Q-but-no-real-A: Cabin fever

I've got cabin fever, she's got cabin fever, we've got cabin fever…

Here in the US it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which means kids have a school holiday, and many adults are off work, too. Combine that with our freakish snowfall and coldsnap at the end of last week that canceled things in many areas, and some of us are staring at some pretty serious cabin fever.

I was hoping we could talk about some ideas to combat it, since no one likes feeling like they're in the middle of The Shining (with the role of Jack played by your 4-year-old).

True confession: I get off easy, since my kids' dad came to get them yesterday, so my kids get a change of scenery, different toys, different food, etc. So I'm not currently having this problem (I'm painting my apartment instead), but I know tons of you are.

I only have a couple of suggestions:

Go outside anyway. Assuming it's not sleeting or below -10F, kids can really stand a few  minutes outside if they're wearing warm clothing. Running around outside will keep them warmish, and even a few minutes can "blow the stink off" (ah, my mother and her Midwesternisms) enough to give everyone a little head space.

Wii. If you don't have one, you probably know someone who does. If you can make it over to their house, you and the other adults can chill while the kids get some exercise with the Wii sports or other games.

Fantasy. See if you can get the kids involved in helping you plan where you're going to go on vacation next year at this time. Then have them hrelp you calculate how much money you'll need to save every week to be able to do it. A family goal!

What do you have?

55 thoughts on “Q-but-no-real-A: Cabin fever”

  1. Forts, forts, forts. Get all the chairs you can, combined with your couch and as many blankets as you have (the lighter the better – bed sheets also work really great) and start making forts. We eat, play games and if I would let him, he would sleep in there too! It’s like being somewhere else in your own place!Thats all I got, can’t wait to hear all the suggestions!

  2. I think it really depends on the age of the kids. My kids are really into watching ice-skating and there are a few outdoor rinks nearby ( not walking distance though) that we sometimes go to to have a look at the skaters, if it’s not too cold. Next step is on to the ice, but it might still be a while away as my kids are only 4 and 2.Something we did over Christmas was go to some towns nearby to check out the decorations, lights and nativity scenes. Here in Italy they are really amazing as the towns go the whole hog to decorate even the most anonymous town (like the one I live in). We even had a nativity scene exhibition here in a lovely old church which my kids just loved.
    As for indoor activites, I tend to cook a lot with the kids: cakes, biscuits, pizza. That usually takes up half an hour or so. Am all ears for other suggestions.

  3. For situations where you are stuck home, or really just don’t want to go out, as opposed to just not wanting to be outdoors: This sounds silly, but a change of venue within the house. The playroom sees the most action in our house. If we play in a different room, it is an automatic shift of gears. Especially if it’s in a room that is usually a little off limits. A picnic on the floor..anything like that does a good job of shaking things up a little…Also, we play “show” which means the kids take turns singing a song (a favorite or even an original composition) for everyone else…we use our little trampoline (also a huge help in general) as a stage, but anything will do. Lots of silliness and applause, and some turn taking too.

  4. My kids are 4.5 and 2.5.Water play in the sink. (It helps that my apartment is–not by our choice–on the warm side.) This has been my savior since my daughter was 18 months old and we got a Learning Tower. We have a double sink; I’d wash dishes in my half and she’d splash in her half. Now my son does it.
    For both, a long bubble bath. They can stay in there for a long time–the bubbles spark a lot of creative play.
    I make my own playdough (from the Dollar Stretcher website)–I will make 2 batches (if I have enough cream of tartar) and each gets to pick a color. Of course lately they’ve been fighting terribly over the cookie cutters and rolling pins that go with that, so YMMV.
    Cooking/baking with them.
    “Pajama parties”–I’ve been doing this some nights when everyone’s cranky from missing their outdoor time due to weather and early darkness. All it means is switching up the schedule and doing things out of order–bath first, put on PJs (I have to also), have a fruit plate (seriously–slicing whole bananas and putting them on a plate is really special in their minds!), then books or other quiet games, then dinner.
    We’re all getting a little crazy, but I’ve been taking advantage of it and letting my little one go without a diaper for long stretches–by this time next month maybe he’ll be in underpants 🙂

  5. We just went through 3 weeks of crazy cabin fever, though not because of snow (war in Israel, sirens when rockets fell, couldn’t be more than 60 seconds from a bomb shelter, no daycare= crazy, stressed parents). The best thing we did was to borrow a bunch of toys and books from friends whose kids had outgrown them. That way we could pull out new entertainment every so often.Also, if you really are stuck inside, even changing rooms helps. Taking our son into our bedroom to romp on our bed gave him a little change of scenery and some physical play. And we did go outside for very short walks, which I think was as necessary for my sanity as for his.

