It’s been less than a week since the Singapore government announced safe distancing measures due to Covid-19 and barely 24 hours since they said that enrichment centres would shut. If parents of kids of all ages weren’t panicking before, they sure are now. What to do with the spawn now that going out to the usual places like malls and play gyms is so challenging/risky, and we can’t outsource the art, music and sports classes and tuition? And what if — ermahgerd — we go into lockdown and schools close?
Well, the silver lining is you get to spend a whole lot more time with your mini-mes. The dark cloud, of course, is that many of us will go a little (or a lot) nuts, and at some point be at a loss as to what to do with the burning balls of energy we call our children.
Enter Sophie Gollifer. The 30-year-old Brit-Chinese Class 95 DJ is something of a supermum who manages to do all sorts of stuff with her two cuties, three-year-old Bowie-Rose and 20-month-old Coco Poppy (“Coco Pops for short!”), while entertaining us all on radio from 2 to 5pm and looking abs-tastically fit.
Her methods of engaging her daughters range from common sense (let them run around outside) to creative (zombie pancakes!). She shares her tips with 8days.sg.
#1: Focus on the positives in a challenging time.
“I feel like as a parent of young children, it’s been nice to bring things back to basics. With everything that’s going on, being able to spend a little bit more time with them and focusing on them is the silver lining to everything that's going on, despite things being so terrible.”
#2: Keep calm and carry on, with caution.
“Our girls are really active and when they’re running around with so much energy, it’s difficult to keep them confined. And with things shutting down daily and the things that we used to do with them less feasible now — I mean, we used to do everything from the zoo to the aquarium, and playdates with their friends — I still bring them out with me to restaurants and do as much as we can. Especially when it comes to outdoor play, we try to continue that as much as possible. With open air play, you can be not too close to everybody else, right?”
#3: Do what makes you comfortable.
“It’s the personal choice of every parent whether or not you want to keep them at home completely. I’m more mindful about that now and I think about it a lot. It’s easy to panic and overthink things, especially as a parent of young children. We may take some risks with ourselves, but it’s different when it comes to small children — the thought of them being ill is frightening. But at the same time, I feel like my parenting style is that I’m adamant about trying to continue in as normal a way as possible, within reason. So I’m fine with going outside to areas that are open. I can see that my kids’ moods are lifted when they come back from open air play and they're more willing to listen to me, to a degree! We have family in the UK, and they are in lockdown and not allowed to go anywhere. It makes us thankful we have our kids in Singapore.”
#4: Take your kids to the Botanic Gardens.
“I love the Botanical Gardens because the structure of it is so open. So people may still be out doing exercise and stuff, but you can easily not get too close to anybody else. And for the kids to go out and see other people exercising and to see some wildlife, it’s good. I can let them loose without worrying that they're going to run onto the road or annoy somebody, and let them run around and use up energy safely, that is key. We’ve been told it’s harder for the Coronavirus to survive out in the sun and the humidity in the open.”
#5: Don’t get stressed out — your kids will know.
“If I'm bringing the kids around and I need to buy something or do something, I’m busy making sure that they're not touching everything and rubbing their faces, but also trying to stay calm and not stress them out. I feel like although they’re young, they can sense when their mom is stressed. So try to stay calm and do a lot of activities at home. A couple of sweet treat bribes won’t hurt, I’m sure, and a bit of TV too! Anything to get by, you know, so can we can continue and not panic them too much.”
#6: Make zombie pancakes.
“An activity we like is making pancakes in the morning. I'm not the best cook — in fact, I’m probably one of the worst ever, but so far no complaints! I let the kids put a bit of food colouring it the pancakes, so they get zombie pancakes or pink pancakes, and they find that really exciting. With kids, especially young ones, it's easy to make something so simple exciting and that's something that this whole process has really taught me. You kind of go to the same places and do the things that you're comfortable with, then take it to the next level, right? It's adding a little bit of fun, bringing an evolution to something that's very simple, like pancakes or painting.”
#7: Let them play dress-up.
“My girls love dressing up and changing outfits, which is great. I mean, they can go into the room and change dresses as many times as they want, and it’s fun for them. They just love doing what their mum does. They see me getting ready for work and putting on make-up and getting dressed in different outfits, and they copy me.”
#8: Get arty with them.
“We’ve been painting like you wouldn't believe! They learned hand painting in daycare and we’ve gone to a soft play place where they let you paint and put hand prints and draw all over the walls and I’m like, ‘Hey guys, you can’t paint and draw all over our wall!’”
#9: Get physical… at home.
“We have a big garden at home so we can run around there. I know that a lot of people in Singapore don't have that big open space right outside their house, and I think that even if you live in an apartment, with young kids, their legs are so short that you can chase them around the house and still tire them out. Another thing I like to do is hide somewhere in the house, and they’ll try to find me. We can get creative with stuff in the house, like they like to jump on the bed, and we can use the things at home as toys, in a way. So I know that if things get bad, I can get really creative. The girls love re-enacting songs, like ‘Head Shoulders Knees and Toes’ and ‘Monkeys Jumping on the Bed’ and all the nursery rhymes.”
