During this time of lockdown and quarantine, tired parents are scrambling to figure out how to keep their kids occupied and generally quiet while stuck at home all day.
With school closures for kids and work-from-home orders for parents, the family must adjust to a new routine.
One exhausted parent said of this situation, “My kids are going nuts. My house is a war zone!”
The famous American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
Here are my top 5 tips for calming down the war-zone situation and keeping both children and adults engaged and fulfilled inshaAllah.
1. Quran Discussions:
Sit down with your kids and have a Quran class or halaqa. Depending on the ages and personalities of your children, this session can be more in-depth or more superficial. But even very young kids, as young as 3 and 4, can appreciate and understand some aspects of the short surahs of Juz `Amma.
For younger kids, keep the session short and the discussion light. For example, go briefly through Surat al-Ikhlas with your 4-year-old and just talk about Allah. Allah is One. There is nothing like Him. He created us and everything in this world, and we love and worship Him. You get the idea.
With slightly older children, even as young as 5 and 6, the discussion can get quite a bit deeper inshaAllah. Read a surah and do a child-friendly tafsir of its ayat. Teach your child how to deal with people, like the poor, the needy, and the orphan. Explain this value through Surat al-Ma`un, Surat al-Fajr, and Surat al-Balad. Or narrate the full story of Abraha and his army through Surat al-Fil. Or talk about the akhira by explaining Surat al-Qari`a and Surat al-Zalzala.
And after you’ve explained the ayat, allow your kids to ask you their many questions, and answer them seriously. Don’t feel like you must dilute stuff because otherwise they won’t get it. Of course, use your discretion and assess the capacity of your child, but generally, you would be pleasantly surprised at just how much kids understand and truly absorb. Listen to their reflections and thoughts on the surah.
Of course, as soon as you sense tiredness or crankiness, end the Quran session. Especially if this is a new activity, start slow and easy. Don’t force your child to sit perfectly still for 2 hours when it’s a new activity or developmentally inappropriate at his age.
Your primary aim is to introduce your child to the book of Allah and instill a deep love for it in his heart, inshaAllah.
Another fruit of these Quran reflection and discussion sessions is to show your child the immediate link between the Quran and real life. The Quran is imminently relevant and meaningful to our lives. It’s not an afterthought, as some people unfortunately act. We see the world and everyday life through a Quranic mindset.
2. Read Books and Tell Stories:
There is a ton of benefit in reading aloud to children, as countless studies have shown. Reading aloud to kids helps increase their vocabulary, strengthen cognitive function, explore emotions, expand attention span and ability to focus. It also promotes parent-child bonding.
Another thing that also promotes bonding is telling your child stories. It’s not merely about the story itself that you’re telling, but rather about the relationship that you are building with your child. Storytelling builds a relationship between narrator and listener.
An informative article on the website, “How to Tell Stories to Children,” says:
Storytelling is better understood through the lens of relationship than narrative. Anyone who has told stories to their children (including grandparents, teachers, caregivers, etc.) will recognize that at the end of a good story, you don’t just walk away with a good story – the two of you feel closer. Why?
It is through the intimacy and trust of that relationship that the real value (not just the words) is passed from human to human, parent to child. It’s also why every parent and caregiver is uniquely poised to become a masterful storyteller – because nobody knows your child better than you.
What scientists have pieced together over the last seventy years is that storytelling is a principle component of how we think, speak, and make meaning of our lives. It mediates our social structures and extends deep into our human ancestry.
3. Rough Housing (Play, tickle, chase games):
Play silly games with your kids. It’s good for both you and them.
Sometimes parents of toddlers and young kids are so stressed out, too stressed out dealing with the shenanigans and escapades of said toddlers to ever really play with them. I know because I sometimes have days like this.
But other times, I just let go. Instead of “dealing with” my kids’ shenanigans, I just dive in with them myself. You know that saying: if you can’t beat’em, join’em. And nobody can ever beat toddlers at shenanigans!
We have several different types of games that we play. Mostly the games involve me taking on various characters.
One game is a straight tickling game, with me as the villain with a nonsensical name. The kids run and I chase them, and whoever I catch is fair game for tickling. They fend me off by tickling me back. Sometimes when one kid gets caught by the villain (me) and is being tickled within an inch of his life, the others will come running to his aid and rescue him.
Another game is a wrestling game. It’s kind of like the tickling game, but this variation is more rough, with the kids wrestling with me or their dad and throwing mock punches and kicks. (I still mainly just tickle them, lol). Psychology research shows that rough physical play is important for the normal development of kids. It introduces them to the concept of restraint and control of one’s body. It helps kids settle into and get comfortable in their own bodies.
