When Spring Break Feels More Like Work
Think back to where you were a year ago. Our world was getting turned upside down as schools were closing, store shelves were running out of necessary items, and cities around the globe were going into lockdown. Life as we knew it was swiftly grinding to a halt, and none of us knew what was going to happen next. Fast forward to present day: if you are staring down a week of serving as full-time caretaker and playmate and you feel exhausted at the very idea of it, you’re in good company. We’re all trying our best to keep it all together, and just under the surface lurks a very real fatigue that’s been building for more than a year.
During normal times, you might be packing up and heading out right about now. The novelty and sense of adventure would provide the excitement and focus for the week ahead, taking the pressure off you to entertain your little ones. But if you’re planning on staying home this year, the week ahead may feel more like work and less like a break. So we’d like to make a plug for one of our favorite and often-forgotten strategies for parental burn out: taking space. Planning for regular chunks of solo time for your kids throughout the week can provide you with some necessary breathing room.
Build Solo Time into the Routine
We know the value of creating a routine to structure days like the ones ahead, where our kids may not have distance learning to keep them occupied, or are at home instead of at childcare. Amidst your plans for art projects, lunch and snack times, and outdoor play, don’t forget about making space for solo time, when everyone (even you!) can take a break from the collective energy.
Consider structuring breaks with the following ideas, tailoring each to you, your children, and your living situation:
- If it’s not part of your existing routine, talk to your kids ahead of time about this new type of activity. Call it whatever you like. Names like solo time, break time, and time in work well. Make sure they know it’s not a penalty, punishment, or negative consequence but instead is an opportunity for everyone to spend time on their own to rest, create, or play by themselves.
- Set a timer of some sort, so that your child can track where they are in the process. Many kids love a visual timer, like an hourglass or a red/yellow/green traffic light. Or you can create and put on a “solo time” playlist. The length of time will depend on what works best for you and your little ones. If you’re new to taking breaks at home, consider starting with a few minutes and working your way up to a longer stretch. For longer periods of solo time, some kids do well with parents marking the half-way point, when they can get a hug and a high-five from you before you reset the timer. This encouragement often inspires them to complete the second half.
- Allow them to be solo, in their own spaces, if possible. Whether it’s in separated common areas of your home or in each child’s bedroom, taking planned breaks in separate spaces can be a great practice that supports independence.
- Like adults, kids have their own preferences about how they spend their time, so we recommend offering your kids a range of activity choices that work well for solo time. Whether your child prefers listening to music, drawing and coloring, or crafting, just be sure you’re okay with walking away for the designated time. If you don’t want to spend the afternoon picking playdough out of the bedroom carpet (and who could blame you?), consider offering activities with less of a mess factor.
- Have a back-up activity ready in case they finish before the timer goes off. Ran out of coloring pages? No problem, here’s a puzzle. Your playlist ended? Let’s put on a kids’ yoga routine. You get the idea!
- Find the sweet spot between familiarity and novelty to help hold their interest during solo time. Try offering activities that include things they’re familiar with paired with something new or different, for example a coloring activity with their favorite pens and some new coloring pages they’ve never seen before. Download free coloring pages & activities here.
We also like to think of breaks as not just planned but as a helpful tool in our back pockets that we can use when we—or our kids—get burned out and tired. We like to think of these types of breaks as more about resting our bodies and minds, and less about a traditional “time out” as a punishment. The breaks we’re talking about here are more about taking some space to rest and re-group. These kinds of breaks help kids associate neutral or even positive feelings about being solo and help them learn how to entertain themselves.
Screens Are Okay, Really!
Many parents are relieved to find out that pediatricians, child specialists, and neuroscientists agree a moderate amount of high-quality, educational screen time for children 2 years and older is fine to include in a child’s daily routine. If you plan to use screens during solo time, we recommend previewing the content ahead of time and setting it up with parental controls. High-quality educational shows and kids’ yoga routines that you’ve done with them ahead of time are great options. Check out our YouTube channel and Storytime with Ms. Kelly!
Their Solo Time Equals Your Down Time
Parenting is one of the only jobs that doesn’t come with mandatory breaks, so we have to schedule those ourselves! If you get the kids going on their 20 minutes of solo time, you might hear the dishes calling or remember the eight loads of laundry that need to be put away. It might be hard to do, but we encourage you to give yourself a permission slip in these moments to take a true break for yourself. Whether it’s meditating or scrolling on your phone, take that down time from parenting and spend it on yourself, in whatever way feels best to you.
Break time structure and length will depend on what works best for you, your children, and your unique home life. Whether it’s your 6-month-old on her belly for 5 minutes reaching for those teething rings while you sip tea and watch her on the monitor, or your 4-year-old coloring in his room for 20 minutes while you watch your favorite show—taking breaks from caretaking is not only okay but necessary for parental well-being.
Download coloring pages and activities at Slumberkins School.