Dear Dr. Debbie,
I’m dreading having to be entertainer, cook, custodian, and peace negotiator for my two children, ages 6 and 9, for the upcoming winter break. I work part-time from home, setting my own hours around their school schedule. My husband commutes and works long hours.
We can’t afford a nanny, but that’s what I wish we had.
If you can’t change your situation, generate a new attitude. Your children need a stress break. Covid-19 is impacting schools with teacher and other staff shortages on top of a couple of years of learning loss during online schooling and then absences due to illness. Use this time to enthusiastically invest in your parenting role and take a break from work yourself.
Yes, you will be managing more of the children’s waking hours while schools are closed, but consider this as a golden opportunity to be the best parent you can be. Home can be a haven. Family can be foundational.
Is this the chance you’ve been waiting for to add some decorative touches to make areas of your home more appealing to the children? A simple sign can designate a shelf as “Tyler’s Library” and another as “Angie’s Cars”. A splash of paint can add a pop of color to a wall or wooden toy chest. Sometimes all it takes is moving the furniture a bit to create an obvious space for a particular function. There is probably plenty to do at home, but maybe the children’s stuff and the places to use it all aren’t well organized.
Unless one or both of your children are serious artists or crafters, there should be a shared space for creative visual expression. Are arts and crafts materials located where a little mess is possible? Water color paints should be near a sink. Play dough is never used over carpet. The desk or table that will be used for art needs a washable surface (or it needs to be designated permanently for art) and good lighting. A kitchen table or dining room table can double as the children’s art table, maybe with a protective covering. Keep plenty of blank paper on hand – copy paper will do.
What is your set up for individual book reading? Consider whether your collection is for both children, in which case the books could be housed near the family couch, or if each child has favorite books at their reading level, these could be kept by their beds. Just add a big pillow for upright reading in the day time. Books and other materials from the public library are kept on one special shelf so they are easily found for being returned. Get recommendations from your librarian for a few books to read aloud to both children together on a blustery winter’s day.
A construction set, racing tracks, doll house, or other materials for creative play would need a carpeted floor space. Such sets of toys can be kept close by in bins, boxes, or cloth bags so that little pieces stay together when not in use. It’s best if this is in a corner of a room so that no one has to walk through play in progress.
Think about the best place for a noisy activity such as practicing a musical instrument. Obviously this can’t be near or at the same time as quiet reading. If one child’s activity requires electronic sound, such as dancing to recorded music, playing a video game, or watching a movie, there needs to be an agreement about when this can be done so the noise isn’t annoying to the other child. Or use earphones. Or do the activity together!
Schedule some special activities including a few outings to break up the winter break. Your children are close enough in age that they might enjoy some movies together. And with you! Movies and outings can go on the calendar in advance as a way to maintain a healthy limit to screen time. And check with Daddy about scheduling in some family time, too, while the children are on break.
Play dates with friends as well as extended family get togethers still carry the risk of catching and spreading Covid-19, RSV, and the flu, so consider outdoor meet-ups. There are plenty of parks and playgrounds in our area, or maybe just take a walk in the neighborhood. Physical activity is important year-round and is easily accomplished outdoors in the winter with appropriate clothing.
At-home special activities could include time in the kitchen. With less pressure around getting to and from school, the evening meal could be the highlight of a full day of learning cooking skills. What are your children’s favorite foods? Make a team project of researching a recipe, gathering the ingredients, and concocting a winner of a dinner. You and the children might just discover how easy, fun, and economical it is to cook some of the family’s favorite things from scratch.
Do your children know fun games to play together? At age six it’s still hard to lose, so choose games that keep everyone engaged and having fun. If you play a card game or board game with them, you can coach or team up with the younger child to level the playing field, so to speak. A favorite game from my childhood that requires no special equipment is Huckle Buckle Beanstalk which I now play with my grandchildren. It can be played with as few as 3 people or as many as 20, indoors or outside.
Winter break is a great opportunity to reconnect with your children.
Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum. She will be presenting Zoom workshops for parents, on Mondays 7-9 pm, January 9: Good-for-You Food Fun; January 30: Temperament Differences.
The museum is open with online reservations or call: 410-990-1993.
Special events coming up include: Annapolis Musical Theater company – GRINCH Winter Camp, Dec. 26-30, ages 4-18. Celebrate Kwanzaa, Friday, Dec. 30, 10:30 am. Noon Year’s Eve Count Down, Sat. Dec. 31, 11:30 am. CCM will be at Annapolis City Dock for the early New Year’s Eve Celebration which starts at 4 pm and concludes with fireworks at 5:30 pm.
Read more of Dr. Wood’s Good Parenting columns by clicking here.