The 5 ways I stay productive in lockdown... with a toddler.

When a two-week lockdown was announced for New South Wales in June, I welcomed it like a blessing in disguise.

For a mother with a two-year-old and pandemic-induced FOMO, it presented the perfect opportunity to potty train - without having to be the only one sitting at home for it. No potential coffee dates would be missed. Not a single day of our long-awaited summer break would have to be given up. 

So as soon as Gladys got off that press conference, I was rolling up the rugs at home thinking 'this is it, this is my chance, it’s now or never, man'.

Watch parents of toddlers: translated. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

Turned out it wasn’t then or never. Weeks later, my daughter no longer needed bribery to potty, but my sleep patterns were spiralling out of control. Watching her muddle through her upturned life wasn’t an easy feat, and I’d begun channelling all my energy towards keeping her entertained. It was a surefire recipe for self-sabotage. 

As someone who’d tuck herself into bed with a book at 10pm, I started sleeping long after 12:30am just to have that extra bit of time, space and silence to myself. At first, watching Friends on my laptop in bed became a ‘me time’ staple because it meant I was at least falling asleep happy.

But then I started receiving emails about posts being dispatched. 

Opening every package came with a mild surprise, because I didn’t quite remember the emotional impulse shopping I did at 1:40am six days before. It was like receiving gifts from an admirer who knew exactly how I liked to dress my child and the kind of books I read. Every time I answered the door for a delivery, I’d close my eyes, take a deep breath in and say, ‘it’s like a reward’ (lockdown has meant too much time on Instagram and I am now a walking meme generator). 

And then, of course, just like any other sensible person, I realised this was probably not a healthy coping mechanism. 

Battling this meant restructuring what lockdown looked like for us. So I found ways of creating pockets of time for myself whilst keeping my toddler happily occupied. 

This is what worked for us in reestablishing the balance:

Setting up activity stations around the house during her nap.

This can be sticking several strips of Washi tape on your sliding door (an extra one for every twenty seconds of free time you’d like, so do the math). To spice things up a little, leave a piece of paper on the floor and ask her to stick what she’s peeled off on there and if you’re willing to sacrifice a roll of Washi tape for another sweet five minutes of peace, hand over the roll and let them go for gold. 


Another idea is to use a thread to hang a ‘washing line’ between the legs of a coffee table and leave a basket of socks and pegs near it. This one is generally something she keeps coming back to during the day, giving me at least five minutes each time.

Duct tape is also great. Create a ‘web’ of this in a corner of your home, leave it near a basket of plastic balls they can stick on the strips, and have your coffee hot. 

Arrange empty jars or containers with their lids in two separate piles on a play mat, and voila! Depending on her temperament that day, I’ve just saved myself anywhere between five and 25 minutes. As soon as you notice they’re about to leave it, feel free to sneak in a handful of paddle pop sticks or q-tips to lengthen the playtime. 

Extra tip: straws stuck in mounds of play dough with a bowl of fruit loops or pasta for them to stack might give you enough time to prep dinner. 

Image: Mualla Aydogan. 

Maximising outdoor playtime.

One of my (er, our) favourite pastimes has been weeding the pebbled walkway on the side of our house. Yes, fine motor skills and perking interest in nature and all are a plus but, once your child is really engrossed in pulling those thread thin weeds and putting them in the container you’ve given her, you’ll be able to read about two pages from your current book or sneak in maybe three minutes of time on your phone to check messages and browse social media.

This lockdown has also brought with it a newfound love for chalk. You can make chalk paint by mixing crumbled chalk with water, but we’ve personally loved adding our own twist to hop-scotch. Drawing images or symbols that I want her to learn inside the boxes then asking her to jump on the ones I call out makes for a dynamic learning activity, but it gets even better when she gets a little carried away drawing her own and, well, I get a few minutes to soak in the sunshine myself. 


Image: Mualla Aydogan. 

Having designated quiet times.

My daughter enjoys starting her day in bed with a snack, some books, and an hour to herself before breakfast. This gives me time to tend to some of the work I need to get done with a fresh mind. Greeting the morning at our own pace and space results in both of us being calm and collected when we’re ready to head downstairs. 

This generally repeats itself after her nap but on days that it doesn’t, it helps to set aside another hour in the afternoon for both of us to wind down with a quiet activity such as colouring in - feel free to sneak off, if you can, to do something else that fills your cup!

Image: Mualla Aydogan.  


Going about my day.

There is something gently assertive about doing what you need to get done and I’ve accepted that given the circumstances, sometimes that is just all you can do. On really busy days, I try to soften this by leaving certain chores for us to do together. This could be unloading the dishwasher, wiping surfaces, feeding the cat, or baking something simple. This also gives her the space to use the resources I’ve already provided her, and the boredom she needs to get creative with them. 

Listen to This Glorious Mess, where hosts Leigh and Tegan share how to get your toddler to eat anything. Post continues after audio.

Sharing the load with my husband.

On weekdays, my husband is in charge of bath and bedtime rituals. This gives me at least thirty minutes at the end of each day for a workout before we embark on a ninety-minute movie session. Now that they’re our main source of entertainment, having an agenda such as catching up with iconic shows we hadn’t watched keeps things interesting. 

When life gives me weekends in lockdown, I make them business days. Without access to daycare, as a writer, the only substantial block of time I get to work is when my husband is home. Leaving the father and daughter pair to each other for a few hours on Saturdays helps me keep on top of things, earning me the peace of mind I need to spend our Sunday as a family and recharge for the week ahead. 

The postman is now seldom at our door with parcels I don’t recognise and I no longer fall asleep to Phoebe singing ‘Smelly Cat.’ 

Feature Image: Mamamia and Mualla Aydogan.

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