How to Turn Around a Bad Day with Kids

We all have bad days.

Every parent has experienced one of those days when nothing seems to go right. Maybe you accidently slept in, which set your entire morning routine behind – and you were supposed to be at a doctor’s appointment by 9am. You rushed around madly trying to get yourself ready, the kids dressed and everyone fed. The baby threw their Weetbix at you, and you had to change your outfit, and theirs. The toddler had a meltdown because they didn’t want to wear shoes today, or they wanted to wear shorts even though it’s the middle of winter. You finally got out the door when you realised the pram had a flat tyre, so you decided the toddler could walk and you could carry the baby in the sling. You were wrong. The toddler had another meltdown as you tried to get him on the bus. You made it to the appointment (only 15 minutes late) and the baby fell asleep right before the doctor put a needle in his leg. Screaming baby, psychotic toddler.

You know how this story goes. You were ready to throw yourself on the floor and cry like a baby.

It’s a bad day.

I’ve had many of those bad days – some less dramatic, and others far more. But I now have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to stopping bad days in their tracks. A bad morning doesn’t have to mean a bad night; and bad day doesn’t have to turn into a bad week.

I want to share with you a fun list of things to try when you need to reset a bad day. These are activities and strategies that work well for us, with an older baby and a pre-schooler. I’d love to hear what works for other people, especially those with older kids – I’m sure I’ll need your advice in the future!

How to turn around a Bad Day with Kids

Get Outside

I’ve spoken about this on Sunny Mondays before, but I think it’s important enough to repeat. Getting out of the house is one of the most simple and effective ways of livening up your day. I aim to go outside once a day, but if we’re having a difficult day I will sometimes take the boys to the park twice! While you’re outside, why not try one of these ways to turn around a challenging day?

  • Set up an obstacle course – Kids love obstacle courses, and setting one up in your backyard (or even in your living room on a rainy day) is the perfect way to distract little ones and change their attitude or behaviour in a hurry.
  • Jump! – We are lucky enough to have an enclosed trampoline, which is perfect for little boys who have a lot of energy. Why not hop on too, Mama? It might be just what you need to make it through the afternoon.
  • Go for a swim – It’s Winter here in Australia, but during the warmer months a swim is a fantastic way to turn around a bad day. Jump in the water and feel the stress wash away. Bliss…
  • Have a picnic – One of my favourite things to do on a lazy day with the kids is to take our morning tea or our lunch outside for a picnic. The food doesn’t have to be anything fancy or special. I just pack up whatever I would have fed them at home, and set up a picnic rug on the grass at our local park. Just being in the sunshine really lifts our spirits. And if it feels too difficult to get to the park, we sometimes set up a picnic on our balcony. A change of scenery is the easiest way to smooth out a rough day.
  • Other fun outdoor activities to brighten little faces: blowing bubbles, playing ‘Chasing’, building sandcastles, making mudpies, picking flowers, watering the garden bed, splashing in a wading pool, jumping in puddles (if Mum is feeling brave!), chalk drawing.

Outdoor play

Indoor Fun

Some days it just isn’t possible to get outside, so whether it’s a rainy day or it’s the baby’s naptime, these ideas are sure to shake up a bad day even if you’re stuck inside.

