There’s not a lot that’s memorably about 1996’s Muppet Treasure Island film unless you are a fan of watching Tim Curry chew up the scenery while talking to Kermit the Frog. One song does stick out, when the Muppets, stuck on a becalmed sailing ship, break into song about cabin fever. Bursting into song (which you can do when you’re a Muppet), they sing:
"We've got cabin fever. We're flipping our bandanas
Been stuck at sea so long that we
Have simply gone bananas."
And that probably sums up how most of us feel after a week or more of shelter at home or coronavirus quarantine. The kids are climbing the walls and stir crazy only just begins to describe the atmosphere in your family room.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there will be any wind in our sails any time soon, so how do we maintain our sanity in the midst of this surreal experience?
What to Expect from Kids with Cabin Fever
This probably won’t come as a surprise to you, but as the length of the quarantine increases, you will see an increase in challenging behaviors from your kids, regardless of their ages. Misbehavior, tantrums, and even defiance are going to increasingly make their appearance throughout your day.
The challenge is that we don’t know when things will go back to normal which makes it hard for us to reassure our kids and help them understand what will happen next. Particularly, since we as adults have little idea of what is going on.
Recognize that your kids are acting out because they are experiencing discomfort. This is more that I just stepped on a Lego discomfort. It’s on-going and pervasive. Every aspect of their lives has been turned upside down and like many kids, they lack the emotional vocabulary to help share what’s going on in their heads.
You can help your kids gain some understanding of what’s happening by talking to them about how the shelter-at-home plan is affecting them. Stories like I Have a Question about Coronavirus can help them understand what’s going on. Younger kids can get a virtual hug from Elmo and you explore the resources from Sesame Workshop (you can also get a hug if you need one).
What to Expect from Yourself
Now is not the time to try to earn the parent of the year award. In fact, we’ve canceled the entire award ceremony, so just don’t worry about it. Seriously, though, striving for parenting perfection will just add to your stress and this situation is stressful enough without us adding to it.
Recognize that juggling work and home commitments simultaneously will challenge your executive functioning and resilience in a way that they never have before. This means that you are going to be late for meetings or forget that your kid has a Zoom call with a teacher or friend. It’s ok, none of this will really impact their admission chances at Harvard.
We’re going to be short-tempered, stressed, and anxious. And, this too is ok. Accepting and admitting to yourself that the Covid–19 health crisis is affecting you inside can help you build up your resilience. It’s ok to say your overwhelmed. Most of us are.
Be careful with your consumption of social media. We have a tendency to post just the best and most wonderful things about ourselves on Facebook and Instagram. Seeing a steady stream of Pinterest perfect kids’ activities could add to your feelings of inadequacy.
Engage in Escapism
Many of us are thinking longly of taking a vacation, even if we don’t know when or where that will take us. We’re just looking for some way to get the four walls around us and our kids to stop closing in. Escapism can be a ticket towards that, even if it doesn’t actually get you anywhere.
Instead of taking you and your family on a vacation, bring the vacation to you. Print pictures of you or your kids’ fantasy vacation site and hang them up in the house. Play music or video clips related to your destination (anyone up to listening to “It’s a Small World” over and over again?). If your destination has a specific cuisine, make some dishes from it or arrange for take-out or delivery from a local restaurant.
Dress up days are among my kids’ favorite days at school. Have a silly hat or silly hair day (one local mom here decided to give in to her kids’ desires for mohawks, because why not?!). Pull out fancy dress clothes or your dirtiest paint clothes. Or if your kids don’t want to go along – just randomly get dressed up in whatever costumes are floating around the house (yes, you should take off the witches’ hat prior to your next video calls).
Throwing a spontaneous dance party is another way to switch things up. Let the kids DJ their own Spotify playlist or Pandora station. Pick different genres of music and scatter them throughout the day.
Getting routine established and providing your kids with structure during the stay-at-home period is important, but it can be equally important to disrupt routines to keep cabin fever at bay. Breaking up routine with a little spontaneity can lighten the mood and help make life feel a little different.
Allow your kids to have a movie night in the middle of the week. Pop popcorn or eat dinner together in front of the TV, particularly if this is something that your family usually doesn’t do. Pick the movie together or start a list of films your kids simply must watch.
Dinner is another great time for disrupting routines. Mess with your menus and offer strange combinations for dinner (e.g. pizza and wonton soup). You could have a meal that is all soup and stews or create dipping stations with every condiment you can thing of. You can even put your kids in charge of meal planning to see what they come up with.
Probably the best way to prevent cabin fever or minimize its effects is to engage in a little self-care. When we get stressed, we need healthy self-care routines to keep us from going over the edge and our kids need them too.
Over the last several years, mindfulness has increasingly made its way into mainstream America. Strategies like progressive muscle relaxation make a great addition to everyone’s bedtimes and it will help reduce anxiety and stress. Take gratitude breaks to offer perspective.
It’s incredibly important to just get everyone outside. We’ve been lucky with the quarantine falling in the spring just as the weather is improving. Take a short walk at lunch or after the workday ends with your kids even if it’s just around the block (maintaining an appropriate amount of distance from any neighbors you run into). If you have bikes buried in the garage, pull them out and start pedaling away.
You can combine outside time with exercise or start exercising inside. Remember the freshman 15? People are now talking about the Covid 19. Keeping everyone moving will help keep your family physically fit and help push the cabin fever away. No workout equipment? There are plenty of bodyweight programs available for adults and kids.
One of the reasons that everyone is going stir-crazy is a lack of socialization. Arrange for virtual playdates for your kids (and for you too!). Your kids can play Legos or stream a movie together for a shared experience. Even toddlers can Facetime with each other.
And, laughter can be the best medicine, so remember to find the humor wherever possible. Tell corny jokes or have a knock-knock joke of the day at meals. You can even task the kids with supplying the jokes. Plus there is no shortage of hysterical YouTube and Facebook videos satirizing our situation that are appropriate for all ages.
So, the next time that your co-workers, I mean children, start climbing the walls, reach for one of these strategies to help reduce their cabin fever.