I might not make it to bedtime

Reminding myself to listen and connect before talking

Some days and some moments, I’m feeling strong. I totally got this. The glass is half full and I can truly say “I am SAFE at home.” Other days and other moments, “I am 100% STUCK at home.” I’m really struggling. I feel like I am being punished. Yes, I still know and can count my blessings, but the ‘right here and now’ feels lonely, mundane, and downright terrible.

Before 7:00 this morning, I could hear Keener using a harsh tone with Grace about how to build with Magna-Tiles. Then his tower came crashing down. Under “normal” circumstances, he is generally able to use a coping strategy to get through the disappointment of a crashing tower. This morning, for whatever reason, the disappointment was registering at a 10.

My thoughts instantly went to a negative place… “Oh goodness. It’s going to be a long day! How on earth are we going to make it through the next 12 hours? I feel like I am stuck on a hamster wheel. Why? Why?! June 10th is FOREVER away…”

Instead of continuing down this negative path, I stopped myself. I have been listening to some wonderful podcasts as well as reading some great books to try and help myself stay sane and calm. As a result, I have been reminded about a few basic skills that I am *trying* to utilize in an effort to help my kids, and myself, feel better.

Being a better listener

I’m sure many of you have seen the following quote by Emily King that Today Parents posted on Instagram. It is the best reminder about the power of connection.

In the book, “Are My Kids On Track?”, the authors also reminded me about the power of connection and the importance of listening. They ask the following 3 questions:

  • Do I listen without judgement?
  • Do I listen without correction?
  • Do I listen without giving unsolicited advice?

This morning, I initially violated all 3. I was judging Keener like crazy for letting Magantiles turn him into a whiny mess before 7:00 AM. I was attempting to correct him and offering advice on how he could get his tower not to fall. Needless to say, none of this proved to be helpful. In fact, it was making everything worse.

Once I washed my face and realized where we were headed with my current approach and mental state, I shifted gears. “It sounds like you had a really frustrating morning trying to build. It wasn’t working out the way you wanted and that is making you upset. Would a hug help you feel better and push reset on the day?” He came bounding over and fell into my arms. Just what he needed.

An incredible podcast that I highly recommend is Feel Better, Live More. Dr. Chatterjee hosts a variety of interesting guests and talks about a wide range of topics. Some of the episodes I have listened to are:

  • #54 Re-Defining Happiness with Professor Paul Dolan
  • #56 Becoming Stress Proof with Dr. Mithu Storoni
  • #67 The Secret to a Long and Happy Life
  • #75 What Every Parent Should Know with Philippa Perry
  • #76 How to Optimize Your Brain Health with Dr. Rahul Jandial

I just listened to #75. While I didn’t agree with what his guest, British author and psychotherapist Philippa Perry said about sleep training, everything else on the episode resonated. She reminded us to hear where the child is at. This means listening without judgement, correction or advice. As Philippa said, “Children don’t want to be fixed, they want to be seen and heard.”

We’ve moved on to puppet shows

Keener didn’t want me to fix anything. He simply wanted to unload his frustration. My initial response of trying to “fix” the situation only made his frustration grow. He wanted to be heard. Once I was able to hear him, we connected. And, things quickly improved for both of us.

Phillipa gave an example on the podcast that was poignant for many with toddlers; a toddler having a melt down about the color of their bowl. When this happens, simply say, “This is really hard and frustrating for you today.” Often as parents, we tend to talk too much. We may try to solve their problem or offer unsolicited advice when really, our kids just need us to hear them.

Try this next time your child starts complaining. Look past what they are complaining about and try and name out what it is they are really saying. To truly hear where your child is at emotionally. Some language examples may include:

  • “You sound frustrated and upset.”
  • “It sounds like your sister is bothering you.”
  • “It sounds like like your building isn’t coming together the way you hoped.”
  • “I’m hearing you say it’s hard to only see friends on Zoom.”

The idea behind this is that you are processing their feelings into words. Phillipa says, “They will feel got and be able to internalize that and do it for themselves.”

Perhaps this would work for all of us, not just our kids. At a time when thoughts, emotions, and feelings are especially complex and heightened, we all would appreciate simply being heard. Try it with friends, your spouse, family, and your kids to help strengthen a much needed sense of connection.

