Confession: I’ve been sweat-on-the-brow DREADING summers for the last few years. Ten plus weeks at home with my three rambunctious offspring means more noise, activity, and chaos than this highly sensitive introvert parent is prepared to handle.
So we’ve been strategically scheduling summer camps and my husband’s vacation and grandparent visits so that I never had to play the enthusiastic troop leader for more than one week in a row, two in a pinch.
Given this past record as a decent working mom, but an utter failure as a full-time caregiver, you might have expected me to go into a panic and suffer some sort of record-breaking meltdown upon finding out last week that all summer school programs in our area will be conducted REMOTELY this year – after the kids had already been home in complete quarantine for more than two months.
But quite surprisingly, I actually received this news in a calm and mature fashion, with nothing more than maybe one or two quietly whispered four-letter words by way of adverse reaction.
That’s because over the last couple of months in quarantine, my husband and I had no choice but to figure out how to keep both kids and parents content at home without anyone going insane.
After lots of trial and error, many deep breathing sessions, and quite a bit of persistence, here are 12 things I have found to be most helpful as a highly sensitive introvert parent stuck at home with kids.
(Caveat: My kids are 10, 7, and 7. If your kids are significantly younger, some of my tips may not apply.)
12 Things That Help When You’re An Introvert Parent Stuck At Home With Kids
1. Set Up A Schedule
One of the first things we tried was setting up a schedule and I’m so thankful we did, because it has turned out to be a total game-changer. As is typical of HSPs, I detest conflict, and with a daily schedule in place, you can almost completely do away with the annoying negotiations about what needs to happen when. When you have kids do the same things in the same order every single day, they will eventually learn what to expect and go on auto-pilot.
When we first set the schedule up, we showed it to the kids and let them offer input, which helped get buy-in. We also told them that this was just like “real” school where we needed to make sure there’s time for ALL important tasks. We printed them their own copies of the schedule so that they could participate in keeping track of time.
And yes, they tested us for the first few days to see if this thing was for real, but I’m proud to say we persisted! After a few “Do I have to – Yes, you have to” exchanges, they knew we meant business.
2. Keep Them Busy With Structured Activities
So what did we put on the schedule? Well, before our school system got organized for distance learning, we filled the schedule with both more academic and less academic activities, like:
- Reading time.
- Writing time. We gave them assignments like “write a letter to a friend” or “write 10 sentences about X”.
- Math practice. We used a combination of grade-level specific workbooks, worksheets we printed online, and computer games on abcya.com and pbskids.com.
- Science. We would let them watch an episode of Bill Nye The Science Guy or Horrible Science or have them read a sciency article online or in a book.
- Arts and crafts.
- Building. They could pick legos or puzzles or other construction sets they have.
- Board games.
We set up the activities in half-hour blocks. That’s about as long as I can expect all three of them to stay engaged in any one thing. The schedule would run until 3pm, kinda like a school day, after which they would have free play time until dinner.
3. Make Them Move
Another thing we put on the schedule was mandatory outside time. Even now that most of the other time blocks are driven by distance learning assignments from school, we send them outside to play every day from 10am to 11am. This keeps the house quiet for a bit plus I find that having them burn some energy earlier in the day helps them stay calmer for the rest of the day. On rainy days, they do exercise videos inside instead.
4. For Your Quality Time With The Kids, Choose Activities That Are Less Draining For You
Under normal circumstances – ie. when I’m spending seven hours a day by myself at home – I might rally and convince myself to do some things with the kids that aren’t exactly my cup of tea.
But now that I’m constantly stretched with everyone being home 24/7, I’ve been choosing less draining, introvert-friendly activities to do with the kids. For example:
- We go for a short walk together every day before lunch and we talk about whatever is on their minds.
- Over lunch, we watch an episode of Little House on The Prairie together and talk about the issues it brings up.
- We read books together.
- We play card games like Uno and Skip-Bo.
- We do drawing challenges where we all try to draw the same target without revealing our work to each other until we are finished. It’s fun to see how everyone ends up with something completely different. 🙂
5. Use Screen-time Strategically
I always feel conflicted about screen-time, because there’s a part of me that wishes my kids could grow up without any screen-time at all. But, like it or not, technology is part of the modern world and it sure helps keep kids contained!
So the compromise I’ve settled on is to limit the amount of screen time they get and then use that time strategically. How much screen time do I want to allow per day total? When in the day do I MOST need them to be “contained”? In the morning to give myself quiet work time? In the late afternoon when my nerves are starting to get frayed?
