Q. Due to the pandemic, I was home with my husband and three children for six months. With the lack of structure that came along with school and work closures, that period felt even longer to me, but now I am finding myself unexpectedly sad about the start of the new school year. I dread waking up early and rushing the kids so that they catch their busses on time. I feel bad that after a long day of school my kids must contend with homework and have limited downtime. As a mother, how do I incorporate happy, easygoing moments as we rush through life?
A. This is a question that I contemplate daily. As parents, we long to provide structure for our children because it is crucial for their well-being. Simultaneously, we know that the freedom of childhood is precious, and we want to provide our children with a carefree experience. Therefore, I’d like to suggest some creative ideas that will keep your children happy while maintaining structure.
In an article in Parents, Emily Elveru offers some ideas that are easy to implement even with a hectic routine. Positive school traditions such as playful breakfasts – in the form of fruit arranged in a smiley face, for example – can serve to take the edge off in the morning. After school, children can take a craft break. Provide them with paper, markers, and crayons and let them express themselves freely. Throughout the year save some of their crafts to show them how their artistic skills have developed. Another way to incorporate happy moments and encourage your kid’s silliness is to video them acting funny. As you record, place the camera at their eye level and encourage them to “let it all out.” You can add music to the recording to make it feel cinematic. Moreover, encourage your children to decorate their paper lunch bags to give them a “flavor of home” during a long school day. You can add a small “I love you note” to ease their anxiety. You can also switch up their routine a bit by serving breakfast for dinner. Let them decorate their pancakes and chose their cereals to give them a feeling of freedom within their routine.
Older children may require a different sort of creativity. First and foremost, remember that it’s normal for them to be moody when they get home after a long day of school. Validate their feelings and give them the time and space to air out. Delay asking them multiple questions about their day and instead play relaxing music that they appreciate. Encourage them to engage in at least one extracurricular activity they appreciate such as taking guitar classes or joining a basketball league. Allow them to share their achievements and disappointments related to their activity. Another way you can bond with your preteen or teen (if their school allows this) is to occasionally surprise them and take them out for lunch during school hours. Allow them to choose the spot and share some good “playing hooky” laughs. If their teachers support this, have them earn a free “no homework night” and take them out for a simple, fun activity such as getting ice cream. Allow your teens to call up their friends or have them come over even on a school night. This will help take the edge off after a long school day.
Enjoy your moments of family time when they arise. Randomly play an exciting song and have the whole family play musical chairs or use kitchen utensils as microphones and have the family put on a choir.
Last but not least, remember that it’s okay to feel anxious about your stressful daily routine. Accept your feelings and validate your children’s feelings as they express some frustration. Remember to switch things up a bit. But most importantly, remember that as you provide structure for your children, you are giving them a gift. Hopefully this gift will allow them to navigate their adulthood and help them lead happy and successful lives.