Creating Calm When You’re Stuck Inside With Kids

How to keep from piling bad moods onto bad weather

As I was unloading the dishwasher after a long, demanding day stuck inside with my kids, I overheard my son singing a song he'd learned in school "I'm an acorn, small and round, lying on the cold, cold ground. Everybody steps on me, that is why I'm cracked you see! I'm a nut! I'm a nut! I'm an acorn nut!"

I laughed to myself, thinking how perfectly that song summed up my day. Parenting is complicated, tiring, and at times, can make you feel like a cracked nut. With winter hitting its stride, parents and kids all over are getting hit with cabin fever. So, it's helpful for parents to make a plan to keep kids busy, calm and engaged. And it's imperative to find strategies to maintain our own mental health.

Make a plan for the kids
Starting your day with no plan is a recipe for disaster. So think of indoor activities, such as baking, sand play, play dough, puzzles, and art projects. To help get buy-in from your kids, let them make choices among your offerings. Not only is it a great opportunity to teach your kids how to negotiate and make decisions, it also shows them that their opinion matters. And makes it much more likely they will stick with an activity for a longer period of time.

If your child doesn't have strong opinions or gets caught up in the decision-making process, prompt them with ideas and brainstorm together. Activities that keep toddlers and preschoolers busy include sorting, ripping, building, matching, and creating sensory trays. Check out this great list of toddler-approved activities that require almost no planning and use items you probably already have around your home.

Pay attention to your kids first, so you can have time for yourself later
Connecting with your child early in the day will make the rest of the day easier, because children who feel connected listen better, feel less frustrated, and are more likely to choose positive behaviors. Learning and practicing yoga poses together is one idea for an activity that is active, calming, and connective. You can purchase yoga cards for kids or find yoga videos online. Show your child how to belly breathe, and explain that belly breathing is helpful when we are feeling worried or distracted. There's also likely to be a lot of laughing as you and your child fall out of yoga poses. And laughter is one of the best ways of connecting with kids.

Contain clutter
If your kids are anything like mine, they can quickly dump out every single puzzle piece, doll, Lego and marker into the middle of the floor in the time it takes you to run to the bathroom. Create structured playtime by having your child choose one single project or toy to play with at a time. Single tasking not only limits the gravity of the mess—which can be mood-boosting all on its own— but maximizes your child's ability to focus (read: stay busy longer), teaches them how to complete one task before starting another, and promotes calmness.

Plan for yourself as well
By choosing age-appropriate activities your children can master without your help, you will not only help them build social independence, but you will be gifted with time to do the things that keep you centered and content. Write down some things you would like to accomplish or experience—whether it's cleaning a junk drawer that's been annoying you, or enjoying reading the paper with a cup of coffee, catching up on emails, or, even, dare I say it, snuggling up with a book.

Get your kids to help
Laundry has to get done and the dishes need to be washed, no matter the weather. But children don't grasp that. They view the time you and your partner spend on home maintenance as time when you are not paying attention to them or including them. You can change their perception by getting them involved. At the beginning of the day, let them know there will be lots of time for fun, but that you also need their help taking care of things. Then, make a game out of sorting laundry, time how fast they can put away their toys or give them a broom so you can both sweep the floor.

Ask for help
If you and your partner are both at home, split the childcare responsibilities. Give each other one hour (or more) to choose an adult activity while the other one is responsible for the kids. Another option on cold or rainy days is to invite friends or neighbors over. This is a win-win for you and your child. Having a playdate alleviates some of the burden of entertaining your child and you get to enjoy the company of another adult.

Be mindful
Mindfulness is about staying connected to your mind and body and accepting whatever feelings you are experiencing. If your "to-do" list is 10 items deep and you are stressed not only will you feel unhappy, but it will be a challenge to feel compassionate and nurturing towards your children. And then the misery just spreads.

So, be realistic about what you can actually achieve and work to be present in each moment of the day. If your child throws a tantrum about his breakfast, before you react to him, ask yourself: What am I thinking and feeling in this moment? Where am I feeling that emotion in my body? Notice your breath and bring your attention to it without trying to change it. Simply observe your breath as you exhale and notice how quickly your chest is rising and falling. You can do this any time you feel frazzled. Allowing yourself the time to acknowledge your mind and body before reacting can be the difference between you responding in a way that deepens everyone's distress or moves you all toward greater calm.

Try these simple ways to stay in the present moment.

Give yourself a pass
Having bad days is part of life and our kids witnessing us having a bad day is unavoidable. If you find yourself getting easily frustrated or your kids are extra irritable, make an effort to break the negative cycle and turn the day around. Put on some music and dance, get everyone into the bath or get everyone on the bed for a group snuggle (or, when all else fails, turn on some TV or a video your children love). If it is the type of day that simply won't get better and you feel like you've gone three rounds in a boxing ring, give yourself a pass. The best part of bad days is that they end. Hug your kids, get to bed early and decide that tomorrow will be a better day.

How to move on when you lose your cool with your kids.