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By Steve Schlozman, MD
Yes, it's still snowing. More. And more.
Even writing the word "snow" now makes me cranky at this point. I never thought I would actually long for the morning commute.
But, I did in fact sign up to be available for my kids, and this is actually a bigger problem right now than any of us expected. The weather in Boston has of course been unprecedented, and while it would be foolish and infantile to act like it is anything other than a royal pain in the backside, we’d also be committing a big fat empathic failure if we didn’t acknowledge just how stir crazy we’re going.
I have developed new sympathy for my daughter’s hamster; she see’s the same cage, the same scene, the same everything, day in and day out.
But, alas, my kid’s hamster cannot work scissors, or a remote control for the television, or engage in any sort of higher order thinking, such as hitting her big sister in the back of the head with a pillow.
In the interest of the city not losing it’s collective mind, and in the interest of genuine public health, may we offer some suggestions. You've gotta mix it up right now. If there was a Super Bowl of day-killing, we'd be having a major parade by now. Sundown is still a long ways off. Here are ten tips to pass the day with minimal damage
I wouldn’t fret too much about TV or computer time. Limit the screen time in a way that makes sense to you, and limit what they watch. My family had to put the kabash on Dance Moms, for example It just got a bit too toxic. But use entertainment, in a family way if possible, and set the boundaries around what is watched as well as for how long. For example — say something like: at noon, you can watch/play (fill in the blank with appropriate program) for one hour. Then you can watch/play (fill in the blank with appropriate show) at 4 pm again.
I know. “Boring,” your kids will sing. But puzzles have a unique appeal around a living room table. That burst of satisfaction when two pieces fit together has got to be neurobiologically driven. It just feels so good. Thirty minutes or more with a good jigsaw puzzle, even one you’ve done before, is both calming and rewarding.
Speaking of calming and rewarding, don’t forget to feed ‘em, and don’t indulge in excess either. Remember that for most kids, there is structure during the day in the form of lunchtime and recess and activity time. I’m a big believer in free and unstructured time, but in recent days we’ve been closing in on Lord of the Flies territory. Feed ‘em at the table and then let them move onto other things. The meal should take around 20 minutes. You might get more time out of it if you bake something. (That’s the length of the average meal at school)
Do you recall that wonderful scene in "A Christmas Story" when the kid-brother gets so many coats on that he can’t get back up after he falls on his side. That scenario is just shy of your goal. Wrap ‘em up, get some friends over at your house, and toss them all outside in a snow bank. I know they’ve been in lots or snow banks lately, but let’s face it. Calling the piles outside your house snow banks is like calling Gronk a mildly enthusiastic athlete. Believe me, your kids will start digging like gophers out there. There are cities of ice to be built. So, with the two screen times, the puzzle and lunch, we’ve knocked about 3 hours out of the day. We’re getting there.
Community Quiet Time
After a while, they’ll come back in. That’s fine. It’s a little hairy out there, so unless you can walk safely to a hill for sledding, you might get out the blankets and the coloring books. My family spans different ages, so the older one is ensconced in Buzzfeed while the younger ones are coloring outside of the lines. If you put music on, you’ll get this Rockwellian moment to last longer. Maybe an hour, I’d guess if you’re lucky, so you’ve got about 3 hours more. Remember that’s it OK to tell them you have stuff to work on too. This is a good time to work on that stuff if you didn’t finish when they were outside.
To paraphrase field of dreams, if you build a bunch of snow days in a month, tantrums will come. Remind your child that the aggravation is shared by all. If you need to utilize a time out, don’t hesitate. You’d be surprised what a bit of quiet time can do.
Shovel. The. Walk.
This one is RADICAL. In fact, I feel old just writing it. In my day, kids used to help with shoveling. I think it’s time, if you haven't already, to bring back that cherished tradition. At this point, a good kid is a tired kid, and it’ll do you good too if you’re able to get a bit of exercise.
This is a critical juncture. It’s a bit like the end of a lunar mission. Will the re-entry be calm or will it tear the insulation off as it passes through the atmosphere of cooped-up-edness? May we recommend COMFORT FOOD? Fill up them bellies. They’ll all sleep better.
Maybe it's time for a little reading or homework now (yeah, they still go to school, remember). A bit of forgotten routine is good about now.
To bed with them all. Spend time with yourself or your honey. Play scrabble, or be daringly more creative than that. After all, you’ve got to live it up now. Tomorrow’s another (snow) day.
Steve Schlozman is associate director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
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