“I wish I had more time with the kids,” was often heard by working parents as they hustled their kids off to school, sports practice, dance and music lessons, camps, sleepovers and visits to grandparents. Eight months ago, COVID-19 gave them what they wished for. “Early on, we had parents, teenagers and even younger kids asking, ‘What do we do with all this unstructured time stuck inside together?"” says Keri Height, PsyD, director, Hanover Psychiatry.
It’s a question inspired by family fatigue and stress. “Even before the pandemic, parenting was challenging,” says Height. “Decades ago, kids were raised in extended families or near close friends. Now, many people move away for work and are isolated from that support. During the pandemic, parents have added teaching to their childcare and work responsibilities which takes time away from household chores and self-care.”
Getting on top of the stress requires creating a new family structure and finding activities that everyone will enjoy. “Every family has a starting point of free-time things they already know they enjoy,” says Height. “Screen time has become an easy go-to down time activity, and ideas for off-screen family activities can come from mimicking the things families know they like to do on screens. Board games can replace computer games. Fun taste tests and science experiments can replace YouTube videos.”
Art challenges are also good screen replacers. “In one challenge, for example, each person grabs three markers randomly from a box and competes with other family members to see who can draw the best Pikachu or other character,” says Height. “Kitchen dance parties, scavenger hunts, holiday decorating and making forts with cardboard boxes are always fun. Parents should let themselves be kids. Get in the box with the kids!”
Lacking reliable sports, gym class, or recess period access, physical activity becomes a parental responsibility. Cold, muddy, pre-snow conditions require creative, indoor ideas. Stuffed and soft toys are great for floor soccer, cardboard tubes from holiday wrap make great floor hockey sticks and kids love scavenger hunts. You can make hopscotch courses using masking tape on the floor. Once there is snow on the ground and ice on the ponds, families can structure time for skiing, skating, ice fishing, sledding, and building snowmen and forts.
Height encourages families to take advantage of online resources like gonoodle.com for movement and mindfulness activities for children, and check out virtual activities offered by local libraries, town listservs and the Montshire Museum’s virtual workshops. And parents can get a well-deserved break with virtual library story times (check your town library websites for options) and podcasts like Kid Stories and Big Life Kids.
All the creativity that families are applying to structure positive family time now will pay off even after the pandemic is over. “Soon parents and kids will be asking each other, ‘What things did we learn from the pandemic that we want to keep doing together?'”
Hanover Psychiatry is a psychiatry and psychology practice within the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Department of Psychiatry. Offering expertise in psychiatric and psychological treatment and evaluation. Hanover Psychiatry clinicians serve children, teens and adults in Hanover and Bedford, NH, with secure video-based treatment options available for those residing in NH, VT, and many other states.