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Simplifying days with young children: How I moved from parental overwhelm towards joy

simplifying days at home with young kids
Sian Thomas

It took me a while to realise that parenting didn’t have to be complicated. I used to make life extremely difficult for myself by overthinking and over-doing.

A moment of clarity came for me when I was trying to get my children involved in a craft project: they were just not into it and I was frustrated because I was trying to do something nice for them – didn’t they care at all?

Well the answer is, no, not really and moreover why should they either? Because when I started to really do the research, I discovered that independent, child-led play is much more engaging than a forced fun craft project ever would be.

Then, when I got sick when pregnant with my third child, things really came into focus in a big way. Suffering from low iron levels that left me dizzy in the third trimester and then getting

Labyrinthitis afterwards, I found myself laid up on the couch far more than I wanted.

Here’s what I did to move from parental overwhelm towards joy

To move from a place where I felt constantly guilty about all the things I couldn’t do in a day towards a place where I did feel joy in the day to day, I need to get to the root nub of my parental overwhelm. I realised that:

  • I spent far too long creating and tidying up planned activities which didn’t always engage my children in the same way that independent play did
  • We had too much stuff that made it difficult to keep on top of the house (especially with a new baby) and I found myself endlessly cleaning up
  • I spent zero time on doing things for myself, this included both work and self-care which made me feel even more burnt out.

 

So I started to really analyse how I could make our lives simpler in a way that we could all benefit from. This then became the basis of the Playful Days at Home Starter Kit.

 

I Researched Play + how children learn

Why did I start here? well as an educator, I wanted to address this first! Because I made the decision to home educate in the early years, I didn’t want the children missing out. By understanding how children truly learn (spoiler alert it’s through play) I became more focused on providing an engaging learning environment rather than several activities per day.

I established a gentle daily rhythm for us to follow

Part of my own parental overwhelm was around alternate feelings of boredom one day and exhaustion the next. We had no consistency to our days which made it difficult for me to achieve anything for myself. When we introduced a gentle daily rhythm which placed a large emphasis on outdoor play and independent play, I found that I was more able to make time for myself.

I am not in anyway suggested that it is a magic wand and I know self-care can be a bit of a contentious issue. But for me personally, I noticed that when I started to adjust our rhythm in this way, I could have some ‘me time’ without it being just another thing added to my plate. This has also given me more energy to go all-in on the other areas of my day too.

 

moving away from parental overwhelm: a 4 year old blonde boy inspects a dandelion in a grassy verge by the river

I focused on our home environment

As an expat family that travels the world every few years, making a house a home can be difficult. When you aren’t allowed to repaint walls or even buy furniture that you like, things can feel a bit sterile.

Where I used to see this a real negative aspect of life abroad and it definitely added to the parental overwhelm because it was another reminder of not being entirely settled, I’ve now started look at the things I can do to make our environment more cosy and welcoming. Here’s what we did:

  • Added Phillips Hue lights to make the space more cosy, especially in the long winter months
  • Bought throws and new cushions to make the space feel more like ours
  • Zoned the house into sections – I now even have a little yoga and meditation corner!

 

I simplified everything

Since one of my own reasons for having parental overwhelm was too much stuff, I went big on decluttering and organising our home. We are now extremely good at quarterly declutter and organisation sessions because as a family that travels a lot, I really cannot leave things in a spare room (or the walk-in-wardrobe in our case) until the next posting. Here’s some of the things I did:

  • unsubscribed from social media accounts and mailing lists that no longer served me
  • donated clothes that no longer fit right after having children
  • Opted for paperless bills where possible to avoid heaps of mail
  • Involved the family in quarterly declutter and organisation sessions to keep on top of our stuff
  • Organised the Play Space and focused on good quality open-ended toys

 

I researched child development in the early years to really understand my children 

It’s much easier to react to children with empathy and understanding when you start to delve into early childhood development. And as I began to work through what was realistic in terms of my own expectations (and what was not), it was easier to move away from parental overwhelm and towards joy. Some of the main things we did were:

  • Keep to a consistent rhythm – this helped with transitions and gave the children an idea of what was happening throughout their days
  • Use simple language  – e.g. Instead of ‘You’re frustrated because you can’t watch the TV…’ try a simpler word such as ‘You’re sad…’ or ‘You’re angry…’
  • Offer two choices of things to help the children feel more in control of their own life. For example, ‘Would you like the blue cup or the red cup?’ or ‘Would you like peas or carrots with dinner’
  • I used Parten’s Stages of Play to understand why my children weren’t playing together
  • I implemented a 3 step process to implement clear, but empathetic boundaries. I talk about this more in the Playful Days at Home Starter Kit 

 

4 year old boy plays in the sandpit at the local park

 

I kept a digital journal to notice and observe everything around me

I use Evernote to observe my children at play. Whilst this might sound a bit extra, taking time out to observe them each week helps me to understand their interests, their stage of development and also if they have any worries or concerns. I then use this information during connection time, to help create engaging play invitations and also place out toys in the play space that will actually get played with!

This process only takes me twenty minutes each week and it really saves me time in the long-run!

Play observations are such an important part of understanding play. I talk about this process in lesson 4 of the Playful Days at Home Starter Kit, which is all about a parents role in play.

I took time each day to connect with my children

Small moments of connection each day are really powerful. This can be as simple as saying, ‘I love you,’ or a more organised outing. Everyday I take time out to really connect with my children whether through play or reading a story, the most important aspect is to keep your full focus on your child. This approach also helps me to go all-in on my own work and self-care – because I know that I have given my children full focus.

Children know when they are getting short-changed, so if you’re sitting with them whilst they play but your attention is elsewhere, your child will know. A much better approach is to give your time full (even if it is just for 10 minutes) so they know they’ve got you completely.

 

The actions I took formed the basis of the Playfully P.R.E.S.E.N.T method

The Playfully P.R.E.S.E.N.T method is the core philosophy of everything I do here at This Playful Home. I’m really passionate about helping families understand the value of play in the early years so that they can live their lives with less overwhelm and more joy & connection.

Next Steps

If you’re currently feeling the parental overwhelm,  I’m here to help you out! The free guide 7 Secrets of Playful Parenting will help you get kickstarted on your journey. You can download of copy here.

 

Related Articles You Might Enjoy

5 Essentials for Building a Daily Rhythm

5 Reasons why your child needs plenty of outdoor play

5 Ways to Reduce Screen-time 

A Simple After-School Rhythm for Young Children 

 

 

 

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