  • Spontaneous living-room dance party – put on some fun music (it doesn’t have to be The Wiggles!) and start dancing! Both my kids love our dance parties. It’s the perfect way to inject some fun into the day, and shake out any pent up energy or frustrations. Fun for kids and adults!
  • 10-minute challenges – Jack loves these. I first heard about setting 10-minute challenges from Kate Pickle from picklebums.com. It doesn’t even matter what the challenge is, but kids love having a fun task to complete, especially if there’s a cool reward at the end. Jack’s favourite challenge goes like this: you have 10 minutes to build a Lego tower, but the catch is, you can only use one colour. We have an enormous Lego collection, and he loves rummaging through the huge box in search of the right colour.
  • Cuddles – Everyone loves having a cuddle! I think it’s the perfect way to reconnect after atesting moment, or as a way to say sorry if I catch myself yelling at the kids. All parents occasionally have their own tantrums, but it doesn’t feel very nice for either party. I would expect an apology and a cuddle from my kids if they yelled at me, so I do the same for them. Hugging also releases oxytocin, which is the body’s ‘love hormone’. Oxytocin has been shown to reduce the stress response, which lowers feelings of anxiety*. Give your kids a hug when they are stressing you out, and there’s a good chance you will all calm down and chill out.
  • YogaYoga is a wonderful play activity for kids and adults alike. My boys love “doing yoga” with me, which often involves them crawling underneath me when I’m in downward dog, or laying on my tummy while I lay on my yoga mat. It’s a gentle way to reset and relax.
  • Do a quick clean-up – I don’t know what it is about mess, but when our house is untidy, our days seem to unravel very quickly. If I sense that our messy living room is contributing to some of my stress, I will try to do a super quick tidy up. Having a clean space to play in really seems to encourage my boys to play nicely.
  • Other fun indoor activities to turn around a bad day: playing ‘Catch’ with a balloon, lay on the floor while listening to soothing music, snuggling on the couch while watching a kids show, building a tent.

Indoor play

Play When You're Out-and-About

Sometimes a bad day occurs when you’re already out of the house. Those days are the really tricky ones. The kids don’t have their normal comfort things within reach, and it never helps to have strangers watching as you try to wrangle unruly kids.

  • Have a treat waiting for them at home – It is tempting to bribe the kids with lollies in exchange for good behaviour, but bribery rarely works for us for very long. Once the lollipop is eaten, the whinging usually starts again. So instead of sweet treats, I remind Jack of all the fun things he can do once we get home. Usually the promise of watching Toy Story or playing ‘Hide and Seek’ is enough to lift his spirits until we are home.
  • Make a detour – If I’m out with the kids and I’m not in a hurry, I try to make a detour to a kid-friendly place. The park is the best option – it’s free and full of fresh air and exercise – but I also like taking them to the local library to borrow some books or DVDs, or to the little indoor playground at our local shopping centre. It’s all about giving them a chance to play and explore, without being confined to the stroller all day.

A few important reminders:

Please remember, Mama: Tomorrow is a new day. Even if today has been frustrating, stressful or upsetting, tomorrow will probably be better. And if it isn’t, the next day might be instead.

But it’s so important to remember that if the bad days are piling up, and you don’t feel like you’re coping, help is available. Please ask for help. Family and friends are usually more willing to help than you may think.

For my Australian readers, BeyondBlue, the Post and Antenatal Depression Association (PANDA) and Karitane are fantastic places to start, as is your GP.

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Do you have any tips to add to this list? How do you reset when you’re having a bad day? Let me know in the comments below!

*For more interesting info about oxytocin, have a read of this article by Jane Mulkerrins of the Daily Mail – Happy Hormone: Why it really is good to hug

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4 thoughts on “How to Turn Around a Bad Day with Kids

  1. I’m so glad that you enjoy spending time doing fun things with the boys. They grow up so fast so enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

    1. We do have fun! It’s not hard when they’re so adorable (looking through those old photos made me realise how much Jack has grown up this year. It’s scary!)

  2. Hi Rebecca, I’m a fellow blog heart 🙂 I love your ideas for the kiddie and mama resets. We already do some of them and it’s always good to have more up my sleeve. Thanks!
    I love the sunny, bright, happy feel of your blog. I’m taking notes – ha 🙂

    1. Hi Helen 🙂

      Thanks so much for your comment! I’m glad you liked the post – it was probably my favourite one to write so far. And thanks for your lovely feedback. I’m actually about to do a bit of a design makeover, so hopefully it will be even more sunny when I’m done 🙂 I’m off to visit your blog now, can’t wait!

      Rebecca x
      P.S. How amazing is the blog hearted community?!?

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