There are plenty of simple yet enjoyable ways to spend quality time with your kids post Christmas Day, says Ed Power.
CHRISTMAS is the season of goodwill, peace to all and presents for everyone.
But as we all know the period from mid-December to the new year can also be an annual lesson in how to survive cabin fever with loved ones.
Children can be fobbed off with their new toys only for so long. Sooner or later they will crave interaction with their parents.
Which means that, yes, you will have to get off the sofa and wear something other than your PJs and those novelty slippers you found under the tree on Christmas morning.
“Children love a sense of shared engagement,” says Myriam Clancy, play therapist and course coordinator for the MA in play therapy at CIT.
“It isn’t so much what the activity is but that the child and parent are having fun. If you are for instance playing Monopoly and the parent hates it, the child can pick up on that quickly.”
“Child-led play in which the child is the boss of what you are doing is lovely,” adds Laura Carr, a play therapist based in Ballincollig, Cork.
“Following their lead and seeing where it goes is wonderful for them. If you do that even for just 30 minutes they will be happy to go off and do their thing after that.”
Looking for inspiration? Here are some screen-free suggestions:
Homemade stress balls
Stretch a balloon, use a funnel to (slowly) fill with rice or flower, let out as much air as possible and tie the neck of the balloon tightly (while snipping off the excess rubber) — hey presto, you have a DIY ‘stress ball’.
“Children will enjoy the activity of creating the ball,” says Carr. “And then you have the finished product afterwards”.
Shaving foam play
“This is really simple,” says Carr. “Offload all the foam, maybe onto a coffee or kitchen table and get stuck in with hands and toys.”
Shaving cream encourages younger children to mould and manipulate materials and helps with motor skills and coordination.
“You’ll be surprised by how long a child stays at it,” adds Carr.
Play a board game
In a world where play too often means interacting with a screen, the tactile pleasure of a board game can fascinate youngsters.
In My First Carcassonne, children and parents can vie to place brightly coloured ‘Meeples’ on a town map that the players build together; My Little Scythe, meanwhile, encourages forward planning and even basic maths skills, all wrapped up in an lovely package.
'Try to make me laugh'
“One fun game is where the children have to try to make the parent laugh,” says Myriam Clancy. “All the while, you are attempting to keep a straight face. It can be a bit of fun.”
Can’t say yes or no
A game where you have to answer questions but without saying “yes” or “no” can have everyone in convulsions of laughter.
“Kids will like this and grown-ups too,” says Clancy. “I can’t stress enough that the most important thing is engagement: just sitting together in the moment. If the parent is distracted and looking at their smart-phone the child will pick up on it.”
All you need is flour, salt, warm water, vegetable oil and food colouring. “Making it together is a lovely activity,” says Carr. “Stirring the mixture will help with gross motor skills. And then when you’ve finished that you can play with what you have created.”
This is assuming we see some snowfall over Christmas. Add food colouring to water, place in a nozzle-topped bottle, and then spray over the lush white drifts in your garden. Think of it is a blend of creative activity and fresh-air exercise.
Some kids enjoy walking, others consider it dreary beyond belief. One way of making it more exciting is to introduce a detective component.
“You go for a walk somewhere and ask the children to find something crunchy, something slimy, something soft,” says Carr. “It’s great for language development in younger children.”
She also recommends bringing along a box and having children collect interesting finds — to be later examined and identified.
Hide and seek
“This has huge therapeutic value,” says Carr. “Your child is hiding and you are sending the message, ‘I can’t find you, I really miss you — and I’m going to tear the house apart until I find you.’
“And then when you find them, you’re overjoyed as a parent. It’s so lovely for them.”
Dungeons and Dragons and other “role playing games” were for decades dismissed as strictly for nerds. But the social interactions these games foster have more recently come in for praise while, post Stranger Things, they are fashionable too.
D&D and the like encourage shared storytelling and fuel the imagination.
And there are lots of titles especially for kids, including a Pokemon themed role-playing games and the excellent Hero Kids, available from drivethrurpg.com
Build a den
Slightly older children will relish building a secret hide-out — with raw materials cannibalised from your sofa, their bedrooms and elsewhere.
Silent reading time
The family that reads together will grow up with a shared love of books. Once or twice a week, gather everyone for 20 or so minutes of silent reading time.
The only rule is that there’s no talking — or Playstation.
Kids love helping out in the kitchen.
Why not put them in charge? The BBC’s Goodfood website has recipes for kids (under adult supervision).
They include ‘salmon and spaghetti supper in a parcel’ and vanilla cupcakes. See: bbcgoodfood.com
Let them be bored
Life isn’t always as exciting as on Christmas morning.
There’s no sin in occasionally letting your kids discover this for themselves and come to terms with the universal truth that sometimes there’s just not that much to do. Let them become one with the boredom.
They have thier whole lives in front of them but even so, from a young age, children have a fascination with their earliest years.
A ‘memory box’ of items from their infancy — onesies, tiny socks etc, photographs — will allow them explore this part of their lives in a powerfully tactile manner.
“When children are very little they depend on their senses so much more,” says Carr.
“Many of their memories of being a baby will be sensory. Pulling out the talcum power and the baby lotion can be really rewarding for them.”