night time
Blackout their windows – don’t have a blackout blind? Try spraying the window with water and sticking up tin foil cut to fit.
Have a bedtime box of quiet activities such as colouring, Lego or puzzles – or for older kids, a list of appropriate calm activities to choose from.
No screens at least 1 hour before bed, including TV, to cut down mental stimulation.
No exercising or exciting games a least an hour before bed as these can be too stimulating
Tire them out (especially in fresh air which encourages melatonin, the sleep hormone) earlier in the day.
Make sure they get a chance to chat and spend time with you before bedtime, and that they’ve been to the toilet and have everything they need before you put them to bed.
If they keep coming down, stay calm and don’t allow them to drag you into conversations. Keep saying the same thing over along the lines of: “It’s time to sleep. Please stay in your bed.” And return them to their room. Stay calm and quiet. Keep doing it as often as is necessary.
(My son kept coming downstairs once to chat to us and we just turned off all the lights and went upstairs to our room. We turned off all the lights in there too and sat in the dark. He soon just wandered back up to his room and put himself in bed when he realised there was no point being downstairs. I may just have been lucky though!)
Don’t expect your kids to welcome all of this with open arms. Your child or teen will happily want to believe that being wide awake means they need less sleep, so you’ll have to stick with it for a week or so.
With older kids, explain to them about adrenaline, blue light from screens etc. (Watch out for my full post on this coming soon) and help them to create their own routine.
Don't Throw Away The Routine….
I know it’s tempting during lockdown or school holidays (or weekends. Or generally) to just throw routine out the window, live in PJs, let them game just to keep them quiet and graze constantly throughout the day but you’ll regret it in the long run.
As soon as you start waking later, sleeping later and dropping regular meal times then you’re going to start having those sleep problems we just talked about. Your body clock will go all out of whack, and while you may be able to cope during the time off, as soon as you want or need to go back to real-life routines you’ll be stuffed. It can be very difficult to get your body clock back on track, so it’s sensible to try not to let it vary too much.
If you normally get them out of bed at 7am for school, try not to let them laze for more than an hour or two longer when they’re not at school.
Keep regular mealtimes – it helps keep the body clock in check – and put unhealthy snacks out of sight and fruit readily available and easy to get to.
Block out time for school work and the use of technology and devices. Neither should be too close to bed, and preferably not in the bedroom if your child has trouble sleeping. Use of tech should come after school work – it’s a privilege not a right, so don’t be afraid to explain that they can only use their tech for gaming once the schoolwork (and chores) are done.
Use Family Controls to limit the time kids are on their devices – check out this blog for using family controls on the Xbox. Search online for your child’s tech of choice.
Look After Yourself
I realise for some of you this might seem difficult. Single parents in particular are going to find it difficult to find a minute in the day to themselves. I feel for you. But it’s really important. Create a support bubble with someone who can look after your kids for you, if you can, even if it’s just for long enough for you to have a bath or a cup of tea.
Things to try:
If your kids are old enough, block out their tech time so they have it at the same time. Don’t do housework then – you need that time to chill and look after yourself. Make a cup of tea, read a book, catch up with a friend on zoom.
Take turns with your partner to get away from the kids. Perhaps one day you take them out for a walk and the next day your partner takes them. Maybe one day you curl up with them and watch a movie (or watch them game – many kids would love that) while your partner goes for a run, and then next day your partner plays a board game with them while you have a bath.
Give the kids the contents of your recycling bin and a roll of sellotape. Give them challenges or just see what they come up with. Tell them you want it to be a surprise so you’ll be in the bedroom until they’re done. Try not to freak out at the mess –you’ve got until mid-February to get it cleaned up!
Have you seen that post where you get your kids to hold a £5 note against the wall and tell them the child to hold it on longest gets to win the note? Give it a go! I’m sure you can fit a pound coin under their nose if a fiver seems too much. Perhaps say if they can hold it there until you’ve finished your cup of tea without whining they both get to keep it? Be creative!
Get them birdwatching. Check out the RSPB's page for resources. Especially good if you can convince them they need to stay quiet and still for the birds to appear.
What ideas have you got for ways to save sanity during lockdown for other parents? Please comment below!