  6. Usually if I can get my kids into a art/craft project, it helps a bit. But they’re all arty.Jumping on the trampoline helps.
    Doing a little yoga helps (the kids all learned some yoga at school). I suppose an exercise tape would work.
    Cranking up some Motown and dancing helps. Bonus, I can usually get some cleaning done if there’s good music playing.
    Unfortunately, going outside in the cold has already been done this weekend (standing and waving the presidential train by was a family event) – it was WAY nasty cold, and nobody wants to go back out in it. Even bundled. (Worth it, though. Miss M has fallen in total 4-year-old crush with the president-elect. And she SAW him! And he waved at her! Ooh!)
    Right now, ep has taken the kids off on errands. It is snowing. We have costume making planned for the afternoon, so that’s craft stuff.
    My mom also turned all cabin-fever events into a party. If we were stuck inside (Colorado winters…) we’d make a fire, or have cocoa, or bake cookies, or something that made being stuck inside something special. I have no idea how she maintained her cool, but … force of will, maybe. She also sent us on various missions – often involving short trips outside (fetch a bowl of snow being a common one). Not so useful if snow isn’t handy, but it was a way to break up the time into smaller chunks.
    We also did forts a lot.

  7. When my kids were your kids’ ages, we were in our Ithacan Exile – it sometimes got to minus 27 and we were frequently snowbound (and living on one grad student stipend plus savings, so money was v. tight.)What may have saved all our lives was compiling a list like you’re working on today and posting it on my fridge. I would get so dopey and cranky that I couldn’t have thought my way out of a paper bag, but if I had a list to look at I could do what it said! I don’t have the list but some ideas were:
    Water play: This was always a good one! Lay down a plastic tablecloth or something and set out a whole bunch of bowls, basins, measuring cups, tumblers, whatever. Let them go at it. If you’re willing to use food dyes, it is so much better. This would keep ’em happy for, like, hours
    Put ’em in a box! A BIG box, for an appliance? Cut door and window, and let decorate it inside and out with whatever art materials they have, and they can play in it all winter!
    Dance time. Put on something loud and beat-y and conga around the house.
    Baking. This takes up a good hour or so of prep, and the results are delightful. And the apartment smells great…
    Board games
    Etc.
    I am feeling a bit housebound myself, waiting for spouse to shovel me out so I can go swim. Because I am a delicate tropical flower and cannot shovel out myself. Sigh.

  8. I got this suggestion from another blog, so I’m not taking credit for it. This is for the 2-and-under set. You just take a bunch of dried beans and put them in a box of some sort, and it’s sort of like a sandbox. You can throw in some spoons, measuring cups, tupperware, etc. Then my friend embellished on it by adding marbles that her kid has to find in the box.We also do forts, indoor dance parties, cooking, gluing pictures cut out from magazines, playdough, etc., etc., etc. And that gets us to about 10:00 a.m. Seriously, it seemed like it was easier to get through the day in the summertime. And here in Chicago we have had some really bad sub-zero temps lately, so I’m going nuts.

  9. I found this idea on another website and it kept my girls (4 and 2 1/2) completely occupied for about 45 minutes. Collect a bunch of little treasures (marbles, coins, “gems”, shells, plastic animals, etc.). Fill a bowl with about an inch of water. Place 1/3 of the treasures in it and freeze. When that is frozen, pour another inch of water in and place the next 1/3 of treasures and freeze. After frozen, repeat with the last of the treasures. When done, you have a block of ice with lots of treasures distributed throughout. Put it in a tray (like a roasting pan) and give your kids “tools” to excavate the treasures. I gave them hot water and eye droppers, toothbrushes and a bowl of salt. You could also give them forks to chip away at the ice. My girls loved dripping the water on, pouring salt on, scrubbing it and finding their treasures. They loved it and I loved how focused they were.I found this idea (with pictures) on:
    http://lets-explore.typepad.com/weblog/2008/05/ice-treasures.html

  10. • Baking, painting, art projects.• Rearrange your furniture – stimulating, physically strenuous, takes a lot of time.
    • Museums, malls, YMCAs, community centers
    • Theme days: backwards day (breakfast for dinner, wear your clothes backwards, etc.), purple day, music day, Greek mythology day, whatever
    • Dance party!
    Maybe I’ll think of more…

  11. I hate to confess this since I know it makes the childless angry, but my favorite Cabin Fever location is Ikea. It’s like a big gym for kids only more exciting because there is furniture to climb on. We only do it when we are desperate, but it works when we do it. It also speaks wonders for how well that stuff holds up under the abuse.

