In preparation for a new level of sleep deprivation when Little Baby is born, I thought I’d round up my ideas for those days when at least part of the family wishes they were still in bed with nobody else bothering them. Here are my top 10:
1. Movement, music, noise!
Nothing like this to get the energy going again when we’re in the mopes. Try dancing around to a favourite song next time you’re feeling down. We’re building a playlist of upbeat and silly tunes that work like magic to transform a moody hour.
- We have a range of shakers, bells etc picked up in charity shops that help us join in with the music and prolong the silliness.
- Sometimes we do ‘yoga’, both of us on the mat in silly poses.
- Or slide down the stairs on our bums.
- Or chase each other around on all fours, roaring. Finn recently said to me, ‘Mummy likes roaring!’ and it’s true – it makes us both laugh
2. Be willing to give up on your plans
Sometimes, all it takes to transform a grumpy morning is to recognise that the plan is not welcome today, or not until later on. Now that Finn is talking it’s easier to recognise this: ‘Stay at home’ he sometimes says, when I ask him what he wants to do, or ‘relax!’. Very occasionally we get somewhere and he says, ‘Want to go home’. I always try to honour these wishes and it always helps everyone’s mood when I do.
It’s okay to have a day where the most exciting activity is Duplo and the longest errand is putting out the rubbish… it’s okay to cancel more ambitious plans, even if ambitious just meant playgroup or grocery shopping. Most toddler activities will still be there another time, and most errands can be deferred.
Maybe you didn’t need to be reminded of this simple principle, but I did. Years of secondary school teaching (hourly bells, minute-by-minute planning) are hard to shake: I feel uneasy if there’s no plan for the day and often have everything ready to leave the house first thing.
3. Enjoy a journey
This might seem like the opposite of number 1 but sometimes for us, the thing to do is leave the house – with the goal being the journey, rather than the destination. This takes a lot less planning and prep than a proper day out. All you do is:
Decide or ask your child(ren) do they want to walk, go in the buggy, take the bus, go on a train (or whatever your options are). Then set out with the nappy bag and a few snacks. Do a circular route or an out-and-back on your chosen modes of transport.
The best thing about these journeys is that you can spend them dawdling and observing little details – look out the window, talk about what you can see, spend ages picking up sticks and leaves in the park – because you don’t have to reach the destination any particular time, or even at all.
Recent ‘aimless’ journeys we have enjoyed are:
- ‘Drive’ the number 8 bus (because we don’t have to take the buggy if we’re not actually going anywhere at the other end, we can go upstairs and sit at the front. Hooray!)
- DLR trips to Greenwich (look at the Cutty Sark and the river, look at the fish tank and browse the children’s books in Waterstones, share a pastry, come back again).
- DLR two stops from us and walk back along the canal
- DLR to Westfield, sit on all the ride-on cars without paying for them to move around, go down the slide in the kids’ playground, DLR back again
- Get on a bus and then decide together when to get off and look around. Then get another bus back.
- Walk through the park, buy a banana, eat it, walk back again, play peepo behind the trees, collect sticks.
4. Have a bath
So long as your kids like baths, this is relaxing, fun and can really change the tone of the day. It’s a current favourite as we’re all cold-ridden and I think the steam helps with painful sinuses for toddlers too young to blow their noses properly. I’ve also done this on a cold winter’s day with friends round when our several small children were getting fractious… putting them in the bath together with some bubbles and a bunch of random toys was a special treat and instantly transformed the mood.
Any time of day you fancy, run a warm bath with as many fun additions as possible – bubble bath, boats, toy cars, bath crayons. Hang out in the bathroom and chat, or run the big bath and join your child(ren) in the water.
5. Cook and eat together
Decide together what you really fancy, make it and eat it! Current favourites are blueberry pancakes, banana oat cookies and owl ice cream.
6. Watch TV (gasp!)…
… But make a plan first for what to do afterwards. A favourite TV programme is a great cheer-up for a poorly or tired day but I’ve found that it really helps to talk to Finn about what we’ll do after it ends. Otherwise it’s just a source of sadness when it’s over! This could work well with other items on this list – if you are dealing with grumpy children and need a bit of time to set up a fun art activity or pack the bag for a journey.
Pretending to be someone/something else always seems to help change the mood! Finn loves having his face painted and likes to make requests for characters. We then have fun looking in the mirror, laughing and pretending to be whoever he is painted as.
I aspire to having a dressing-up box but at the moment, dressing up is very improvised but still fun. I’ve helped Finn put coloured feathers in his hair to pretend to be a bird, used various things as cloaks/scarves/hats, let him go through my tatty collection of costume jewelry and try things on.
Letting him choose his own clothes for the day or just stay in his favourite pyjamas are also good ways to make a happy start.
8. Really look at things
Looking carefully at the view out of the window at home or on a bus or train, and commenting on it, or picking up and talking about objects in the park. Watching the effects of heavy rain or strong winds from inside the house and then perhaps going out and splashing in puddles or picking up fallen leaves. Watching out for the moonrise or the sunset, linking them to pictures in stories we’ve read. Taking things out of a cupboard and explaining what they are.
9. A new art project
If you do a lot of painting, maybe try painting on a new scale. We did an ‘enormous’ painting on the side of a cardboard box today, and had a go with various size brushes including the ‘enormous’ brush I had left out after doing some decorating, and some large watercolour marker pens.
Painting feet and hands to make prints is also fun and multi-sensory – laughter bonus if your child has ticklish feet!
Taking out new art materials or something you haven’t used for a while is another way to create excitement.
Recently we’ve had fun with magic pens, but you don’t have to buy anything new – you could just paint in 3D for a change, on egg boxes; or make playdough if you haven’t recently.
10. Get re-inspired by a favourite book
Get cosy in a special place and read a favourite book – get your child to choose if they can. Then try some activities based on it, for example:
- make scenes or characters from the story out of blocks, Duplo, cardboard and crayons, playdough…
- make drawings based on the story
- dress up as the characters and/or act out the story
Look at this wonderful list from Lulastic of 40 tips for finding your parenting mojo
Looking back over my list, it strikes me a lot of the things that work for us to brighten difficult days are ways of being more present in the moment. I don’t know what that says about our everyday existence, except that as a parent it’s impossible to avoid multitasking, and often the multitasking becomes a source of stress in itself.
I can’t stop multitasking forever, not even for a whole day, but sometimes just admitting that today I will not try to stay on top of work, email, cooking, laundry, exercise, admin… can be enough to change the mood dramatically.