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Delightful Ways to Soothe Young Children During Lockdown

Optimizing family time together.

Key Takeaway: Families are distracted, short on patience, and hoping for an end to this extended lockdown. But there are specific steps to improve daily life

  • Share family memorabilia.
  • Plan an "Upside Down Day."
  • Faux-fight the virus.
  • Make plans for the year.

Time Alone, Together

During a family Zoom call with 4-year-old Sam and his parents, Sam was sitting on his mother’s lap, facing the screen as we talked about how he was doing. With his arm affectionately draped around the back of her neck, it came as a surprise to hear him say, “My mommy is tired of me, and I’m tired of her.” Mom’s weary, sweet smile was followed with a resigned, “Yep, that’s pretty much us these days.”

Like many parents, Sam’s mom and dad were running on fumes, distracted, short on patience, and hoping this would all be over soon. Sam’s dad asked, “Doc, anything we can do to make this better? We’re just barely OK most of the time. Is there an Internet activity or game we could provide to get back on track?”

There is, but it’s not for sale or available on the Internet. It’s the most powerful child enrichment in the world: time alone with you. You may be asking how that’s possible, and that’s understandable. We forget that time alone with our children fills two tanks — our child’s tank as well as our own tank. And to be clear, what we mean is time together.

Make time together work for you in 2021. Here are a few suggestions that will encourage conversation about how you and your children want to engage with the new year:

Share baby pictures and videos. With your child, focus on where they came from, what makes them unique, their quirks, funny rituals, appetites, and what their loves and fears were. This allows for a reboot to where you are now and where you will go next, together. Stretch it out over several sessions devoted to different ages (chronologically) and be sure to ask them what they are feeling about what they see. If you have a ton of photos, select a few dozen to focus on. If you have a few, make them last with questions and talk.

An upside-down day with novelty and surprise. Silliness interrupts the predictable habituation that defines our COVID lives. The two of you can start your day with a bedtime story, then have dinner for breakfast, then maybe breakfast for lunch, and lunch for dinner for which you get dressed up (no PJs). I did this with my daughters, and they recall upside-down days with fondness as it “brought relief from the everyday.”

Target the virus-on paper. Since it is your common enemy, why not enjoy coming together on one side to battle the virus? Draw its picture in the center of a large sheet of paper, and “attack” it with bean bags, Hacky Sacks, or whatever is safe. Add an appropriate musical accompaniment. The more robust the attack, the better. Debrief after the victory, which could be COVID in shreds. Talk about how good it feels to do it together, and that the day is coming when it will happen for real.

Listen closely to one another. Talking together and listening carefully to what you each need to say about the coming year, including fears, hopes, and dreams needs to happen soon if it didn’t already happen on January 1st. 2020 was a hell of a year, but we’re now in 2021 and ready to reboot.

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