As the number of COVID-19 infections in the local area continues to rise, there will no doubt be more parents of pre-schoolers who find themselves suddenly isolating after a childcare provider tests positive, or scrambling to figure out care for a month as everyone in the family takes their turn with the latest not-COVID-but-still-symptomatic-cold.
When COVID initially struck, I was on maternity leave with an extremely energetic two and a half-year-old who was determined to give up her (my) afternoon nap and a six month old who refused to sleep if she could hear her sister. The outside was still covered in snow, and most of St. Paul was impassable with a stroller. Really, not much has changed.
Unfortunately for me, there is a direct relationship between screen time and emotional volatility in my oldest child. The earlier in the day the TV comes on and the more of it there is, the worse the tantrum when I turn it off and the harder the rest of the day goes.
In March, I permitted one episode of Paw Patrol or Octonauts when it was time for me to put the baby down for her nap. Last week, it was two episodes in the afternoon and I tried to get as many interviews and as much writing done in that 40-minute span as I could.
Spoiler: it wasn’t much.
The reality of small children is that they require an intense amount of focus. It really wasn’t reasonable of me to expect myself to produce the same amount of work while also taking care of two littles. All that expectation did was stress me out because I felt inadequate as both a mother and reporter. Neither was getting my full attention, and nobody was happy about it.
Once I accepted that and changed my workflow so I wasn’t even trying to make phone calls outside of the afternoon screen time and wasn’t trying to write until after supper when my husband was home, it got easier. (He also took one full day off work so I could get caught up and I will never be able to adequately express how valued it made me feel.)
I was still exhausted from staying up late to write; but I wasn’t so frustrated by my kids being kids and needing me to read stories and play tea party or Play-doh. They were happier because I wasn’t so distracted during the day. I was happier because they were happier and there was less whining and fighting.
Finally, my gift to you for the next cold snap is a game I call obstacle course. My husband thinks it’s a toddler boot camp, but really it’s the result of a desperate pitch to burn off some energy when the weather is too crappy to enjoy outside.
The premise is simple and can be made to work with whatever space and furniture you have. Our home is a split level so I use the whole main floor as a natural circuit when I set it up, but my sister did it in the kitchen and hallway of her apartment and it still worked great.
Basically you line things up that your kid can climb over or crawl under like dining room chairs or the coffee table, mark a few X’s on the floor with painter’s tape to jump to, and pick a spot for a crazy dance. Run fast in between and change it up with their interests. Add a spot to stop and kick the ball really hard, swap out the crazy dance for a hula hoop, tape crepe streamers at different levels across the hall and go over and under those instead. Balance to the count of three on one foot on top of the dictionary or the 2012 Canadian Income Tax Act with Regulations, Annotated. You’re really only limited by your own creativity.
No painters tape to mark X’s on the floor? Jump over a line of stuffed animals instead, or from the couch to the floor. No crepe streamers? Kitchen twine and yarn work just fine. No ball? Make one out of crumpled tinfoil and use the roasting pan or a soup pot for the net to throw it in. Getting bored of just running around and climbing? Add some music and freeze wherever you are when the music stops. Want to involve the baby? Make it a chase and do the whole thing while crawling.
Show your child how to do it the first time, then sit back and cheer them on while you drink your tea. Or take turns if you still need to get your steps in. My experience is that it’s good for a solid 45+ minutes of gross motor play, but your mileage may vary. You’re welcome.