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Multi-tasking, or plate-spinning, is something that we all do, but, at this time of year, I feel like the plates speed up. Before I know it I’m a crazy lady, not 100% sure where I’m meant to be from one moment to the next.

Yesterday, after having a sleepless night, I decided to have ‘a home day’. A day where we slow things down; take a break from the classes or groups that we usually visit, and we stay at home. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love to go out and meet people, and I love to take my son to places where he can socialise with other children, run and let off some steam, but yesterday I needed to get things back in check.

The night before I couldn’t sleep and this is very unusual for me! I’m usually asleep before my head hits the pillow, but that night I tossed and turned and finally gave up and went downstairs, where I think I eventually fell asleep at about 3 am. I don’t know for sure why I was so wide awake, but I think it probably had a lot to do with: the presents I haven’t yet purchased; the numerous school and nursery events that I’m hoping I’ve remembered to put in the calendar; the food that I need to pick up from the supermarket; the thank you cards that still need writing…you get the idea. Life is chaotic, and I let it overwhelm me. So, for the sake of my mental health, I said, “Enough!” and I declared a home day.

In theory, staying at home and getting things done is all very well, but, in reality, trying to do all these things while also caring for children is quite another! I wanted to share my day with you not because I think it’s the perfect way to parent, but rather, in the hope that it will bring some comfort to other mums and dads that are feeling just a bit swamped at this time of year. Honest disclaimer, I didn’t get everything done. I still have lists upon lists of things that I want to do, but my son and I had lots of fun. We didn’t do our usual routine; we didn’t socialise with any of our friends, but we did make memories. What’s more, I did complete some of my jobs, and last night I slept like a log again, so I think my mind was feeling more at ease.

Now, I don’t claim to have a magic wand that will make your stresses disappear, but I do have some things that work for us. Please feel free to share your top tips in the comments below too.

Planning and timings. I think it’s the teacher in me, but I split my day into chunks – small, manageable units of time. A stable routine helps me to structure the day and also helps the children to feel more in control. Understanding what is happening now and what will come next often helps to reduce the anxiety and frustration that children have when they are suddenly told they have to stop an activity. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always adhere to these timings strictly, but they are there as a guide. Our ‘home days’ usually look like this (I’ve chosen a weekday when my eldest is at school, but I used to do similar when both were at home with me too):

7.00 wake up, get dressed.

7.30 have breakfast.

8.00-8.30 independent play while I wake up!

8.30-9.30 school run and any errands that need doing like going to the post office or shop.

9.30-10.00 we play together – his choice – no distractions, my phone is left in another room.

10.00-10.15 independent play while I set up an activity.

10.15-11.15/30 do the activity (either together or I start him off then get on with my jobs).

11.15-11.30 Tidy up time (depending on how messy it is!)

11.30-12.15 Lunchtime

12.15-12.30 Quiet time – often share stories or sing nursery rhymes (his choice).

12.30 – 2.30 Naptime.

2.30-3.15 School pick up.

3.15-3.45 1:1 time with my daughter helping with her homework. Son has a small snack and plays with an activity I’ve set up for him while he was asleep.

3.45-4.45 Children play together (usually harmoniously, but not always!) I will be as involved as I need to be depending on their mood. We often visit Granny and Grandad at this time too.

4.45-5.00 I prep dinner, children tidy up/wash hands etc.

5.00-6.00 Dinner time and Daddy arrives home!

6.00-6.30 Bathtime.

7.00 Stories and bed.

Independent Play. As you can see, there are multiple times during a ‘home’ day, where I encourage my son to play on his own for short periods. I think children must learn to play alone as well as alongside others. From an early age, I have always encouraged this and (generally) both my children are pretty happy to do this now, which not only saves my sanity but allows me time to get some jobs done. Open-ended toys (see my previous blog post) are perfect to use during independent time as the child can interact with them in multiple different ways. Research has shown that children who were encouraged to play without an adult for short periods, were more likely to be curious, creative learners as they had been allowed to figure things out for themselves rather than relying on an adult to tell them the answer.

Of course, there are times when independent play becomes a lot harder; for example, if my son isn’t feeling well or, he just doesn’t feel motivated to choose anything for himself. When this happens, he needs more support from me, but that’s okay. Sometimes we start to play together, but then I sneak away when he’s become absorbed. Depending on his mood, I may tell him that “I’m going to do X but will be back after”. Or, I may just slink away, knowing that telling him will disturb his concentration and likely end up with him being anxious again.

When either of my children are being ‘clingy’ and not wanting me to leave them even for a second, I find it exhausting. The mummy guilt kicks in as I find myself getting increasingly frustrated by the whinging when all I want to do is escape for long enough to go to the toilet, not an unreasonable request! At times like these, I remind myself it’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to crave some time to myself. Being a mummy doesn’t mean you have to be a Saint! I know for some parents, the idea of their child playing on their own seems like an impossible dream. I definitely think it takes time and perseverance to teach your child to do it. Start with small chunks of time; use a visual egg timer if necessary and praise them when the timer finishes. Stay in the same room so they can see you or check in with you if they need to. When they’re okay with this, do something that involves you popping in and out every minute or so. Finally, be consistent and reliable. If you say, you’ll be back in X minutes then, be back and be present for them. I think this approach has worked with my children because they trust me; they know that I mean it and will always follow through.

1:1 Time. Having the slots in the day where my children get 1:1 time with me is significant too. Having just started a business I can sometimes feel like I’m always on my phone and, that’s not great for the children. They don’t realise that I’m working, to them, mummy is more interested in her phone than what they’re doing, and I hate that. When I have 1:1 time, I strive to give them all of me — my complete undivided attention — my phone is away, and it’s just us.

At bedtime too, my husband and I alternate with who will read the bedtime stories to which child. They love this as they both get 1:1 time with a parent and they know in advance which one it will be. In my experience, children love the security of a routine.

It’s hard being a stay at home mum, and now I’ve started this business I’m finding getting the work from home mum balance right is another juggling act altogether!

Activities. I like to give my children two or three choices when it comes to doing an activity. Partly to give them some ownership and control over their day and partly because I don’t want to set something up which doesn’t interest them and then gets ignored! I often include one or two things that they’ve done and enjoyed before and something else that is new to them. I also try to give them different types of activities; some might be creative, others imaginative, scientific, academic, physical, musical, or involve construction. Children, like us, don’t always feel like doing the same sorts of things, and it’s crucial that they experience a range of types of play.

On other occasions, I will set up an ‘invitation to play’. This is where I’ll get out a particular toy or set of resources and lay them out in such a way that it is eyecatching and interests the children enough to interact and get involved with it. I find this works well to do when my son is asleep so that when we get back from the school run, there is something new there to play with while I have 1:1 time with my daughter.

I hope sharing our day has gone some way to helping others at this busy time of year. Please do get in touch if you have any questions, or you would like me to focus on a particular area in a future blog; I’d love to hear from you.

For activity inspiration, have a look at my Instagram or Facebook account @busybrainsactivitypacks or buy a Busy Brains Activity Pack today to receive age-appropriate play ideas for your child including a milestone guide, information on the key developmental changes for their stage and loads of fun things to do together.

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