Maintaining balance for you and your family; finding what works for you

It’s only Wednesday. This is hard. No matter who you are and what age your kids are, life has changed. And change is hard.

I’ve been posting more frequently to try and give additional ideas for those of you home with your kids. This page is my “home page” and links to all of my other posts regarding this new found increase in time home with our kids. Yesterday, I posted St. Patrick’s Day ideas. Both art projects we ended up doing were a big hit and could easily be modified for any art project.

Materials:

  • glue sticks
  • construction paper
  • scissors
  • computer paper
  • dot stickers (affiliate link – I LOVE these!)

You will see a visual schedule posted in the background. We loosely followed it before lunch. Keep in mind, I am a teacher so this comes very naturally to me. It also works very well for Keener. (Grace simply enjoys putting all of the possible schedule cards on the wall and then taking them off). The most important part in all of this is finding what works for you. If having a schedule posted increases your stress and anxiety, don’t do it!

Below is what is working for us. For now.

Thinking in bigger chunks of time

It helps me to think about “morning” and “afternoon.” After breakfast from about 8:30-12:30 and then after naps/quiet time from 3:30-5:30. Given how much longer the morning is, I feel I need more structure during this block.

Yesterday, it worked well to have a few activities planned. We did art and some building from about 9:30-11:00 and then went outside before lunch. Our dog Hank definitely didn’t get the memo on what is going on and he still needs exercise! From 11-12, we took him to an empty field. We brought our shovels and both kids spent almost an hour digging in the dirt. Call it whatever you want: science, nature study, collaboration, problem solving, creative play – they had a blast.

Take time to reflect on what is working and what is NOT working

The reason we did art and building from 9:30-11 and not 8:30 to 11 was because they watched Peppa Pig from 8:30-9:30. I needed physical and mental brain space to get ready for the day and check in with some work and this was how I got that space. It totally worked for me. I’m not willing to wake up an hour earlier to take this out of the routine. They were happy, I was happy. No beating myself up for something that is working for all of us.

Something that did work work very well was having Grace follow our “schedule.” She turned 2 in November and while Keener (who will be 4 in May) thrives with structure, it was just too much for her. So she followed it to an extent and the deviated and did her thing – which was totally fine! For her, the following was extremely helpful:

  • flexible seating. Sitting for extended periods is not generally a 2 year olds friend. She sat in a chair, stood, and sat on the floor all during one art project.
  • embed movement. As she finished a sticker page, she would run to the trash to throw it away. In fact, I think she was peeling stickers off quickly just so she could make as many trips to the trash can as she could!

Follow your kids lead

We were building with cups and tongue depressors and the kids decided they wanted to build other things. Thankfully, I remembered I had some clay hiding so we diverted the bridges and tunnels and started trying to make a tissue box!

When possible, try to change your mindset to think about this truly being a gift of time. There are very few times during the hectic “every day normal life” to be able to follow our kids lead and explore concepts they are truly interested in.

Some teacher moms I know are using curiosity to drive all home learn instruction. Everything from researching “why do turtles move so slowly?” to “what do raspberries do for your body?’ are questions we are going to be researching. When you can find high interest topics to explore together, it feels a lot less like “trying to get to bedtime.”

Be kind to yourself

Last night I was exhausted. Even though there were so many things I could have done — clean, laundry, cook, etc. — the most important self care I could do for myself was get in bed early. I turned on a documentary about peanut allergies. I couldn’t take reading or watching one more thing about the Coronavirus, so I didn’t.

I plan to explore self care more as I know that is an area of high interest. For now, pray the beginning of the Serenity Prayer and breath slow and long breaths through your nose, not mouth.

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;”

Activities, Schedules, and Ideas for Kids at Home

What a wild time. First and foremost, I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy. Thank you to all medical providers, first responders, and volunteers who are selflessly giving each day, even during especially stressful and uncertain times.

I have come across lots of ideas that I want to pass along. This will be the home page and with many links to outside resources, other posts, websites, etc. to try and cover as many angles of this as possible. I will update this site as I discover more resources to share with you. *Disclaimer: this is a personal blog with all posts written by me. All information presented is intended to help and inspire anyone who spends time with children. Links to other sites are ones that I find useful, informative, and align with my opinions.

