10 Activities to Keep House-bound Parents Sane


With all the dystopian lockdown social restrictions currently in place, many people with children at home will probably be going nuts finding managing them difficult. When you’ve played the games, done the crafts, gone for the walks and they’ve had their quota of screen time, what next?

Having been a mother and now a grandmother, I had a good laugh sympathise with such a plight. So here are 10 suggestions for house-bound parents to keep their little monsters treasures occupied at such a difficult time.

The basic premise of many of the activities below is that children are inherently competitive. Forget the trophy for participation. Harsh times call for The Hunger Games desperate measures. Bring out the inner warrior in your child.

Grab your biscuits, lollies and chocolate fruit, cheese and sultanas for rewards, and get ready to play! All ratings are totally arbitrary between 0 and 3.

1. The Circuit

Start off by wearing them out. You can’t take them to the park, so make an exercise circuit in your back yard, or your living room if you don’t have a yard. Who can complete the circuit the fastest? How many circuits can they do in 15 minutes? In an hour? Two? Seven? Who can complete the circuit the most times without stopping?

There are endless opportunities to exhaust the little poppets. If you can’t be bothered making a circuit, do the same by just outlining a running loop (around the lounge, between the chair and wall, under the coffee table), but be sure to take away any breakables. When it’s set up, ask the key questions; “Who’s fastest at” and “Who can do the most laps of” to stimulate their inner competitors. Then make yourself a nest somewhere removed from the action. With any luck they’ll exhaust themselves to the point of having a nap (you, that is).

Parental input: 1   Noise: 3  Usefulness: 0  Desperation factor: 0.5

2. Important Visitors

Who are the most important visitors you could have at your house? A rock star? A TV or movie star? Royalty? A football player?Star1 Pick a person each kid would love to have visit your home, and together you pretend they’re coming for the evening. (Not even I’m horrible enough to tell them they’re actually coming.) What’s the first thing the kids would have to do? Get their rooms clean!

When they’re done, you have to play the part of the hero/es to pick the cleanest room (or part of a room) and reward the best. If you can act like the relevant hero to bestow the award, even better. Make sure you actually reward the best, though a small token for the effort of the also-rans is okay. A small lecture on tidiness from their hero (as played by you) wouldn’t go astray. Kids can have trouble separating fantasy and reality…

Parental input: 1-2   Noise: 1  Usefulness: 3  Desperation factor: 1-3 (depending on the state of their rooms)

3. Hide and Seek

HidingThere are advantages to this classic. You can create the boundaries of the hiding area. Those hiding are motivated to be quiet. There are endless ways to level the field in ages, e.g. the older seeker has to count longer, or the older hider has to make a noise now and then. If the finding gets too loud, you can take a turn at being the seeker, and of course you have to count for a very long time. You could also conveniently forget to seek for as long as the hiders can stay hidden. Just saying.

Parental input: 1 Noise: 1  Usefulness: 1.5  Desperation factor: 1.5

4. Spot and Swat

This is fun any time of the year. For each child you need 2 items:

  • a plastic fly swatter, which you can get at most supermarkets (when you’re out doing essential grocery shopping) or at department or bargain stores (when you’re out doing essential mumble-mumble­ shopping)
  • a small plastic container, such as a yogurt container (bought when you did that essential grocery shopping)

Depending on the age of the kids, you might want to do this outside, or if inside you should remove breakables in the contest area to prevent regrets and tears. Then, spot and swat! Flies, that is. And mosquitos, or other undesirable bugs. If playing outside, definitely not all bugs, as we need many of them, but flies and mozzies are fair game. If playing inside, pantry moths can also be on the hit list.Swatter

You might be surprised how much kids like swatting things. Hunting and killing must be in our DNA somewhere. You probably don’t even need a reward for the winner, as having the most dead bugs in a container is a joy in itself.

Two pitfalls to beware: first, emphasise that they can’t touch the dead ones, but have to sweep them into the container with the swatter or else pick them up with a tissue, and second, make sure they know they can’t swat each other. Apart from screams of pain, squished bugs on hands or smeared elsewhere do not a happy parent make.

Parental input: 1   Noise: 2  Usefulness: 2 (get those flies!)  Desperation factor: 1.5

5. The Quiet Game

Got your attention with this one, haven’t I? This can be played at home, in the car, on walks, and essentially wherever and whenever you need it.

TSsshhhhe rules are: whoever manages to go the longest without making a sound wins the round. Have as many rounds as needed. Make sure you have a good reward for the winner, or they’ll suspect it’s all a ruse to keep them quiet. As if you would do that!

