How to De-Stress and Reconnect Together as a Familyby Sarah Hurst
If ever there was a time to find new ways of coming together as a family and spending time together in a positive way, it is now. I was particularly happy about writing this article for two reasons:
1. We're in the full throes of lockdown 3.0, and it. is. hard. (and if statistics are accurate, the majority of the UK population are finding it just as difficult, with a reported 70%+ of people currently suffering with their mental health). It's difficult for anyone doing their part to stay at home at the moment, but throw into the mix the worry of keeping the family safe and healthy, alongside every family member either home-working, home-schooling, or house-destroying/ sleep-thieving/ (insert appropriate baby/toddler activity here) and I'm sure we've got a lot of you needing some tips to survive…
2. It gave me a chance to catch up with my friends and siblings and find out what other families do together to unwind and reset.
So after much thought, discussion and re-writing my tip list 14 times, here is my shortlist of the best 5 inspirational ideas (in my humble opinion) for how to de-stress and reconnect as a family:
1) Get outside. Specifically, go on a walk, an adventure, a scavenger hunt - anything involving nature and the great outdoors, and do it as a family, together. I'll admit this is my sister's go-to solution to any kind of chaos, stress or lethargy. She insisted this be included. She's a little biased as she runs her own forest school and loves to get families outdoors and connecting with nature, but it also means she's pretty knowledgeable about the extensive health and wellbeing benefits of immersing oneself in the natural world, not to mention how amazing it is for child development. There are simple ideas to make the most of getting outside- Have a competition to find the biggest tree in a forest, or the longest stick, or roundest pebble. Float leaves and sticks in streams, make patterns in mud and search for garden birds in your local hedgerows, or worms in your garden, if you don't want to go far. The important thing is to make it an adventure. Pack a bag with drinks and snacks and little binoculars or magnifying glasses. Create excitement about putting on all your layers and waterproofs and wellies and hats all together. March out the door as a family and go on an adventure to find wonder and joy. Then return home, drink hot chocolate in front of the fire all together and talk about your day.
If you’re stuck at home due to isolation, or vulnerability, then why not make a mud kitchen at home in your garden.
Top tip: always take spare clothes and, if you've driven to a forest or beach for your adventure, take towels and a bin bag for the inevitable muddy/wet/sandy clothes. The extra washing is worth it for the gigantic smiles!
Another favourite of my sister's - for those times when it's blowing a gale or the children are tired, or you just can't muster the enthusiasm to go on an adventure…
2) Set up a pretend-cinema. Give the little ones a few coins (chocolate coins are an added bonus and you can give them back as change), make a pretend till area at the kitchen door with a couple of chairs and let them buy a little paper ticket with their name on, and a bowl full of popcorn. Then lead them through to a dark living room with cushions and blankets, check their tickets, show them to their special seat and snuggle down as a family to watch a magical film together. I promise the children will love it! And you'll get a chance to relax yourselves whilst you bond as a family.
3) Pretend library - a little bit like the cinema idea, but you give out books to read, set up a den or snuggly seating and snacks, maybe even light a fire or have some blankets, and then settle down to read. You might read a book out loud to little ones, or just each read your own book quietly whilst sitting all together, or, if you're daring, put on a bit of a performance. It's an easy way of taking some time to sit as a family and enjoy the benefits of a good book or magazine.
This seems like a pretty standard, well-used idea at first glance, and you may therefore consider overlooking it, but I implore you, it's a popular activity with children for good reason - they love it - the mess, the excitement, the rare opportunity to eat handfuls of butter and chocolate whilst you (almost) turn a blind eye, and you get something yummy to eat at the end of it with a nice cup of tea. Just don't expect the finished product to look perfect, or for the kitchen to resemble anything other than a flour mill, and you'll enjoy it too. Manage your own expectations- put on old clothes, or no clothes (children only) and let the chaos (ahem, baking) begin! There's an added bonus that you'll probably need a relaxing, splashy bubble bath afterwards 😉
5) This final tip is more of an everyday idea, rather than a full-blown activity. We started the tradition/practice during the first lockdown as a way of reminding ourselves what we are thankful and happy about, and it has become a lovely bonding and happy part of our day. Every evening, when we all sit down for dinner, we take it in turns to tell each other what the favourite part of our day was - it can be anything - riding our bike, reading our favourite book, playing monsters with daddy… we all listen and exclaim and remember that we had a good day. As a parent, the best thing about these discussions are that we have the chance to see the day through our children's eyes, to discover what they value the most, what they remember as their best bits and their happy times, and to learn that often it's the smallest things that they love - the experiences and the connection - not the toy you bought, but the den you built; not the expensive soft-play centre you visited but the gardening that they helped you with…it's a lovely, grounding, connection-building idea.
You may have noticed a theme with all these ideas - my advice is to find something that you enjoy or that helps you to de-stress - walking, reading etc, and make it into a special family event that you do together. Children love being included. Ultimately they just want engagement and connection, and they'll pretty much enjoy anything you offer as long as you get on their level and make it special and fun and emphasise that you're all doing it together as a family. And whilst you're busy watching them laugh and smile and find joy in the simplest of things… well, you just might find that you're feeling happy and relaxed yourself.