Sophie & Theodore | photo by Jana Graham Photography
Keeping the Calm at Home
by rebecca stewart
Over the years, we've come to recognize both the blessing and bane that is this incredible and instant access we have to each other and what's going on in the world. Thanks to the wonders of technology, we are constantly bombarded with information and have to be intentional in our consumption. These past few years, especially, have been some kind of a rollercoaster, and every time we think we’re ready to put it all in our rearview mirror, something throws a wrench in those plans.
Nonetheless, we find ourselves very much in the zone of “Keep moving forward,” a la Walt Disney. We’ve learned some things throughout these tumultuous times. We've been reminded of the value of slowing down and spending time together. As parents, we were reminded of the importance of talking things out with our children (age appropriately) and being the safe space for their fears and worries.
At the start of this new year, we’re looking to reflect on those lessons learned and how home, with the help of routines, can be the calm center for our family to rely upon regardless of what's happening out in the world.
We recognize that, for some, “home” is as turbulent as it is out in the world and that things like abuse and addiction or food and financial insecurities can keep life in a state of constant upheaval. Please know that our community has an incredible variety of resources, ready to offer a hand up.
While we certainly need to be able to roll with the punches - as these most recent years have shown us - the importance of establishing routines is vital for every member of our family. Routine, for kids, equals safety and security and helps them develop important life skills. Routine often creates that sense of calm we’re seeking.
Key: [Littles = Toddlers / Middles = Grade School age / Bigs = Teens]
The Littles - From wake up to sleep, having schedules and routines for our littles helps keep the train rolling smoothly on the tracks. Emotions can still overwhelm our little ones, but knowing what they can expect from their day can go a long way towards keeping things on an even keel. (It’s why holidays - fun though they are - can cause a total behavioral derailment).
- The CDC¹ tells us that Consistency, Predictability, and Follow-Through are key to creating structure in the home. This is true through every stage of parenting.
- Consistency means that we're managing behaviors in the same way, each time - both positive and negative. Being consistent in how we praise the good we see and the consequences in place for negative behaviors.
- The routines and responses we have in place and give our children should be boring for how predictable they are. The CDC notes that “When your daily routines are predictable, your child knows what to expect for the day. When your rules are predictable, your child knows how you will react to their behavior.”
- To have consistency and predictability, there must ultimately be follow-through. It's the adage, "Say what you mean and mean what you say."
The CDC Building Structure article explains that all of this helps "kids feel safe and secure because they know what to expect. Parents feel confident because they know how to respond, and they respond the same way each time.”
We can start building routines into the days of our littlest of littles, adapting to more intricate routines as they grow. As you’re settling into the calm that is having a bedtime routine, be sure to include snuggle time with bedtime stories.
The Middles - We're definitely going to want to bring the calm into both ends of the middles' day. Mornings can get CRAZY, and then they've spent the whole day being their best, so they get home and emote all over the place.
- Mornings- It all begins with a good night’s sleep, then strive to give yourselves a 10-15 minute window of extra time to help ease the stress of getting out the door on time. Breakfast! Whether sit-down or grab-n-go, fuel them up for the day ahead.
- After School- Whether you dive headlong into homework or your kiddo needs a minute to catch their breath and decompress, set yourselves up for success with a snack (hangry homework time will be a win for no one) and designated space that sets the homework tone. And, for the love, check the backpack!
- Evenings- Though we often find ourselves going in different directions, family dinner continues to be a sacred tradition for many. If that's not always doable, pick a day of the week for designated family time, it tends to have a centering effect. Then, along with the bedtime routine, get your business in order before slumbering away. (Think, having everything in the backpack that needs to be there and placed by the door, lunch, and snacks as pre-made and ready as possible, outfit of the day ready to wear).
The Bigs - The structure and routine that has been the staple of their young lives differs in the teen years, but it’s still an important piece of the foundational puzzle. It’s continuing to instill habits that will serve them well into adulthood.
- Limited pre-bedtime screentime is important for us all.
- Having consistent bedtime and wake up that includes breakfast (reminder that teens still need 8-10 hours of sleep a night)².
- Be a sounding board in helping them create balance within their routine. (Teens have a lot on their plate, from school and homework to friends and family, and sports and work).
The Grownups - So, maybe you thought routines were only important for the kids? Think again. Northwestern Medicine³ says that "Many people who don't have any type of routine suffer from: stress, poor sleep, poor eating, poor physical condition, and ineffective use of time."
It’s fair to say that we want to be the example for our kids, and that can start with how we structure our days. It has us catching enough Zzzs, allowing time to grab breakfast, fitting in a workout, and managing our time so that we’re also improving our stress levels.
CALM IN CHAOS
The thing that mom finds calming and de-stressing might not - probably isn’t - the same thing as the teenager. Though we all operate differently, Cheryl Butler of Project Parenthood shared these six tips for creating a peaceful home on QDT:
- It Starts With You- Meaning you set the tone and the example; from how you start your day to how you're actively communicating with your family and the world.
- Speak Calmly- It’s easy to go from 0 to 100 in our emotions; learn to read your body's cues so that you can approach things from a calmer space. (Again, you are the example). It's important to pay attention to our tone and what message our face and body language deliver.
- Create Personal Space- Family time is great, but sometimes we all need our own space to decompress and just be.
- Be Mindful of Family Time- Yes, we are busy, so be mindful of the time you have together and how you're using it and be accountable to it.
- Set the Tone with Music- Once upon a time, we were kids and teenagers who always had our radios and mixtapes playing. Music can be a mood-lifting game changer.
- Stay Organized and Clutter-Free- While it might not seem to make a difference to the rest of the family, having things in order is incredibly calming. It becomes a place you can’t wait to be.
Ultimately, that's what we want home to be, the place where we all can't wait to return to at the end of the day. Because of the spaces we've created and the people within them. A worthy goal to kick off this New Year.
¹ Building Blocks | Creating Structure | Essentials | Parenting Information | CDC. (n.d.). CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/structure/building.html
² Sleep in Middle and High School Students. (2020, September 10). CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm
³ Northwestern Medicine Staff. (2016, August 15). Health Benefits of Having a Routine. Northwestern Medicine. https://www.nm.org/healthbeat/healthy-tips/health-benefits-of-having-a-routine
Finding Calm in the Chaos
Calm has become like a unicorn in our culture – this rare, magical, unattainable trait that's just out of our reach. So, I say, let's bring this magic to life in our lives, adopting simplicity and a counter-cultural peace that doesn’t wane and wax with the day’s circumstances.