As we approach the end of winter break for many U.S. schools, many parents are hitting that point of exhaustion and are ready for school to start up again. Tempers may be rising, meltdowns may be at an all time high.
As exciting as the holidays are, all the excitement and the disrupted school schedules can be a lot for any of us to take. The structure that school provides makes our days more predictable and less overwhelming. For most families, being very intentional about making “unstructured” time feel structured and predictable makes long days together easier and less overwhelming for everyone.
Creating a Daily Rhythm
Unstructured time can feel unpredictable and repetitive. If I had to give you just one tip for making extended family time easier for everyone, it would be to focus your energy on creating a rhythm for your day. You’d think having a predictable pattern would make things feel more repetitive, but it actually provides the comfort needed for exploration and creativity to really take off. When are days flow through certain patterns, we are able to relax more because we don’t have to worry about being unexpectedly interrupted. Teachers are able to “manage” classrooms full of kids by creating meaningful, predictable, rhythms. It’s a strategy worth embracing at home, too.
So how do you create a rhythm without it feeling too regimented?
Get out of your PJs.
This might seem like a given, but getting yourself and your kids out of your pajamas and dressed for the day is a perfect starting point. Staying in your pajamas can feel cozy and relaxing, but it’s better when it’s an occasional practice, not an every day one. Getting dressed sets a tone of purpose for the day. You have to be dressed to get out of the house, to on adventures. Staying in your pajamas sends the subtle message that nothing new is happening, that there’s nothing going on that’s worth getting dressed for. It may seem insignificant, but it can definitely contribute to feelings of stagnancy and boredom that arise when our regular routines are disrupted.
Go on adventures.
The magnitude of the adventure doesn’t matter. It could be as simple as going for a walk or going grocery shopping, or you could plan something bigger like going on a day trip. Whatever the scale, helping your kids find something to do outside of the house every day can be a game changer. It may seem like a lot of effort and coordination at first, but it helps create predictability and structure for those unstructured days. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to create memories and deepen the connection you already have with your children.
Sometimes our day to day adventures take us outdoors. When they don’t, be sure you don’t overlook the power of time spent outside, regardless of weather. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear. Spending time in nature helps reduce anxiety and depression. Helping your kids learn to appreciate the natural world in all its variations is one of the biggest gifts you can give them.Helping your kids learn to appreciate the natural world in all its variations is one of the biggest gifts you can give them. Click To Tweet
Schedule down time.
Your child may have outgrown their nap, but they still need down time. We all do. Be sure you dedicate a portion of your afternoon to resting and recharging, whether through reading, art, or even watching a movie or TV show. This goes for you, too– do what you can to make sure you get some down time for yourself, even if it’s not every day.
Be mindful of transitions.
Talk to any teacher, and they will tell you that the biggest “behavior problems” they deal with occur during transitions. It’s really hard to stop doing something you’re engaged in and move on to something else. As parents, we can make this easier for our kids by giving them plenty of warning and making transitions slow. You can’t just spring a transition on your children and expect it to go smoothly every time.
Keep screen time to a minimum.
Have you ever gone on a media fast? One thing I’m always struck by when I distance myself from the screens in my life is the addictive power they hold. When I step back long enough, I no longer feel the urge to wind down at the end of the day with a TV show. When I let TV back in, the challenge of limiting my consumption is much more noticeable. It’s really, really easy to fall into binge-watching. Video games hold even more power over my time. I don’t play them at all anymore because it’s too easy for me to get sucked in and lose hours in the digital world. That’s an issue because I have things I want to do in this world.
If moderating screen time is challenging for adults, imagine how hard it is for kids! Especially young kids who are still learning to self-regulate and still working on developing impulse control. Don’t judge yourself too harshly if you find yourself turning to screens to facilitate down time, but proceed with caution and be mindful of how screen time is shaping the course of your day.One of the most powerful things we can do as parents is adopt a growth mindset. Challenges are opportunities for us to learn about our children and about ourselves. Click To Tweet
Parenting is a growth opportunity
One of the most powerful things we can do as parents is adopt a growth mindset. Challenges are opportunities for us to learn about our children and about ourselves. Don’t get sucked into the trap of thinking about how you could have prevented a melt down. Focus instead on how you can help your child through the melt down.
This doesn’t mean conceding to their every desire. While that can make the tears go away, actively helping your child develop coping strategies is much more beneficial. It helps them develop their resilience in the face of adversity (even if the adversity is only wanting to bring more stuffed animals on a car ride). If they develop the skills to handle minor disappointments and struggles, preventable or not, they will be better equipped to face more difficult situations and let downs.
This isn’t to say that we should intentionally put our kids in situations that are going to piss them off, but if we do it unintentionally, our kids are better served by our guidance than our backpedaling.
If this kind of work is your thing, you’re going to want to check out our new membership community, Compass Rose. Compass Rose is a community of support, guidance, and healing for parents ready to do the inner work of parenting. Membership will open again in March — visit the Community page to join the wait list.