Managing Several Small Children–When My Hands Are Tied

In a perfect world, I would never be distracted from my children. I would probably also sing all the time, wear puffed sleeves, and be woken up by non-morning-breath true love’s kiss each day. But Eve ate the fruit, so none of that’s real.

In reality there are several times throughout the day that I can’t give all the kids my full attention. The baby has to be fed, a diaper has to be changed, the soup has to be stirred constantly until thickened, an important phone call has to be made, a friend unexpectedly shows up at your door crying. Those things are part of life and are good, but that doesn’t change the fact that all children are born with a MIDaR (Mommy Is Distracted Radar). Somehow they can hear the sound of me being busy from 15 miles away, and this inner switch goes off that says, “Ha ha! I am now free to tear down the great wall of China.”

Through my few parenting years, I keep learning new tricks to help occupy my children in these moments so tyranny doesn’t run rapid. These tricks are particularly geared toward times when you really can’t take many risks for them getting into anything because you pretty much can’t leave what you’re doing. We’ll deal with tricks for occupying kids when your hands are more freed up in the next post. Obviously, things can still happen, and none of these tips are perfect or work all the time, but often at least one of them helps diminish chaos.

  • Feel freedom to get things ready for the other children. A phone call, a weeping friend, and even a hungry baby can wait a few minutes while you get the other kids situated. You don’t go to jail if you don’t get caught.
  • Change any diapers and/or have potty trained children who still need assistance use the restroom just before you’re ready to start your task. Nothing quite says, “I’ve got it all together” like cleaning poo from clothes while talking to an AT&T associate.
  • If possible, spend some uninterrupted time, even 15 minutes, with the children once or twice a day. This can often help them feel less of a need to try to get your attention when you’re busy.
  • Have them do chores they can do completely independently. My kids haven’t realized they should hate chores yet, so this is awesome.
  • Use a sling or carrier to keep the baby soothed.
  • When doing things like stirring soup or feeding a baby, have the kids hold books for you so you can read to them.
  • Let them have some art time. We’re talking super simple here (crayons, play dough, cutting), something that doesn’t require your assistance or clean up.
  • Books! Each of our kids love to look at picture books. Added bonus–our two oldest know how to read, so I’ll have them read books to the younger ones. Win win.
  • Toys, games, and puzzles they love that will keep them busy for the time you need. I’ll talk more about some great resources I’ve found for this in the next post.
  • Let them watch a video. If you just can’t get yourself to feel OK in your conscience about that, make sure it’s an educational video. We like “Super Why,” “Blues Clues,” and “Dora the Explorer” for example. I have a clear conscience about it, so I also like to watch things like “Phineas and Ferb” with them, mainly because it makes me laugh. Hard. Then later the kids and I recall funny moments from the show and laugh again. See? Bonding.
  • Related to the above brain-diseasing idea, let them play a game on the computer, phone, Wii, tablet, whatever. Again, there are lots of educational games out there. We, though, never claim to be good parents, so we’re more an Angry Birds kind of family.
  • Have them practice piano or sports, work on an age appropriate workbook or printable, or do school work they can do individually. The point is to have them work on something that challenges the mind or body but that doesn’t require your assistance. Ah, redemption from the previous two bullet points.
  • If your task allows you to go with them (aka feeding a baby),let them play in the backyard. The change of scenery is often enough for them to leave me with a bit more peace, and your presence sometimes helps them stay away from the temptation to hit each other in the head with bats. Hypothetically.
  • Make sure everything is safe in their bedroom or playroom and put a gate up in the door. Let them play in there freely while you nurse. If they’re really small like my 17 month old, you can put them in a playpen with some toys.
  • Play games with them that you don’t have to move for. Some examples are “I Spy,” “Mother May I?”, “Telephone,” What Am I?”, name an animal for them to act like, or do storytelling where someone starts a story and then each person adds on to it bit by bit.
  • Some of this takes a small bit of prep work beforehand, but you can also set up a zoo with stuffed animals, a grocery store with play food, or a tea party; have a scavenger hunt ready for the kids around the house; do some word, color, or counting games; make a tent with blankets; or set up chairs and let the kids pretend they’re on a train/airplane/bus and role play a trip anywhere they want to go. Many times activities like these will keep them occupied for long periods of time, and they can be right in the room with you.
  • Have them eat! Anything goes here, but one of my favorites is whole apples or pears if they’re old enough. It’s yummy enough to keep them eating instead of talking, (which leads to all kinds of conundrums), but hard enough to eat that it takes them a while to finish.
  • Understand that most emergencies in your kids’ minds aren’t real emergencies. There may be some of you who disagree with what I’m going to say, but in my house bloody murder screaming has never equaled bloody murder (or murder of any kind for that matter). It often doesn’t even equals a boo boo I need to kiss. It usually simply equals feelings of injustice over a stolen toy or something similar. Use judgement here, weighing the importance of the task you’re doing to the problem behind the screams, but there are many times I will quickly scan the situation, place the child somewhere while I hurry to finish what I’m doing (depending on the situation that somewhere is often a room with a door that can be closed to muffle out the crying), and then tend to the horrific travesty of justice when my hands are freed up.
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