There is a little bottle that lives in my purse. It is not elegant. Its packaging is cheap plastic and it cost me about 25 cents. So I’m happy to give it away whenever the situation calls for it.
But the problems it solves, the moods it changes, and its power to transform the atmosphere wherever I am is almost miraculous.
It’s a bottle of bubbles.
I’ve been carrying bubbles with me for years—ever since somebody introduced me to the ABCs of parenting: A is for Atmosphere, B is for Boundaries and C is for Communication.
A is for Atmosphere.
Do you remember the last day that the kids were stuck inside? The television was on all day and the noise turned into a dull roar, with occasional explosions of screams and squawks. The children were initially a little irritable. But being stuck in the house aggravated them to the point that the whining and niggling behaviour turned into all-out war. Or perhaps that only ever happened in my house.
It was at this stage that I’d scream and yell in response. It would go something like, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you guys. There are lots of things to play with. Can’t you just play nicely for a change?’
Sometimes what I said wasn’t quite as nice.
Take control of the atmosphere
Eventually I was reminded that I was the adult and so ultimately I was the one who could take control of the atmosphere.
I know now that a change in atmosphere is literally as good as a holiday, and it’s really simple and inexpensive to achieve.
Nothing beats going outside to change the atmosphere.
Even little babies love to lie and watch the breeze moving the leaves on the trees. Why not take a picnic snack down to a local park? You could lay a rug on the ground, lie back and watch the clouds moving in the sky, and get some exercise and fresh air in the process.
But sometimes you have no choice but to stay inside.
Using My Senses
Some more experienced parents told me that by simply using my five senses—smelling, touching, tasting, seeing and hearing—I could figure out when and how to make small changes that would make a big difference in the atmosphere.
If the noise level is too loud, get the children to turn off all electrical gizmos (especially the television).
Perhaps you could play some beautiful music and dance or sway. Or get the kids to sing.
You could grab some cushions or pillows and a blanket and lie down to read a book or tell a story about what you did when you were growing up.
Or turn everything off, close your eyes and listen to all the noises that happen when everybody in the house is quiet.
You could even practise being blobs of butter melting into hot pieces of toast. Just see who goes to sleep first.
Open up windows to let in fresh air if you can. Grow herbs or carrot tops by the kitchen sink or on a window ledge. Display flowers (or neighbourhood weeds) in a glass. Make orange juice. Bake. They’re all pleasant ways to change the ‘smell’ atmosphere in our homes.
A less pleasant (but very practical) idea: Take the rubbish out to the big bin outside. (I found that our kitchen got smelly because our rubbish bin was too big. So I swapped it for a smaller bin that needed to be emptied daily. It got rid of the stinky problem, and was much more pleasant to empty.)
Feeling clammy, being hot and sweaty, and even sticking to the floor, are all touch sensations I experienced with lots of little kids in my home.
One of my favourite ways to change the ‘touch’ atmosphere has always been bath time. Water refreshes, cooling us in summer and warming us in winter. Children play and chat happily—and I used to find numerous things to do, such as reading magazines and even sewing on buttons as I sat within an arm’s reach of the kids, so there was no risk of tragic accidents.
Keeping a stack of face-washers or microfibre cloths close-by helps to quickly wipe sticky fingers and mouths, and to wipe off tables, chairs and everything else on which those little sticky fingers left their mark. I’ve seen parents teaching their children to do the same.
Tastebuds will be happier if the children work with you as you prepare their snacks or meals. They’re more likely to eat what they’ve prepared themselves. It’s an easy form of entertainment and it gives them life skills.
Make sure to do this before they are hungry, or it won’t be a good experience for anybody.
Encourage creativity. But too much clutter and unsorted toys tend to overwhelm children (and adults).
Sometimes it’s worthwhile keeping some toys packed away for a season while others are played with. Sometimes there’s just so much stuff you don’t even know where to begin.
Try using a kitchen timer and a clothes basket or a big box. And see if all of you can pick up all the toys and things from the floor and put them into the basket before the timer goes off.
If ‘team effort’ is somewhat lacking, give a challenge such as, ‘I’m going to pick up the red things. Which colour are you going to pick up? Ready, set … go!’ – Remember, you’re the adult. They’ll watch what you do and will learn from whatever you do next.
A hint: You may have to start first and ‘enjoy’ yourself before they’ll join in. Their enthusiasm may depend on your acting ability.
Include ‘clean-up’ as an important part of play–although it’s worthwhile to find a space for ‘works in progress’ too, especially as children grow older.
A message to generous grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents: if you give a present such as Lego or something with bits, consider also giving a container big enough to fit in all the pieces when children (or spatially-challenged parents) need to pack it all up—and make sure it’s stackable. Shoeboxes and ice-cream containers work really well.
Balls, balloons and bubbles
Balls, balloons and bubbles are inexpensive and easy to have on hand—at home and on trips.
Even if you’re in the car or on a plane, in a doctor’s waiting room, or a church pew or a schoolyard, remember that you can be in charge of the atmosphere. Packs of cards, a notebook and pencil—anything that gives the children something to concentrate on other than their discomfort—can contribute to a better atmosphere.
A note about electrical games: My own personal experience is that though some kids are fine with them, others (like me) get cranky while playing them. One of my kids couldn’t concentrate at school or focus on anything after they’d had a session on a screen. Simply changing their screen-time to later in the day or after school, before dinner time helped them to stay focused at school.
A lo-o-o-ng trip
I remember a lo-o-o-ng car trip from Adelaide to Brisbane. Somewhere along the way, the kids in the back seat began to moan and whine.
So we stopped by the side of the road, held the hands of our children, told them to be very quiet, and we all went ‘platypus hunting’.
It’s amazing how interesting a creek by the side of the road can become. Bushes that infrequently occur on the Hay Plain or little tracks at a local park can become the sites of great adventures. It’s also amazing how quiet six-year-old boys can be when platypus hunting!
Never too late
Oh, how I wish that I’d known about taking charge of the atmosphere much sooner. But even now, when young adults and their frequently visiting friends inhabit our house, that same principle works equally well.
It’s never too late to change a toxic atmosphere, no matter how old you are.
Perhaps we could all change the world—a bottle of bubbles at a time.
Originally published in The Lutheran, June 2012