What with being autistic and having autistic children, I often end up overloaded and feel like I just can’t do the all-singing, all-dancing mum act. When getting up to add the milk to my tea is an effort, entertaining a couple of demanding preschoolers just isn’t going to happen.
Sometimes I’m not overloaded but simply tired, lazy or even…dare I say it?…hungover.
There are loads of ideas for easy, exciting activities to do with your children using just a few materials you’ll already have lying around the house on sites like Pinterest. Supposedly. But how often do these fun activities involve half an hour of cutting out and seven different colours of food dye before you even start?
They look great…but they’re not really any good for those days when you don’t want to do anything.
Here are my go-to ‘activities’ for those days.
- Daytime Bath
The title rather says it all. When the boys get bored and it’s a day when there’s no way I’m going to take them to the park or build a Duplo house with a slide, a canon, a minimum of four windows, a chimney, a flight of stairs and a treasure chest I simply run them a bath (I don’t suppose this would work that well if you already routinely give your child(ren) baths during the day rather than the evening).
I don’t make paint out of shaving foam or stick home-made jigsaws to the tiles. I simply let the boys pick a toy-theme (like cars) and let them take the toys in the bath with them. Since they normally only get ‘bath toys’ in the bath, this is exciting and different (and so very little effort).
You declare it a ‘fun, daytime bath with dinosaurs’ or whatever and let them get all enthusiastic about…slight novelty. Then, as long as your youngest is past the hold on to his/her head at all times stage and as long as your bathroom allows you to sit a little away from the main splash zone, you can peruse a book/phone/laptop/tablet or knit or whatever you do for light entertainment.
The best part is when it’s nearing night and you’re still tired/lazy/hungoever; you’ll be so glad you already bathed the kids and don’t need to bother again.
- ‘Fun food’
I don’t mean spending quarter of an hour making a cheese sandwich look like a ladybird. Just slightly changing the presentation of food can make it more exciting. There are two ways I do this:
Pretty much whatever normal lunch you’d give them (although, if you have a treat or something a bit different like bread rolls instead of sliced bread etc. then even better) but eaten on a blanket on the floor (possibly with a DVD on and if no blankets are easily available duvets/coats/a pile of cushions probably work fine). It’s very little more work than a regular lunch but makes it seem like you’ve done something fun with them.
I don’t necessarily mean biscuits and cake (although, if you have a few biscuits lying around they would probably go down well). The main component is to make the meal buffet style. You can keep a lot of the food the same and simply put it on a separate plate for the kids to help themselves to. As long as it wouldn’t freak your kids out (especially if they’re autistic, although it can work well for my boys) you can use the mum trick of cutting up food in a slightly different way so it seems new and different. We all know sliced cucumber is a completely different food to cucumber batons. The cubs will eat maybe one slice of toast each if cut in quarters but scoff down close to four slices each if cut into soldiers
and served in a paddling pool.
You can stick on some music and voila, a ‘party lunch’. Since you’re the caterer, it wouldn’t be fitting to sit with the party guest(s) so you should sit apart and resume the book/game/knitting pattern you started during the daytime bath earlier.
3. Themed DVD Watching
Every parent knows about ‘DVD days’ and for parents of neurotypical children who don’t overuse Netflix and DVDs as calming tools maybe that alone works well. Tyger and Bear watch a lot of TV and DVDs, though. As part of his sensory needs Tyger likes to have background noise at all times and gets agitated if it’s ‘too quiet’. The TV isn’t on all day every day but it is on enough to be less of a novelty than once upon a time.
So, film watching needs something extra to make it a bit more interesting. Themed film watching is one way of doing this. All that’s required are any toys/cups/blankets etc. relating to a specific film or series.
That’s literally it. Tyger used to get more out of watching Tangled when he had a toy frying pan, his little rocking horse and his Pascal figure than watching it normally. He could ‘join it’. Bear loves watching Totoro whilst cuddling his toy Totoro and cat bus under his Totoro blanket.
Another one – that again can have varying success depending on how often it’s used – is to play a DVD on a laptop with headphones. This one has the added bonus of being silent (unless you’re Tyger and need to shout and scream randomly at least once every couple of minutes…just because). The down-side, if done with very young children, is their inability to resist hitting the keys/turning off the machine/pulling the headphone cable out so some upkeep is needed.
4. Old, random crap
Being a hoarder-type means our house is full of random crap I can’t possibly throw out because it might come in handy one day or I’ll realise I’m incredibly emotionally attached to something after I’ve finally decided to chuck it out. On the down-side our house never really looks quite tidy, we never have enough storage space and it takes me hours to find anything. On the up-side, there’s a lot of random crap to entertain the cubs.
When Tyger was a baby, he didn’t like to be put down. Ever. It made things like going to the toilet, getting dressed, eating, sleeping and basically existing quite difficult. I could buy a tiny bit of time in which to cook if I set up his highchair in the kitchen and gave him some random crap to play with. Things like: a cookie cutter, a small tub full of rice or lentils, an old scarf, a teat from a bottle, a pencil case, the rubbery bit from a Wii controller.
Now he’s older these sorts of things are less interesting but now he’ll be quite happy with an old mobile phone, old jewelry, stationary, key rings, bags, post-it notes, make-up brushes (it’s just as well I don’t wear any make-up other than eyeliner because all my larger make-up brushes have recently been used as ‘dusters’).
Find the right piece of old crap and you can buy yourself half an hour or more of dozing on the sofa!
So, there’s my wisdom for other lazy or over-stretched parents. If you already use variations of these with a few tweaks, I’m all ears. If you have low-effort child-distractions of your own, please leave them in the comments. I’m always open to new ways of having a cup of tea in peace.