  12. Fast-food places and/or the mall with an indoor playground can be a godsend. I sit there with a magazine and a cup of (awful) coffee, and she gets to play.

  13. – toy rotation helps a lot. pull out something that’s been languishing in a closet somewhere- change your space…move furniture around, play in a walk-in closet, anything to change your perspective
    – bubble baths
    – uncooked rice or dried beans in a big box with spoons, cups, etc. Yeah, it might mean a long vacuuming session later, but it’s worth it.
    – while your child is sleeping or in another room, set up a “scene”…line up cars or stuffed animals in a parade on a blanket and take books and stand them up on their ends around the parade.

  14. Invite others over! This goes along with the “change of scenery” idea. Even if the guest doesn’t have kid(s), my daughter is usually interested in the new person.If other kids are available, even better. It’s like playgroup, but without the hassle of bundling up and leaving the house. I don’t even mind that the house is a disaster afterwards!
    I have a collection of DVDs available for “rainy days” (mostly Baby Einstein, which drives me nuts, and Mr. Dressup, which I love).

  15. We have an old couch and when my son gets really cooped up we take the cushions off and he uses it as a trampoline. I turn on fun music and he just goes crazy. He wears himself out and afterwards I can turn on a movie and he’ll just veg.I’ve also done scavenger hunts for him, but he has to find stuff that is already in the house. I’ll say, Find a piece of paper in the office – he’ll go off and find the paper and bring it to me. Then I’ll say, find some soap in your bathroom. It makes him think he’s doing something and I can usually get stuff done while he’s searching.

  16. Not being the most creative person in the world, I turn to the internet for ideas! I love the Today is Fun blog: http://todayisfun.com/blog. They have tons of things for kids to do, and the activities don’t require special equipment or buying anything new. My favorite entry was “Tip Toe Practice.”

  17. Having just survived about a month worth of -20 to -30C weather with an almost 3 yo and a 10 mo in a 850 sq feet house and no car, my main advice is keep expectations low.We spent a lot of time baking, reading, painting, helping with laundry (woo!). I find that just a change of venue is fun. Playing in Mom & Dad’s room is so much more interesting! Our sliding door closet has transformed into the bus, the train, and a rocket ship.
    Also lots of dancing and music playing. And pretty much following the kids’ lead.

  18. Here in the SW we don’t really deal with cabin fever too often…it gets cold here, sometimes very cold, but we are rarely housebound and most days are sunny so we can manage a few moments outside. Still, we are ready for warm weather and want to be outside more. Here is what we have been doing lately:planning our garden (reading library books about gardening, drawing plans, etc)
    bird watching out the window
    turning up the music loud and dancing
    playing spring: putting on summer clothes, having a picnic on the floor and silly games like pillowcase races or spoon and egg races, etc
    I agree with others that baking, cooking, building forts etc are excellent ideas.

  19. I second those who suggested playing / being in different areas of the house. When I’m at home all day with my little guy (7 mos.), I make sure we spend time in as many different areas of the condo as we can, so it feels bigger and we feel like we’re in different places. I try to follow the sun – I find it improves my mood significantly.My second favorite activity is to do a photo shoot. DS has a lot of fun with me making funny faces at him (& he seems to like the camera), and it’s amazing how many hours fly by. I try out different areas of the house to see which backdrops work best for photos. And again, follow the sun – natural light makes much better photos. As DS is quite young now, we keep it simple (i.e. usually him in his diaper on the floor). Sometimes we use props – a reindeer & stocking for xmas etc., sometimes it’s all him. The bonus is you end up with a lot of great photos of your kid (esp. if using a digital camera, so you can snap away – hundreds of photos even – and you’ll end up with a few really special ones).
    I’m hoping to keep doing this as he gets older, and to get him involved – i.e. making costumes from things around the house, or trying on his favorite outfits, finding a new place in the house to take photos, anything really to keep it fun for him.

  20. “Heeee’re’s Johnny!!” – love “The Shining,” but don’t watch it when you’re housebound amid massive snowdrifts! I second Moxie’s suggestion of Going Outside Anyway. Snowmen. Snow Angels. Snow Forts. Snow Ball Fights. If it weren’t for skiing and snowshoeing, I’d never be able to survive the winter.

  21. We tried this idea at a friends house: use masking tape or duct tape to make “roads” on your carpet – all through the house. At least 45 minutes of car driving fun.

