Stating the obvious: looking after a toddler isn’t easy. Going one step further, looking after a toddler when you’re stressed, tired or also working is incredibly hard. Harder even than unfinished porridge crusted onto a bowl: the hardest thing in the known universe. And that’s where many of us find ourselves all of a sudden. Stay-at-home mums, stay-at-home dads; we’re each facing a mountain of dirty porridge bowls with only one toothbrush between us to clean them.
You’ve probably noticed your child, like my two-year-old son, has picked up on the competing stresses of the past COVID-filled month. Mum and Dad are suddenly at home all the time, they’re suddenly at home all the time. If you do go out, playgroups and playgrounds are locked up, and if anyone passes you on the street, you very sensibly instantly leap out of their way and hold your breath, clutching your little ones to your breast and making the sign of the cross.
No matter how little they are, kids, they notice this stuff. So it pays to remember this is a weird and unsettling time for them as well as for us. In the past few weeks my son has gone through every mood possible, from shouting and screaming to laughing and smiling, from calmly accepting the things I ask him to do (like, please can you eat your peas) to angrily refusing to do anything I ask him not to do (like, please, not the toilet bleach. Again.).
Good Plan, Batman
A plan of action can help though, even if at first it feels hopeless. Plan the next day the night before and try to stick to it – letting it drift listlessly will only lead to pain.
Above all be patient.
After a year of being a stay at home dad, I’ve learnt the moment I lose my patience, I’ve lost control. That doesn’t mean I don’t lose it all the time but probably less than I otherwise would. Deep breaths help, getting down to their level helps, talking softly helps: telling them they’ve single-handedly ruined your life doesn’t – and anyway will cost you plenty of $$$$ in therapy fees down the track.
Play with, well, anything.
The main thing to remember is that toddlers love to play. So help them create a world out of discarded boxes, build a den out of cushions and doonas and let them tip all the Duplo onto the floor, knowing there could be at least an hour of distraction to be had before one of those bloody bricks ends up sticking into the sole of your right foot. And that’s fine.
Accept that mess is now a way of life.
If you’ve got the nerves to embrace the mess – and you’re not worried about losing your rental deposit – break out the finger paints or better still the playdough, even if you know half of it will end up pressed into the carpet and half in their mouths. Turn the sink into a water park with cups and pans and sieves, or engineer an obstacle course in the garden if you have one. While we’re still allowed to venture out for exercise, get them on a bike or a scooter, chase them and race them, encourage them to climb: anything that will wear them out.
It’s going to be a hard ride for a good while yet, and there will be days – most days – when you suddenly find your face feeling wet after they’ve gone to bed. They are tears my friend, your tears. But once this COVID nightmare is all over, you’ll realise they were the hardest-earned, most-worthwhile tears you’ve ever shed.
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