This is going to be a winter like no other. You figured out how to make it through the stay-at-home orders in the spring, but doing so in the middle of winter, where getting outside is much more difficult, is going to be a bigger challenge. If childcare centers and schools are closed and traveling is limited, this is going to be a very long winter. And Winter is Coming. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

I’m a psychologist and a mother of three young children, so I understand what many of you are trying to wrap your head around. Prior to 2020, there were very few days when we didn’t get out of the house to do something, so months cooped up in the house feels suffocating and scary. In this blog post, I wanted to share a few tips and suggestions to help get through this next wave of staying at home. 

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1. Pick your Battles.

This is not a time to worry about everything being perfect. There are some things that are non-negotiables in our family, and other things which have some wiggle room. It is much easier to be aware of what is important to you and what you are willing to compromise on from the beginning. Does your child want to rearrange their bedroom? Sure, why not? Do they want to stay in their pajamas until lunchtime, cut their hair (not by themselves!), or occasionally have their dessert before dinner? If these actions don’t hurt anyone and your child really wants to do something differently, it’s great to be able to allow children to make their own choices. They may regret that haircut or be jealous of their siblings who waited on dessert, but that is part of how they learn.

One of my biggest concerns for kids has been the reduction in their physical activity, particularly when the weather is cold or yucky. With the winter approaching, I know this is going to get worse.  I recently had the realization that when they are playing, my kids often run and jump and bounce around the house—often in ways that irritate me—but this got me thinking. What is more important in the big picture—me being able to have peace and quiet, or the kids being physically active? Sure, there are absolutely times when bouncing or shrieking or chasing is not okay, but ultimately, if I can relax and let them have a little more space to act silly, they will do what their bodies need to be healthy and happy. Noticing this has been a great reframe for me, and I think many parents might need to hear this!

2. Keep a schedule.

Schools and daycares create environments for children where they know exactly what to expect. You can mirror this at home with schedules, even if they all take place at your house.

Some of the things to incorporate:

Find ways to get some movement and burn off some energy together, and everyone will be happier and sleep better. Impromptu dance parties and doing exercise together are some creative ways to get physical activity.

Getting outside at least once a day, either walking around the neighborhood or enjoying the fresh air while the kids play in the backyard. It is hard to be cooped up in the house, and a change in scenery can help all of your moods tremendously.

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Connecting with others over phone or video—maintaining your child’s friendships over Facebook messenger, Facetime, or Marco Polo, along with talking with family members to sustain strong social relationships.

Find ways to laugh every day, whether it is with funny movies, jokes, or other silly things.

Most importantly, kids (depending on age) should have a nap time or quiet technology-free time. This Is something I have implemented in my household for the last 5 years, and it has greatly contributed to my well-being. After lunch, it is time for naps or the older children to spend time in their rooms independently. They can read, play, or do games or puzzles, but they need to be independent. This has been a wonderful time for me as a parent to recharge and do things I need to do for myself, while also a great opportunity for them to be creative and use their imaginations in ways I never would have imagined. Creativity develops when children are bored, so providing opportunities for them to have space for these activities is important.

3. Plan Ahead.

I have found that if I spend a little time planning ahead, things go much better in just about every area! There are some awesome blogs and companies that have great ideas for home activities. Some of my favorites include:

Kiwi crates—these activity boxes can be purchased in monthly subscriptions or also independently, and they have been awesome for my kids. Each box includes an age-appropriate activity, many of which are STEM, with a little booklet with more related information for them to learn. The fact that my girls are super-excited about STEM activities and growing confident in their ability to work on circuits and robotics makes me very happy. Along with their paid boxes, the website has a ton of other ideas and suggestions for at-home activities that families can do at home. Check out https://kiwico.com  for more information.

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Mini Money Management—this is an app that parents can use to help their kids learn how to budget. You can use it to create a home economy where parents choose the price for items like rent, meals, and other necessities, along with other fines for negative behaviors or bonuses for good behavior! Like a virtual sticker chart with real world implications, this can help children understand the idea behind budgeting, economics, and managing money in a safe way. Check out https://www.minimoneymanagement.com for more information.

Official Momfest—this blog was an amazing find for me early in the pandemic! This mom found resources and internet happenings relevant for families and put it all in one place so parents could access a daily schedule of events and learn more about other things to help them and their children get through the first shut down. It has been quieter in recent months, but as things gear up for the winter, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her updates! Check out https://www.officialmomfest.com for more information.

Pinterest, local Facebook groups, and other websites can provide other ideas for stay-at-home ideas. Save your favorites and spent some time every once in a while bookmarking and saving ideas—it will be helpful to pull something out when you need a good idea to occupy a cold day!

4. Find the Positive

Finally, make sure you are finding the good in things. If you and your kids are only thinking about negative things, that’s all you (they) will see. Make it a daily practice to identify positive things or things you and your children are grateful for each day—this is great to do as a family activity. Older children and teens may also benefit from keeping a gratitude journal—at the end of the day, thinking through things that went well or that they are grateful for. That helps them revisit the day and think about the positive things, and also gives you a whole list of things to remember that are good. If children are having trouble sleeping, it might be a good way to end the day on a positive note.

Try to create a space for some daily one on one quality time with your children or develop a daily ritual. Playing a game together after dinner or telling stories at bedtime may be the best part of your children’s day. For many kids, the chance to spend more time with their family at home may result in the upcoming weeks and months being a positive memory.

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There are so many things to consider, and I know many are dealing with how to manage the requirements of their own job with the needs of their family, their own physical and mental health difficulties, and financial challenges. This is a time to be kind to yourselves and patient with your children. We will get through this by working together.