Do not give a reward to the loser/s, or they won’t bother trying next time. Also, you might have to ban physical contact during the game (of course, your kids wouldn’t try to cheat by hitting or tickling…). WARNING: Don’t make the goal whoever goes the longest without speaking. This can result in the opposite of silence.

Parental input: 0.5 Noise: 0  Usefulness: 2  Desperation factor: 2

6. VERY Important Visitors

An extension of No.2. This time find things that need cleaning in the house like windows, floors, toilets, showers. Be creative. These visitors are going to check on everything! Who will have the cleanest window, floor, toilet, whatever? You will have to adjust to the age of the kids, but don’t underestimate them. Train them young! Who says a 3 year old can’t wash the car?

It’s probably a good idea to make the reward for this a good one. And ham up the acting skills, if you want to use it more than once.

Parental input: 1   Noise: 1.5  Usefulness: 3  Desperation factor: 2

7. Mine with Mindfulness

It’s time to get serious: you need some good rewards for this. Cheese and fruit might be okay under normal circumstances, but by the time you get to this game you’ll all probably need a sugar hit. I don’t have kids at home and I need some sugar jusTictacs smt thinking about kids at home for weeks or months on end.

The game: put a small reward on a table. (I’m thinking ‘chocolate’—but then, I’m often thinking ‘chocolate’.) Time how long each kid can stare at the reward without making a noise or looking away. If kids are old enough they can do the timing. Opponents aren’t allowed to distract the person staring, or they’re disqualified—this is VERY important, or else it will dissolve into noisy distraction and fights. The kid who has the longest time wins the reward.

You can make it more difficult by specifying they can’t smile or blink, but why would you do that? You want the game to last longer, not shorter. Give each child three goes for each reward. Or best of five. Or seven. Or… well, you get the drift.

Parental input: 1   Noise: 1.5  Usefulness: 1  Desperation factor: 2

8. Dead Ducks

Dead duckThis one has many other names and was always my fallback for kids’ parties. They lie on the floor (or the ground outside—concrete isn’t that hard, is it?) and pretend to be, well, dead ducks. If they move or make a sound, they’re out. If there are three or more kids then the winner becomes the spotter, i.e. watches for movement, which means the parent doesn’t have to do a thing. If there’s only two, you can ‘accidentally’ miss a movement or two. Play this as long they’ll tolerate it.

Parental input: 1 (0 with 3+kids) Noise: 0  Usefulness: 1.5  Desperation factor: 2.5

9. I’m Thankful That…

When they’ve had enough of Dead Ducks and they’re whining and bickering, it’s time to pull out the really big gun.  You have to play too, at least in the beginning, or it usually won’t work. You start off, and go on in descending age.

Each person says, “I’m thankful that…” and has to end the sentence. There are rules, though! No repeating an answer, either your own or someone else’s. It has to be something real, so there’s no being thankful that you’re a prince or princess unless you really are (though being Mum or Dad’s princess is okay). No insults, like “I’m thankful that Tommy is a poo poo,” even if Tommy is a poo poo.

You might want to have a time limit for each turn, though I’m of the opinion that kids thinking hard about what they can be thankful for isn’t a bad thing. As far as silliness goes, you’ll have to have your own meter, depending on the kids and their age.

When a child can’t think of something, they’re eliminated. Often it can degenerate (or maybe regenerate?) into actual talking and feeling good. I know! Who would think it? If a kid gets stuck, though, and you want the game to continue, I think giving helpful hints and suggestions is a good idea. After all, if you can’t think of something, you’re all in for a baaaaad time.

Parental input: 2   Noise: 2  Usefulness: 2  Desperation factor: 3

10. The Final Straw

You’ve tried it all. Games 1 through 9 have been played, and it’s only lunchtime. There is one last option, and you should embrace it with whatever tools you have to hand, and the last of your sanity while you still possess it.

Lock the doors and windows. Turn on the TV and computer. Gather any devices you have in the house adevicend scatter them amongst the children. Liberally sprinkle with snacks. Then go into your bedroom, shut the door, crawl under the covers and pull them over your head.

Let’s face it. Desperate times call for any bloody way you can get through it. If you need time out with a doona over your head, take time out with a doona over your head. The kids won’t be scarred for life with a bit of extra screen time.

Parental input: 0.5   Noise: 1.5  Usefulness: 1  Desperation factor: 3+


I hope these activities help housebound parents and kids. They’re tried and true, though I make no guarantees that all of them will work all the time with all children. As you move through the days of social distancing and restricted movement, just remember the bottom line:

Stay safe and stay sane.

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