“What do I do now?”
These five words are what I’ll remember about the lockdown phase of 2020. The pandemic that spread across the world. The lockdown imposed on all of us to stay safe and stay at home. But no one told how to stay sane with a child at home. A virus that brought travel to a standstill and a child’s energy locked up at home.
I pride myself on being efficient and organised on most days. But after three days of a lockdown I began to hear “What do I do now” from my daughter Anna.
I quickly prepared a routine for my child which we could follow so I wouldn’t need to hear those five words. A methodical plan from when she woke up to when she went to sleep which included homework, practicing piano, exercising, bathing and eating which she could follow and not bother me.
I thought I had a pretty good strategy with every minute of her day covered and occupied. Because most children need to be kept occupied or they’ll say those dreadful words. But after two days of following the routine, she seemed to be bored. She’d run out of homework to do, or didn’t feel like doing so. She felt anxious and worried for her grandparents and refused to do any chores. After a while, I realised it was just an excuse to run back to the iPad.
I needed to devise different things for her to do every day. Most children will only thrive on routine if they have others doing it with them. Largely kids need entertainment, diversity and attention. I tried a list of things, mixing and matching according to her mood. A few things I’m trying that you can as well:
- GK pop quizzes according to the child’s age. Countries and capitals, history, geography, Prime ministers of India. Anything that jogs the mind and keeps it sharp.
- Sudoku – If the child is good at maths.
- Word play – online word games and crossword puzzles to work on.
- Narrating mythological stories. They can read one and tell you and you can do the same.
- Pass the story – Begin a story with characters, setting and a motivation and pass it to them back and forth till you come to an end. (Tape these. You’ll remember it later.)
- Colouring, Art or DIY projects – Colouring books, old magazines into collages and vision boards, and blank pieces of paper to doodle or sketch.
- Podcast – Making a podcast interviewing the child. Prepare 10 questions you could ask them fun questions – if you had a dragon what would you do with it? For older children ask them relationship questions – what would you tell a friend who was being bullied in school, if you had a friend who was dumped what would you tell her. Make them a relationship guru.
- Tutorial Videos – they excel in some activity so allow them to make a tutorial for others. Dance, painting, playing an instrument, exercise video, sing a song pretending to be a famous singer, etc.
- Board games. Dust the old board games out and play Cluedo, Mastermind, Boggle, Scrabble, Monopoly with your children.
- Exercise – So many YouTube videos that you could do together. Tell them to motivate you. My child and I like Blogilates. We do two videos a day apart from some cardio.
- Cook – Allow the child to participate in the kitchen. They can knead the atta, roll out the rotis, measure things, stir something, bake, and marinate. Older children can definitely learn cooking and by the end of 21 days they should be able to make one dish on their own. Tell them that there’s a reward at the end. Give them a treat once things get better. Younger children don’t need to chop or go near the gas. Also show them Junior Masterchef so they’re inspired.
- Chores – clean surfaces with disinfectant, dust, sweep, mop, wash dishes, change sheets, do laundry, water plants, fold clothes. They can do two a day to help you.
- Read and share the story. Whatever both of you are reading you can share at the end of the day. If you’re reading something too adult – tell a story about your childhood (Not when you walked ten kilometres to school or didn’t have as much as they do now. Something funny or interesting.) I hope you’re reading a book because children follow what parents do!
- Write a journal called 21 days. Each day they can write a paragraph on how they felt that day, what they did, what they’re grateful for.
- Play enact something from a book you have read during meal time. I did a Mad Hatter’s tea party during our milk and tea time where we both wore hats and she was the Cheshire cat saying wise things and I was the Mad Hatter talking nonsense.
- Reorganise cupboards, box beds, kitchen. Throw away any extra stuff.
- Write your own TV show. Since they’ve watched so many, discuss the kind of show that they would like to see made. Make them write, voice record their idea. What would be in each episode. Help them understand interesting characters, unique plot twists, surprise ending.
- Dumb charades – This is fun to do with a family if you can enact movies, animals, or mimic people you know. Makes for a good laugh.
- Write or record reviews – Since older children are watching several web shows make them write or video record a review about the show in their style for a minimum of 3-5 minutes or 1500 words.
- Wash hands. Again. Tell them it’s like sticky glitter. It needs to be cleaned thoroughly if it’s on your hands or accidentally comes on your face.
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But even after doing all these things and I’m sure everyone has thought of so many more, the child will still say “What do I do now?”
Children need attention and after a while all they want to do is get back to watching something and tuning their mind away from the current situation. It’s their way of dealing with anxiety as we are doing the same.
The most important thing we can do is to talk to them about anxiety and stress and show them how to deal with it through patience and meditation during this time. Meditation can be a simple as five minutes of sitting in silence and even saying “in, out” as you inhale and exhale. After a while one doesn’t need to and can just focus on your breath. Increase time by five minutes every week. Teach them how to be safe and tell them why it’s important. And most essentially if they still don’t care and just ask “what do I do now” ask them what they’d like to do besides watching TV. If they have no ideas, allow them to watch what they choose to.
They don’t always need to learn something, be better at things or improve their skills. They have enough time to be the people that you think they are capable of being. Learn to let go of controlling what you think they should do to be productive. They truly don’t need to be. They are gifted, talented and remarkable. Allow them to be right now. It might just be better for your stress to give in at this point than to deal with the kind of pressure your kids are giving while you need to work from home.
Madhuri is an author, film writer and single mother. She values her books, her friends and her freedom. The views expressed are the author’s own.