Rough and tumble physical play is extremely important for the development of children, because it teaches them about what to do and what not to do, what hurts and what doesn’t. When you grab your child, flip him upside down, poke and prod at him during play sessions, you’re stretching him out, teaching him about the limits of his body and the parameters of his strength. You let him tickle you so he can learn what’s too hard and causes pain versus what’s just right and makes you laugh, and let him grab your hands to test his grip strength. He learns that it’s okay to jump on Mama or Baba’s back with controlled roughness, but it’s not okay to stick his finger in their eyes or yank their hair or throw a real punch. He learns the difference between play and violence, the difference between pro-social behavior and anti-social aggression.
This kind of knowledge is immensely helpful for kids and makes it easy for kids to play with others agreeably. For example, it’s very often that we go to the park or a playground, and my kids will spot some other kids about their age there, playing. The two parties will look at each other for a minute, sizing each other up, and then one side will approach the other and initiate contact. Maybe they’ll make a play signal, like a tap to start a game of tag, or a move to run at them to initiate a chasing game, etc. And boom! all the kids are off and running! Without this type of play circuit activated, kids can be physically awkward and socially uncertain. Some kids are not comfortable with or not used to this kind of play, and they don’t respond appropriately to play signals, so kids won’t play with them and will find someone else to play with.
I’ve learned that it’s often this kind of rough play and imaginative exercise that relieves me of my own stress and lessens my tension. That’s one good reason to play fun games with the kids.
Then I look at their wide smiles and their bright eyes, as they breathe heavily from running, tickling, or wrestling, and I see another, even better, reason. They love it. When we as parents get down on their level and join them in their world, they shine. InshaAllah these are the childhood moments that they’ll remember fondly and smile about when they’re grown adults.
4. Free Outdoor Play:
Much ink has been spilled on the huge topic of the benefits of outdoor play for kids of all ages. Let me sum up just the biggest benefits here as only the tip of the iceberg.
Free unstructured outdoor play helps kids develop gross motor skills (like jumping, running, throwing a ball, etc.). It also develops kids’ sense of bodily balance and spatial awareness, two absolutely essential abilities in normal physical development. These two functions are called the vestibular sense and proprioception.
Another bodily sense that is better developed outdoors is vision. An optometry and vision science study showed children who play outside regularly have better distance vision than children who are always indoors.
Kids who often play outdoors tend to be more self-directed and curious, taking initiative easily as they explore their outdoor surroundings. They are able to focus better and stay at a task longer. Studies of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) found that children with ADHD who spent significant time outdoors exhibited fewer symptoms.
Aside from the countless physical benefits, outdoor play also helps regulate emotional and even cognitive abilities. Going outside and seeing green spaces and feeling the sun on your face causes serotonin and dopamine levels to increase, and your mood instantly improves. Levels of stress and cortisol (the stress hormone) decrease. You feel calmer and happier. This is true for both adults and children.
Thankfully, lockdown in most places still allow going to parks and open spaces. So get outside and bask in a lovely green space, or go for a short hike, or walk a beautiful trail with your kids. It’s good for you and for them, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Have real, meaningful conversations with your children, regardless of how old or young they are. This will strengthen the bond between you, and immensely help your child learn vital social skills like communication, reading social cues, listening, reasoning, and even emotional regulation.
This topic deserves a separate article by itself, but for now, suffice it to say that according to a recent Harvard study, meaningful parent-child conversation is the single most important predictor of adult success.
Many parents are tired and stressed, too preoccupied with life’s problems to engage in real conversation with kids. It’s understandable of course, especially these days our work uncertainty and financial anxieties increase with the quarantine. Most parents either shoo their kids away or reply with one-word answers.
You don’t need to have long rambling conversations with your kids every minute of every day.
But if you can manage to, at times, turn off the outside worries and turn your full attention to your child and really tune into what he or she is saying, you can have an engaging and deep conversation. It’s fascinating to discover the thoughts and ideas that even very young children have. Kids are perceptive and observant and they come to conclusions about the world around them. Sometimes their conclusions are deep and poignant, other times they are amusing and hilariously off-base. Take the time to focus on your child and have a good conversation about whatever is on his mind.
That personal attention and quality time will do wonders for your children inshaAllah.
May Allah grant us serenity and joy through our families, amin.
رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا.
“Our Lord, grant us the gift of having in our spouses and offspring a coolness for our eyes, and make us imams for those who have taqwa.” (Surat al-Furqan, 74).