  22. We do inside obstacle course. Sofa cushions on the floor, table with a blanket for tunnels, stools and chairs alternated for up and down climbing, backwards walking, somersault, bear walk up the stairs, 2×4 balance beam in a hall, whatever.

  23. My 2-year old & I’ve been working on identifying emotions for the past week or so -> “Mommy mad”, “Mommy naughty” (for yelling), “Mommy sad”, “Mommy crying”. And over the weekend, “funny” < - talking about himself.Thanks Moxie, for having this topic today, and thanks everyone else for all of the ideas/motivation!

  24. With my 14-month-old, ten minutes of outside time = ten minutes of crying after he comes in because he wants to be out again–even though he’s freezing. I’ve been doing some toy rotation, which helps. Taping some paper to his highchair tray and letting him go at it with crayons is good. If you’re in the DC/NoVa area, I’ve heard that taking the kids to the Udvar-Hazy Center is good because they can run around.@Jojo, we did IKEA last week, and it was an absolute godsend. I’m also thinking about taking him to a fabric store and letting him explore some different textures. The children’s section of big bookstores is also great, although I have to constantly follow him and repair the damage trail.

  25. Yaaay, new ideas. Something we just did this weekend was stop by the local pet store to look at fish, birds, hamsters, dogs getting groomed, etc. My 18-month old loved it.Toy rotation is KEY. Just putting something away for a week helps. When I bring something out he hasn’t seen in a few days, he lights up and plays with it for a full 15 minutes or so (ha-ha).

  26. Okay, this is going to sound completely ridiculous, but I swear it works:When I was a childcare worker and the kids (aged 19 mos – 5 years) were getting stircrazy and tired toward the end of the day, I would whip out a brand new box of crayons and ask them to peel the paper wrappers off as many crayons as they could. This is actually good for their fine motor development, and it kept them happy and quiet for a shocking amount of time. Plus, crayons without wrappers are easier for little hands to manipulate.
    Also, on a slightly-less-ridiculous note: bubbles. Cheap to buy, safe and engaging for kids aged baby – preteen. Bonus: older kids can blow bubbles for younger kids, which gives adults time to breathe.

  27. My 4.5 year old is going to love Gina’s Going to Florida idea. I’m glad she mentioned it because I didn’t put two and two together, but my daughter looooooooves playing “pack the suitcase”. Will have to try it today while we’re housebound from the cold with some colds.

  28. Alcohol. For me, not them.They get banana smoothies and popcorn and movies as much as they want. The theme this weekend(5 days for us. FRIGID weather) was “Appease the Rabid Children.”
    I am still alive.
    So far…

  29. Hmmm. I find we have to get out of the house every single day lest we go nuts. I’m also fortunate to live where getting snowbound is a non-issue and in a small enough-large enough town that we have malls that are neither (a) crowded nor (b) closed. So we often go there … especially if I’m sort of selective about what sections we go to, we can burn off some good energy and see some interesting things (pictures, people, toys) without outright bothering anyone. Large people-infested malls do not work for this…Lowe’s and Home Depot also work pretty well for us. I let DS climb on the lawn tractors (closely supervised, obviously), and often the store’s other customers are, well, basically grandparents, so we get lots of positive comments and attention and not much negative. Oh, and if we’re really lucky we get to see a forklift in action.
    Libraries are also our friend, though some are better than others. Several of those accessible to us have group/conference rooms that, when they are empty (usually) we can slip into and run around in a bit without bothering anyone.

  30. I agree with previous posters – wandering Ikea, especially the kids section, is always good. And one can stop of for some (famous) meatballs or a pastry.The other place I hang out with my 19 month old when I’m desperate is Target – let her cruise the toy aisles and “get her rocks off” there until she’s tired enough to happily travel in the cart or stroller. Then I can even get a couple of practical things done.
    And at home we make cubbies with sofa/tables and sheets, craft activities, bubble baths, getting outside for 15 minutes to look at some different faces, plants, cars – whatever – helps.
    It’s ok when I have the energy/motivation to do any of the above, but if you add tiredness from a week of seriously interrupted sleep because said 19 month old is going through ANOTHER spurt of some description and also has a terrible cold. Well – then we just drive each other crazy indoors!
    Perhaps tomorrow will be better…

  31. It being nearly 80 today we headed to our local park. (Gotta love the deep south of texas!) The park leads down to the bay and so we walked on down. The tide was super low and we let our son (almost 18 months) take off his pants and shoes and play in the water. It was chilly but very very calm and shallow, he had a grand time splashing around for a few minutes before we headed for home. Was a good cure for our cabin fever!