Updated 4/1

Updated 3/25

Updated 3/20

  • New post! Using the gift of time to teach independence
  • Epic! is a digital library that has over 35,000 books! I have used it in the classroom and it is a wonderful resource. It is free for educators and also free for 30 days for everyone. Some of the books are digital copies but many of the books have the option of reading it aloud to the child. Below is a screen shot from their website of some of the books for 5 and under:

Updated 3/18

  • New post! Maintaining balance for you and your family; finding what works for you
  • Another great post by Kid Friendly DC that focuses on tips for PARENTS, not kids, on navigating life at home
  • Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems. He is one of my favorite authors — Elephant and Piggie, Pigeon series, and others — and this has been a huge hit with the elementary age group. Would be above my 2 and 3 year old but we might watch a little as Keener loves his books. The website says: “Mo Willems invites YOU into his studio every day for his LUNCH DOODLE. Learners worldwide can draw, doodle and explore new ways of writing by visiting Mo’s studio virtually once a day for the next few weeks. Grab some paper and pencils, pens, or crayons and join Mo to explore ways of writing and making together. New episodes will be posted each weekday at 1:00 p.m. ET and then remain online to be streamed afterwards.  Check back each weekday for new LUNCH DOODLES!”

New post for St. Patrick’s Day! Simple art activities for St. Patrick’s Day

Links to Lists of Activities:

  • Kid Friendly DC. If you live in the DC/VA/MD area and don’t subscribe to her weekly/weekend newsletter, you should! She aggregates all of events going on an pushes them out all in one email. One for the weekdays and one for the weekend. Considering she isn’t advocating for families to attend events right now, her newest post includes ideas for staying home: “What to Do on the Weekdays at Home During the Coronavirus.” This post is applicable no matter where you live.
  • Busy Toddler. Follow Susie on Instragram if you don’t already! She has tons of ideas for activites to keep little hands busy. And lots of the materials are things you already have around your house. Which is really great now that Amazon is backed up on deliveries.
  • Google Spreadsheet of ideas. Jennifer Serravallo is a brilliant literacy expert who I had the privilege of working with in NYC. She posted this document on Facebook and I reposted it on my Calm Chaos Facebook page. It includes activites and lists whether they include screens, parent involvement, indoor or outdoor, educational focus, and cost.
  • Kids Activities.com. She has tons of ideas for babies, toddlers, kindergarten, elementary aged kids and older. She really has some great stuff on there! This is a list of education companies offering free subscriptions to kids due to school closings.

Visual Schedules

Something you will see in every preschool and early elementary classroom is a visual schedule. Kids thrive on routine so attempting to create a sense of predictability will help kids feel in control of their day. The following are “centers” you might include in your child’s day:

  • music
  • art (including St. Patrick’s Day ideas for 3/17!)
  • building
  • cleaning
  • reading
  • outdoor play
  • independent play
  • screen time
  • snack/meals
  • cooking
  • sensory
  • games
  • puzzles

Options for creating visual schedules:

  • With your little artist, draw the parts of the day together. The more kids are involved, the more buy in they tend to have!
  • Google pictures to match these images and have your little one pick the one they like best.
  • Google “free visual schedules” and you will also be directed to lots of free resources. For example, this one from teachingmama.org. I just joined her newsletter and she sends you a free visual schedule (it did go to my spam folder so be sure to check that!)

There are tons of examples floating around the internet for how to structure the day for your kids/and yourself. Most importantly, pick what works for you and your family.

This one is from The Mama Notes. She has a full blog post about how she plans to design her day for her kids.

daily-toddler-schedule.png (1545×2000)

I’ve also seen this one :). Find what works for you and your kids! The most important thing is keeping yourself and your kids as calm as possible.

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Ideas that are keeping us busy

I will post more this week when I can! For now, the following are ideas that are working for us or on our to do list:

  • Find non crowded paths to hike
  • Play with chalk outside
  • Go for walks
  • Make obstacle courses
  • Cook/bake
  • Make cards for others (elderly, doctors, etc.)
  • Sensory ideas (shaving cream, sand, oatmeal, water beads, etc.)
  • Read, read, read
  • Play games
  • Play-Doh
  • Spring cleaning of toys and clothes
  • Try to enjoy the slower pace of not having to be anywhere

Blog posts I hope to get to soon! Which would you like to see? Check all that interest you: