Survival Guide for Long Days with Kids

The Ultimate Guide to Survive Long Days with Kids

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Ever notice that the hours before dinner time are, like, 294867x longer than the rest of the day? Even (especially) on the most fun days with my kids, by the time we reach the afternoon, everyone is tired, someone is melting down, and the whine factor goes up to Level 10.

The day just seems to drag on and on and on, and if you’re like me, all you want to do is just survive the day.

And if you’re like me, I’m honestly right there with my kids; there are many times when I’m struggling to be the grown up and not whine or cry or yell “NO!” right back at them.

When this happens and my patience is wearing thin, I often end up snapping at Butterfly or feeling irrationally angry about small things. Just yesterday I put myself in time out because I needed the time to regroup my own emotions so I could apologize for my attitude and try again.

And I’m going to wager that I’m not the only one.

So what can we do?

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To Survive on the Long Days with Kids: Breathe.

long day survival guide for moms

I know this is a simple one, and I am guilty of hearing that suggestion and thinking “I’m already breathing…how’s that going to help?” But deep, intentional breathing is speaking the “language” your body understands.

When you become stressed, your body takes note and turns to a flight/fight/freeze mode to deal with whatever dangers it thinks it might be encountering.

Your body doesn’t speak the language of logic- you can’t generally reason it out of a stress response. However, you can breathe it out- because by changing your breathing, you are telling your body that everything is okay (otherwise, why would you be breathing in a relaxed way?).

There are two specific ways I suggested trying (pick your favorite and practice it!):

1. Paced Breathing. Basically, exhale for 2x the counts you inhale (breathe in for 3, breathe out for 6, etc.)

2. Four square Breathing. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, out for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts.

These both have the same principle- deep breathing from the diaphragm (think tummy breathing instead of lungs) in a calm, controlled manner.

My favorite way to practice this is with the free Breathe+ app. You can use it for both types of breathing, and because it’s very visual, it works great for calming kids, too!

If you’re feeling particularly anxious or angry, I also recommend trying Rescue Remedy (they have a kids’ version too!). It gives me just enough help to take the edge of the intensity of my feelings so I hold it together and do what I need to do as a mom. For more ideas, check out this post on practical coping strategies for anxiety.

To Survive on the Long Days with Kids: Make eye contact- with soft eyes.

We all need connection. But when we are tired and feeling “done”, it tends to show up in our body language and facial expressions, and we tend to disconnect from our kids. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, one of the ways humans tend to do this is by removing eye contact- even babies do this when they’re feeling overstimulated!

Taking the simple step of making eye contact with our children, even if it’s brief, lets them know that even though you may be feeling tired or irritable, they are still connected with you- their safe space- and everything is okay.

picture of an eye

One particular aspect of this that is helpful using “soft eyes”. Think about the expression you make with your eyes when you’re angry, annoyed, feeling irritable, etc.

Now feel what that does to your eyes and intentionally soften those little muscles. Memorize that feeling and use it in your communication with your kids, especially when you’re feeling tense.

This is a trick I learned years ago when coaching swim team (I wish I could remember where I learned it from!) and it made a radical difference in how the more “challenging” kids responded to me, especially when I was needing to make a behavior correction. I highly recommend giving it a try!

To Survive on the Long Days with Kids: Recognize your own needs

self-care quote

Hone in on what is going on in yourself. Let’s face it- being mom is hard! And too often as moms we neglect to take care of our own needs- to the detriment of our relationship with our kids.

What is it that you need to keep going? Is is a cup of coffee? Time outside? A snack? Adult conversation? A good workout? Time alone? Scripture?

Maybe you can’t get what you need right at that moment, but since we know you can’t pour from an empty cup, being aware of what fills you up helps you to orient your day to keep yourself full- which in turn allows you to keep filling your kids’ cups.

One of my counselors put it this way- motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. As a competitive swimmer, I was a sprinter- I’ve never liked longer distances. And in a sprint, it’s all-out to the end- even air is avoided unless absolutely necessary. However, if I were to swim the English Channel, I would take great care to fuel my body as I went along or I would never make it.

Motherhood is a lot more like swimming the English Channel- we’ve got to take care of ourselves so that we can keep going!

To Survive on the Long Days with Kids: Recognize little people’s big emotions

These amazing little people sure have big emotions, don’t they? When I’m feeling strong feelings, it goes a long way if someone I love recognizes what I’m feeling and hears me out on it- and kids may not be able to verbalize it, but their need is the same.

Feelings are hard to navigate, even as an adult, and children need our guidance to know how to process their emotions in a healthy way.

Particularly at the end of a long day, it can be hard to find the energy to help sort through those emotions and it’s tempting to just make them stop by whatever means necessary. But I love what L.R. Knost, author of The Gentle Parent, says about this:

“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share in our calm, not join in their chaos.”

L.R. Knost

When we recognize that they are not being emotional just to annoy us (usually, ha), it can help to calm our reactions a bit so that we can act like the grown ups of the situation and bring our calm into their chaos. It doesn’t always solve the issue, but when I stop to listen (and maybe offer a hug) it often helps diffuse quite a bit.

To Survive on the Long Days with Kids: Avoid Boredom

Now I’m not saying don’t let your kids get bored. I think there is validity to giving your kids the chance to let their imaginations grow and creativity take over. However. In my experience so far, some boredom (particularly that happens in the late afternoons) tends to result in destructive energy- or maybe that’s just at my house.

But either way, staying busy makes the time go by faster, and that’s always a good thing on long days! Here are some ideas to try:

surviving a long day with my kids
  • Go outside! More than a few times we have gone on walks just because I was tired of the grumpiness happening inside. Sunshine tends to brighten attitudes, mine included. Nature walks are a great way to encouragement movement and creativity (here are some nature crafts and activities you can do, too!)! Now that my kids are a little bigger, we also enjoy doing nature walk scavenger hunts!
  • Babywear. Babies and toddlers can see more of what is going on, so they’re less likely to fuss.
  • Add Music. Music has a calming (and distracting) effect, and you may find that “regular” activities like play doh or coloring become more interesting and take longer when music is playing.
  • Add an Audiobook. Play an audiobook while the kids are painting or playing in the sandbox or whatever. Bonus: they don’t want to miss the story, so they may even give you some “quiet”! Read Aloud Revival has a great list to get you started!
  • Do something different. Have an activity in your back pocket to pull out that they haven’t done before, or a variation on an old favorite. Here are some of our favorites right now, plus a list of 40+ easy and cheap craft and activity ideas!

Most Importantly: Give yourself grace

As a recovering perfectionist, this is a work in progress for me. But here are some things I’ve learned along the way so far:

You don’t have to be an A+ in everything all the time.

One of my counselors used this phrase, and I have latched onto it. For a long time I felt a lot of guilt because I couldn’t simultaneously be an A+ mom, wife, housekeeper, sister, daughter, friend, etc. while also being in great shape physically, spiritually, mentally, financially, and emotionally.

But the reality is we can only do so much at once. If you want to make a healthy meal, it’s going to take longer and your kid may need to watch a TV show. Or if you want to limit screen time, you may need quicker meals that may not be as healthy.

But you can’t always do everything- and that’s ok! Allow yourself the gift of choosing what you’ll do well at in that moment, and be okay with letting other things go. (Psst…for more help on this, check out my list on How to Simplify Your Life as a Mom!)

Pick a day or time or part of your routine dedicated to being nice to yourself.

This was something I started when my daughter was little. For me, it’s Fridays. I have a phrase that I say in my head: “On Fridays we’re nice to ourselves.” It doesn’t mean I’m unkind to myself on the other days- it just means I let the mom guilt go especially on Fridays.

  • Sometimes this means letting Butterfly watch an extra show on TV while I sit and drink a cup of tea or get the kitchen as clean as I want it.
  • Sometimes it means parenting from the couch for an hour or two.
  • Sometimes it means I Facetime someone instead of paying full attention to the kids.
  • Sometimes it means swinging through Starbucks even though it makes us late to somewhere.
  • Sometimes it means taking a moment to meditate on a Scripture or affirmation.

Because ultimately a healthy, happy mom makes for healthy, happy kids.

Let your failures be opportunities.

No one likes to feel like they’ve failed. But here’s the thing- a major part of our role as moms is to help our children learn what it means to be human.

And being human involves failing and needing to say sorry and seek forgiveness.

So while obviously we never want to snap or yell or be unkind to our children- we all do some of it at some point. So instead of feeling guilty, let’s turn those times into opportunities to model for them how to pursue reconciliation.

The Survival Guide Cheat Sheet

I’ve created a gift for you, Mama. It’s a cheat sheet that includes a summary of these things- because we all need the reminders. Just put in your email below and I’ll get it sent to you.

Do you have any other tips for how you get through long days? I’d especially love to hear from moms who are a little farther ahead in the journey than I am- what works or didn’t work for you?

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32 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Survive Long Days with Kids”

  1. Such a wonderful reminder to so many moms out there! Everyone needs a break from things once in a while, epecially, on the bad days! It’s great to be reminded to take it easy on yourself as a mother. Breathing techniques are a huge help if you can stop yourself in the moment to remember to do them!

  2. Great information! It’s so important to recognize their emotions, many times they are overlooked because they are so young but those emotions are real and they have to be taught how to process through them.

  3. Oh my gosh, yes, the hours between 4:30 and 6:00 pm are the LONGEST hours ever! I love your tips and I think they’re good ones. I’ve also taken to breaking out the big guns — I pay our middle school neighbor to come play with the boys during this window on days I can’t take it anymore. It costs very little and it saves SO much stress.

    1. Thanks Charissa! Yes- I hire a neighborhood mother’s helper at least once a week to play with my daughter. It’s a great investment for everyone’s sanity. 😉

  4. Loved this blog! I am TERRIBLE about using soft eyes with my kids. I guess a trust I never wanted from my mom I have embraced. So thank you for pointing it out to me. I’ll be working to put a stop to that. The other tips are fantastic!

  5. Thanks for these great tips. Breathing is something so necessary and yet we forget how to do it. I also love that you mentioned about giving some time to ourselves. Sometimes I blame my family for not having me time, but I realize is not their fault. It’s my responsibility to take “time for me too”

    Thanks so much!

    1. Yes! I felt resentful for a long time that I wasn’t getting time to myself- then I realized the problem was actually me…I wasn’t communicating or taking the time I needed. And when I do take that time, it goes better for everyone!

  6. Christiana Kayode

    The breathe app is genius! I’ll struggle with the soft eye stare though lol – my little boys face always manages to soften my stare anyway lol
    Such a great post, thanks

  7. I love this. I have a three month old and I have to remind myself to breathe all the time. There’s some points when I have to walk away for just a second too. Breathers help.

  8. Love the tips for mom’s on how they can get through those inevitable long days. I will be trying them all, but especially love the eye-contact one. I am guilty of avoiding that connection when I’m “done”.

  9. Mom time outs are VITAL to surviving those long days. I can’t last on a long day without a full battery! In fact, I’m taking a break now since tomorrow I’ll have my four kids PLUS my niece and nephew tomorrow all day…

  10. Breathing has helped me in moments of frustration. It’s all about catching yourself in the moment, stopping to breath, and checking in with yourself.

  11. I can really appreciate this thank you! Such helpful and useful tips! I totally forget about rescue remedy !! Thank you for the reminder I need to keep that in stock 😉

  12. This is a great post dear. At times moms do get exhausted more of mentally than physically. A little self-care goes a long way like you said we can’t pour from empty cups.

  13. Love how you said find time for yourself. I seem to keep forgetting about that part of my daily routine. I will be trying the soft eyes hoping it will wor with my hyperactive little ones. Thank you for sharing

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