Dear Miss Faith,
My 4yo twins have recently started preschool and they come home very tired each day. Do you have some suggestions for a peaceful afternoon routine that would help us reconnect and give them some down time? I have a 7-month-old as well so I can’t be with them every moment. I’m trying to avoid TV and electronics.
School is generally so exciting and stimulating that kids really need some down-time in the afternoons; how wise of you to recognize this and protect their exposure to stimulation. I also applaud you for avoiding TV. It’s so alluring because it does keep kids mesmerized and still, but it’s not actually restful or beneficial for kids, and a study of 2,000 toddlers found that each hour of TV per day watched in toddlerhood increased their likelihood of ADHD in elementary school by 10%.*
So, what to do instead? The first priority is going to be taking some time to reconnect and help them “land” at home and settle in. You might start with a snack (ideally prepared before you pick them up), then do a quiet connecting activity. After that you could absolutely set them up with rest-time activities to do on their own, and then while you’re doing dinner prep, let them play or “help” you, as they desire.
Quiet Connecting Activity
This might start with a snack (ideally prepared before you pick them up), and then a quiet activity that is fun and connecting. This activity could absolutely involve doing household tasks together that need to be done (folding laundry is a great quiet activity), but make sure that you’re process-oriented rather than results-oriented. Do this by turning the activity into little games, incorporating imagination, songs or rhymes, etc., making lots of eye contact and being appreciative of their help. Remember, anything you get done is more that you’d get done if you were doing something else! Here’s an example of the type of connecting game you might do if you’re folding laundry together, for square-ish items. First, you and your child each to hold two corners, then, do the following verse and movements together:
Butterflies fly up (flutter your hands & cloth upward)
Butterflies fly down (flutter hands & cloth downward)
Wings together (bring your hands together to fold cloth in half)
Friends forever (both parties bring their corners together in the middle; the cloth is folded)
Another lovely connecting activity is taking a walk together through your neighborhood (depending on your neighborhood!). Walking together every afternoon can be a spacious way to talk about things you see, talk about your day apart, etc.
Some four-year-olds are done napping, but many would still fall asleep at least sometimes if given the chance. Either way, it’s important for kids to have some down-time to “reset” and get refreshed for the rest of the day, and you can also use this time to nurse, put the baby down, etc. How you do this is up to you. If you think your kids might fall asleep if given the chance, you could have quiet-time in their beds, where they each get to choose one toy and one book to take into bed with them. While there, they can play quietly as long as they stay in bed. If your twins are definitely done napping, then set them up each up with a quiet activity to do on their own, such as coloring, looking at books, or building train tracks.
Many parents try to keep their kids occupied with something else while they do dinner prep, but I invite you to let your kids join you if they wish. Set them up playing in the living room or the yard if it’s protected, but they’ve been away from you all day and they may need to spend more time directly with you. If that’s the case, welcome them with a hug and a smile, and get them started chopping some veggies, washing some lettuce, or setting the table. Again, remember that they’re doing this to be with you, so include them in your energy, chit-chatting, telling them stories, singing silly songs.
Finally, I strongly suggest that you put them to bed a half-hour earlier on days when they’ve been to school. I know this can feel challenging for families where one (or both) parents work and only have limited time with their kids in the evenings, but chronic lack of sleep even by just a small amount really affects kids’ emotional resilience. If you feel resistance to this because your kids already wake so early, know that well-rested kids tend to stay asleep more easily, and earlier bedtimes often don’t affect wake-times for kids who need more rest. Rested children make for happier kids AND happier moms!
Warmly, ~Miss Faith
*Christakis, Dimitri A., et al. “Early television exposure and subsequent attentional problems in children.” Pediatrics 113.4 (2004): 708-713.