#10: Indulge in water play in your own bathroom.
My kids love water play, so even if we can't go out to their favourite water parks — they love the one in the zoo — we can play with water at home. Their dad (who’s British) bought them some bath bombs, which had colours, so we can easily take up to an hour just playing with those and adding toys to the bath, like ducks that they can fish out. And if you don't have a bath tub, you can use one of those portable tubs. You can so easily kill some time with the kids in the evening with this.”
#11: Find fun in the routine tasks.
“By keeping routine activities in place, like their dad reading them a story at night and acting out the book, they are reassured, even if they can’t go to all the play places they used to, or their friends’ houses that often. They know what they’re gonna get and it keeps them calm and happy.”
#12: Stash away new toys and bring these out when you really need them.
“Don’t let them see everything you've got. Hide some of the toys they receive as gifts, so that when the time is right, or if you’re desperate, you can say, ‘Hey look! A new puzzle!’ They have a cooking set and I keep aside some new elements, like an extra frying pan, for example, to make things more exciting. It’s also for when things get a bit stagnant, and they’re at the age where they love to fight over the same thing. So yeah, mummy will whip out a new baby doll when she needs to! (Laughs) So if you’re out and see something that might incite some joy or excitement, you get it and you wait for the right moment. It doesn't have to be expensive, and they'll just get super excited about it.”
#13: Boost their immune systems.
“I'm making sure they get their vitamins, and get immune system-boosting foods and stuff like that. They do go to daycare currently, and their daycare is really strict about making sure they eat really healthy, which is fantastic. Lots of fruits and vegetables and that's stopped them from getting sick. Drink lots of water, and teach them how to wash their hands properly, ’cos babies may not really know how to wash their hands.”
#14: Don’t freak out about everything.
“I'm kinda from the school of thought that within reason, germs build your immune system. My kids don't get sick very often. I find if the floor is not dirty and we’re not outdoors or in a mall or a place where I feel like there’s going to be a high population of germs, you can pick food that drops on the floor and eat it and it’s okay. Especially if we’re at home. I'm okay for them to eat dropped food — it happens a lot! (Laughs) We have pets and I constantly catching them sharing food with our cats and dogs. It’s not ideal, but you know, so far it's been okay.”
#15: Screen time doesn’t have to be evil.
“I would say as an imperfect parent, anything that’s going to get you through, I say do it. It's easy to say screen time is not good for them, and in an ideal world and on a perfect day, my kids wouldn't even have to look a screen. Every parent has those days where they’re at a bit of a loss as to what to do with the kids, or maybe the kids are in a mood. I would never judge a parent for using a phone to distract or calm a child, especially out in public. There are days where my kids are winding down for bed and I’m exhausted or it's been a particularly tough day, and I'd say, ‘You know, let's put on a bit of TV while you drink your milk and wind down.’ And sometimes, if they’ve have been super good all day and patient, and the older one is that the age where she can reason, and she's been particularly impressive, I’d say, ‘Would you like to watch a bit of your favourite show?’ So yes you can use [screen time] as a tool even.”
#16: Get help, if you can.
“We’re used to being hands on and occupying our kids by ourselves without our parents and families being close by [her parents live in Dubai]. And yes, we have a domestic helper. I don't know what I would do without her, honestly, helping me with the housework and laundry and the pets. I’m not a great cook, and on the weekends, the kids have to deal with my poor cooking, but typically my helper would help with that.”
#17: Be present and engage the kids. Put your phone away!
“I'm guilty of [being on my phone when I’m with the kids] too. Anytime you see a mum on her phone and looking exhausted, it’s easy to say, oh she’s just checked out, but you don't know her circumstance. But you know, it's easy to get distracted. Like, I’d get a work message and want to check it. But my kids are quite good at reminding me. They're very young, but they'll be like, ‘Mummy. Mummy. Listen.’ Oh my goodness. If you're calling me out and you’re three, you know — I really have to put the phone away and focus on the task at hand.”
#18: Give them some attention — it may be all they need.
“I find that just giving them that attention will work. That email or message is still going to be there an hour later. So I try to really listen to what they want. I think that every parent is just trying to do the best they can. I try to be as present as possible because I know I'm not going to get these moments back with them.”
#19: Engage them mentally — it may be more effective than exhausting them physically.
“If they've been at the beach all day and they've been running around, I know that they're going to have a good night’s sleep. If they’ve been cooped up and not engaged, we might have a problem with them waking up at night as well. And no, it doesn’t have to be physical activities all the time, as long as they’ve had a packed day engaging in a lot of activities. When you're engaging with them and you're talking to them and asking questions, they get more tired than if you throw them some toys and go off and do something else and come back. I find that the engagement is not there. For example, rather than just you going to the kitchen and making something for them and saying, ‘Hey, here's your food, eat it’, you could ask if they would like to help you make it. Like, ‘Would you like to put some butter on the bread? Can you help me go to the fridge and get the butter? Which one is the butter?’ Take a very mundane activity, which would be 100 per cent quicker if you did it yourself, and do it with them. You are engaging them with that time.”