Making the Most of Excessive Family Time

Giving children assigned tasks, and letting them figure out how to accomplish them, can build independence and self-sufficiency.

As we move through what feels like an endless summer, parents everywhere are starting to run out of ideas. While times are certainly far from what we consider to be normal, it is okay to flip the burden of excessive family time upside down. Don’t just survive – thrive!

How many times have we found ourselves just doing something for our children because it will be quicker? And how often do we wish for our kids to be a little more independent? If you have found yourself spending more time at home with your children, this is the perfect moment to help them develop independent skills. 

Assign Tasks

Executive function skills like organization of materials, time management, planning and prioritizing, and follow through take time and practice, but can be easily be built into day-to-day routines. Try giving your child a task that would often take too long for them to do and see how they approach the task. You can offer open-ended prompts – such as “I wonder what would happen if you do…” – instead of telling them how to complete the task. Get their problem-solving brain firing! Have them help you decide what steps need to happen when doing a task together, like baking cookies, packing a picnic lunch, or doing the laundry. 

One of Brittni Winslow’s children helps load the dishwasher.

Rely on a Schedule

Providing structure around time at home is also important to surviving excessive family time. Family schedules can be simple or more complex depending on the ages and developmental stages of your children.

For younger children, pictures can be used to illustrate the sequence in which the day will flow. Make sure to include the “need to’s,” like getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating snacks and meals, and cleaning up. To motivate, you can associate points or rewards to the schedule depending on your goals for the child. A family meeting to talk about how family members want to spend their time can be helpful when knowing what to place on the schedule week to week – make sure everyone has something to look forward to!

Schedules are a great way to give children a sense of organization and predictability to their day, but they can also be a great way to teach another great life skill – flexibility. Having a backup plan for an activity that cannot occur on the schedule can be a helpful way to talk to children about responding to necessary adaptations. For instance, having a list of fun indoor activities to substitute into the schedule when an outdoor activity is rained out can help ease the disappointment of that change in plan. 

Introduce Something New

In the past four months at home, your children may have become bored with their own toys, books and games. If purchasing additional toys is not ideal, consider a swap with another family! This can be a fun way to share with others and provide novelty to their play. If you have additional funds to allocate due to cancelled camps or other activities, you can consider routing that money into a fun summer activity that will promote sensory regulation or skill development – such as a trampoline, wading pool, hoppity ball, scooters or bikes. 

Talk Through the Stress

The condition of our world right now makes us all a little more prone to stress and dysregulation, so making sure that we are protecting the emotional well-being of ourselves and our children is the most crucial way we can spend our time. Talking about emotions, stressors, and how to cope as a family is important for being able to interact with each other for extended periods of time. Being able to recognize how each child, and parent, responds when under stress can be very helpful in knowing when it is time to implement strategies that will help to bring that family member back in the “just right” state of emotional regulation. Sometimes this may include knowing the sensory “profile” of members of your family to try to avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Brittni Winslow has a master’s degree in occupational therapy and is executive director and owner of Emerge Pediatric Therapy in Cary and Durham. She and her husband have three young daughters.

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