Covid-19 has presented all sorts of new challenges for parents being home with their children more often than usual. In some instances, in-person school, sports, and general hanging out with friends, are no longer happening. This means, the kids are basically home ALL the TIME!!
To help you cope, here are 10 tips from the chapter “Having Fun with Children… Even Your Own!” from my book, Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying.
1. Read a good book. Why? One word: escapism. Okay, okay. What I mean is, reading good books out loud to your kids can be a lot of fun. I’ve read them many of the Little House on the Prairie, Redwall, Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia series. Even my husband and I enjoy these books. To make it extra exciting, I like to insert my own words to see if my kids are paying attention and whether or not I can fool them. I can’t, but I keep trying. I’ll speak in my normal tone of voice to try to throw them off: “Nellie Olson kept bothering Laura Ingalls, but then Aslan showed up and roared until Nellie ran away.” They’ll laugh and accuse: “Mum! It doesn’t say that!”
This “being silly while reading to a child” game can backfire, however. When reading a book on choosing a cat for a pet to my then six-year-old, I decided to embellish. “Cats are fun and playful just like Momma.” This elicited a smile. “Cats are beautiful and smart just like Momma.” Another smile. Phew. That was dangerous. Then my husband walked into the room and said, “Cats are furry and poop everywhere.” To which my daughter added, with no hesitation: “Just like Momma!”
2. When your kids are old enough for board games, you’re at a great stage. Chutes and Ladders drives me bananas, however, because just when you think it’s finally going to be over, the person in the lead hits that big chute that takes you down to like, twelve. Somehow Candy Land is more tolerable. I remember my sister and I playing with my dad, which was unusual, especially since my sister and I were roughly in middle school! The three of us were nearing King Kandy and the Candy Castle. It was almost over; however, the dreaded Plumpy card, which would send one of us back to the beginning, had yet to be drawn. We each picked our card haltingly, slowly turning it over, then heaving a sigh of relief when it was merely a colour, perhaps a double colour, but not the accursed Plumpy. The tension was finally broken by my dad crying, “This is so suspenseful!” My sister and I cracked up. I don’t recall who won, but the memory is fond because it was odd for my dad to partake, much less get so into it. Do that for your kids — the unexpected.
3. As your children get older, more family games are possible, even if the youngest needs to pair up with a parent. We enjoy Tripoli, Apples to Apples Big Picture — with pictures instead of words — and Spoons. When I was an older kid, Hearts was our go-to family card game. My siblings and I started a tradition of wearing hats and then tipping them in acknowledgement when our score was read after each round. Now when we’re home for a family reunion, the cards come out, and we scour our parents’ house for hats so we can keep the tradition alive. It’s absurd, but it’s our thing. Every family should have that fun something that outsiders could never truly understand. Start finding your own thing, if you don’t have it yet.
4. Keep in mind that any brand of silliness is bound to make you smile and will earn you points with your kids. My mum would often say, “You in the pink dress.” No one was wearing a dress. Or anything pink. Once I ate a blue popsicle and showed my kids the spectacle of my blue tongue. They said, “Muuu-uumm!” in that same tone you use to admonish your kids for doing just such a thing, only they said it with a grin. Another time I put an M&M into each square (or triangle — it’s of vital importance that you know each child’s shape preference) of their peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Then I waited for their reaction: confusion, bewilderment, smiles, and once again: “Muuu-uumm!” This is the sort of thing happy childhood memories are built on.
5. I also enjoy surprising the kids every time we have a pasta meal by adding different shaped noodles to the pot. Suddenly their spaghetti turns into a treasure hunt for elbow macaroni, farfalle, mini shells, or alphabet pasta. My husband and I revel in their exclamations of delight: “There’s a bowtie in here! What is this, ziti? I found the letter G!”
6. My husband is fond of hiding things. It started with my birthday and a clue left at my spot at the table. That clue led to another, and another, each in its own hiding place until I found my birthday present. When he did this for one of the kid’s birthdays too, I warned him, “You realize you’re stuck now. Once you do it for one, you have to do it for them all, and for as long as they live here.” “Yeah, I know,” he mourned. But secretly he loves making and hiding these clues, possibly even as much as the kids enjoy hunting them down. This activity also teaches the kids patience because he spreads out the clues and gifts throughout the day. One clue might say not to find the next one until after lunch, and then not until mid-afternoon, and so forth.
7. My husband has also been known to bowl in the hallway with the kids by knocking down princess dolls instead of pins. (He must find it very satisfying.) If anyone topples Gustav from Frozen, he or she gets extra points since he’s sturdier. Having one of your kids keep score has the added benefit of giving them a fun way of practicing their math skills.
8. Have a dance party. I dance like no-one’s watching, because, apparently, my kids don’t count. When they see me grooving, I like to think it’s an unexpected treat. Their laughter is that of sheer joy. I mean, that can be the only reason they laugh when they see me dance, right? I love grabbing their hands and having them join in. I taught my eight-year-old to swing dance to a Bob Dylan song because, why not? Plus, if you have teenagers and you want them to leave the room so you can have a serious discussion with your spouse, just turn on some music and show ‘em your moves.
9. Plant a family garden. Having read Little House on the Prairie to my kids may have motivated them to help “Pa” till the soil, plant the seeds, and water the crops. Regardless, wandering outside for a snack or to collect salad items is such a buzz. A study conducted for Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society found that teaching children gardening improves their development by making them happier, more self-assured, more patient, and better able to handle adversity. Raising home-grown food also teaches them healthy eating. If you have the yard for it, or space on a patio for planter boxes, I highly encourage gardening with your kids.
10. Though I’m hesitant to recommend shows, Studio C on YouTube has been enjoyable for our family. It’s sketch comedy that’s actually clean. Did you know such a thing existed? Start with Season One because the earlier seasons are the best. Of course you should preview them before showing your children. Quoting our favorite episodes (each one is about three to five minutes) has brought us laughter and inside jokes. In addition to entertainment, it’s created a family bond.
Undoubtedly you already do enjoyable activities with your children. These are just a few of the things we do with ours. Every now and then, ignore the dishes, the chores, and the strict bedtime. Drop everything and go on a walk, or go fishing, or make a backyard bonfire and roast s’mores. If it’s the wrong season where you are, use your indoor fireplace or even a gas stove. This kind of spontaneity is what having fun with kids is all about.
Think back on your own childhood. What do you recall fondly? Is it the silly games or the quirky traditions that were unique to your family? The enjoyment you have together, even in the small things, will form the overall impression of a happy childhood. Doing that for your kids makes you a fun, and happy, parent.
These tips were taken from Betsy Kerekes’s book, Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying (Our Sunday Visitor 2019). Kerekes is also the co-author, with Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, of 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person (Ave Maria Press 2016) and 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage (Ave Maria Press 2013).