  32. I love the idea of freezing “treasures”!Here (and when I was a kid) we enjoy/enjoyed:
    -Baking and cooking: my son (26 months) loves to knead bread/pizza dough, cut out sugar cookie shapes, and easy fruits (banana, soft pear) with a butter knife. Messy, but it results in fun and all of us getting to eat.
    -Oobleck (http://www.kinderteacher.com/oobleck.htm)
    -If your bathroom is big enough, play “going to the beach”. Put on swimsuits, fill up the tub, spread out beach towels, put on music, get some snacks – you get the idea and pretend you are at the beach.
    -Play “going to Florida”. When I was a kid Florida seemed like an exotic destination and my mom would get out a small suitcase for each of us and we would have great fun packing it and then putting it on the “airplane” (the bed or a bunch of chairs in a line) and pretending to go to Florida. I don’t think we ever got there, the planning and “trip” were much more fun.

  33. Building forts/tents with blankets, pillows and chairs is a hit around here. Let them eat lunch or their snack in there. Turn out the lights, close the blinds, give them flashlights. It’s like camping without the bugs!

  34. @Gina, combine the Florida trip with a phone call to a relative in FL, and you have one of my mom’s activities with my kids – she’d call the elderly relative, and let her listen in on the kids packing up and getting ready to go visit her (in this case, in California), and talk about all the things they were doing, getting ‘in’ the airplane, what they thought about the flight, eating an in-flight meal, looking out the windows at the ground, the whole deal. Two birds with one stone, there – keeping the generations connected AND keeping the kids from going stir crazy.My mom has a treasure chest she showed me over the weekend that has slips of paper with notes for things like ‘have a tea party’ and ‘play in the jewelry box’ – dressup with grandma’s jewelry is a BIG DEAL and eats a lot of time (with kids over a certain age, especially, since she has something of a jewelry ‘thing’ – her dad was a gemologist). The kids get to pick a random item, and they just do that.
    Strangely enough, polishing the silver is another favorite with my kids. Granted, again, my mom has a ton of silver, including oddities my sister has been giving her, like a Victorian asparagus server… but like the jewelry, half the fun is learning where my mom got this or that, why it is meaningful to her, etc. – it’s family history plus provenance. 🙂
    Oh, and my mom also has categories of ‘stories to tell’ – like ‘strange animal encounters’ and ‘my favorite pet when I was a kid’ and ‘when I learned to drive’ and ‘my first job’ and ‘strange things I wore when I was young’ – things you’d find in the ‘A Grandmother Remembers’ type books make for absorbing story-telling. No reason we can’t do them with our own kids, either – certainly my kids look aghast when I tell them about how we got one of the very FIRST home computers available, and it didn’t even have a graphics capacity! OH MY! Heh.

  35. @starsanightI am going to buy a new box of crayons for the bear. Hers are getting “used up” and I LOVE new crayons. Anyway, what a great idea to let her peel off the papers before we toss the old ones. Should kill some time 🙂

  36. I agree about getting outside, even if just for a minute.Baking cookies is a good distraction.
    My son (aged 4) thinks cleaning is fun, so I ask for his “help” and tackle the bathroom.
    I also try to hold back a few toys/crafts during the year so that we can bring them out again during times like these. Sometimes it’s a toy that he had no interest in when it was first received (parents sometimes send age-inappropriate things) or something that he hasn’t played with in a while.

  37. This may be a downer. Don’t care.When my father was dying, he desperately wanted to go outside. He wanted to go for walks. He couldn’t walk or even move at the end.
    The nurse said “Take him on walks.” We thought she was out of her damned mind. She said “TALK him on walks,” and we did. We would take turns sitting with him and closing our eyes and telling him about places we were going, walks we were taking together, people we were seeing, going very slowly and describing everything in ultravivid detail.
    He loved it.

  38. Thanks for your comments, Stephen! Yeah, I’ve considered all these things,and did try to talk to him about it. But he shied away from telling me any
    good reasons soooo….. I’ll really never know! But it’s entertaining now
    (not back then!) to ruminate on reasons why. Thanks for your added thoughts!
    😉

  39. )*(If you need to help out a stranger in an emergency situation, you’re ready. If you need to carry your kid, a 50# bag of dog food, and close the car door, you’re ready. You’re an athlete and your arena is life. Be your best… because every day is game day!

  40. thats sad, i dont have any kids but my mom breastfed my btehror till he was 2, thats the way God meant it, not some canned crap with preservatives that stinks..i wouldnt give that to my kids in the future more power to you, the next person who asks you, please give them an earful!

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