6. Get An Uninterrupted Block Of Time By Saying This
I’ve also recently discovered a way to get an uninterrupted block of time without putting them in front of a TV or computer screen. And that’s simply by asking for it! It’s amazing what kids are capable of if you just talk to them as if they were reasonable human beings. 😉
So here’s what I say:
- Dad is busy with X. Mom needs to do Y. If you have an emergency, come get me, but if it’s not an emergency, please wait until I’m done.
And here’s another one that works pretty well:
- Mom needs some quiet in order to XYZ. You are welcome to hang out here if you want to read or draw or play quietly. But if you want to make noise, please go do it in your room or outside.
I don’t stretch these requests for hours, but it does give me 20 or 30 minutes as opposed to being interrupted every two or three minutes, which is what typically occurs. And then I give them copious praise for complying!
7. If Possible, Take Turns With The Other Parent
With my husband and I both at home and both trying to work while also needing to supervise the kids, we have been able to take advantage of each other to get some uninterrupted blocks of time. We’ve been taking turns being the “parent-in-charge”. In other words, we take turns being the one to deal with any kid interruptions and requests for help. That way we both get some uninterrupted time and the burden doesn’t just fall on one person – this helps both of us be more patient with the kids overall. 🙂
For some people, it might make sense to set formal time blocks of responsibility, but we’ve been mostly playing it by ear based on what’s going on with each person’s work. When I was finalizing my new online course, my husband was in charge more. Whenever he has days with several back-to-back Zoom meetings, I’m in charge more.
8. Communicate With Your Partner
In general, good communication with your partner is important in making sure your needs as a highly sensitive person and/or introvert get met.
It wasn’t always so, but these days, my husband knows that I’m an HSP introvert. He also knows exactly what that means and he knows what happens to my mental and physical health if I stretch myself too thin by overdoing on socializing and underdoing on self care. So he is in my corner when it comes to making sure I stay healthy, and he helps me find time for recharging. In return, I try to be courteous and make sure my “momentary disappearance” isn’t going to derail an important work meeting or whatever else he might be in the middle of.
9. Communicate With Your Kids
I’ve also found it helpful to talk to my kids about personality differences and what they mean in practice.
They know that some people are more introverted, while others are more extraverted. They know that some people are more sensitive, while others are less sensitive. They know that all human beings need some rest and quiet time, but that introverts and highly sensitive people need a little more of those things.
They know that when I go in my bedroom and close the door, there’s nothing wrong and all it means is that I need a little break by myself.
Which brings us to my next tip…
10. Set Aside A Block Of Time For Recharging And Stick To It
Sometimes it’s hard to get away even when you know you need it. But it’s a must!
Working from home by myself for the past couple of years, I hadn’t needed to establish any additional recharging time. But within just a few days of everyone being home, it became abundantly clear that it was necessary. I started feeling tired, frustrated, and irritable – especially toward the end of the day.
So my husband and I talked about and agreed on the best time for me to “get away” and settled on 3:30pm to 5pm. His work meetings are usually over by then and it’s the time of day when I usually start feeling pretty spent. So at 3:30pm, I either go for a light jog on my treadmill or hole up in the bedroom with a book. When I re-emerge, my batteries are recharged enough to get through dinner preparations and be patient with everyone.
11. Use Headphones
Another alternative or additional way to get a break from the hustle and bustle is to use headphones. Whenever my kids don’t need my full attention, but their decibels are beyond my tolerance levels, I like to pop in my headphones and listen to either relaxing music or an audiobook. This lets me take care of household chores in relative peace, while my kids are still allowed to do their kid thing and raise havoc to their heart’s content. 🙂
12. Adjust Your Expectations
One of the most important lessons I have learned since becoming a parent has been about having reasonable expectations. I can’t reasonably expect to get eight hours of work done with three kids at home. I can’t reasonably expect seven-year-olds to act as if they were 47. I can’t reasonably expect myself – as a highly sensitive introvert – to be “on” for the kids all the time with no breaks.
When I let go of these unreasonable expectations, my frustration and stress levels decreased proportionally and I could just focus on doing my best given the circumstances.
Kids are kids and they are supposed to be messy, loud, and unpredictable. My job is to take care of myself and keep my cup full enough to have patience for that, and to slowly, over time, teach them how to be considerate of the fact that sometimes other people need a little bit of peace and quiet. 🙂