How to entertain kids when you’re exhausted or sick + why I’ve been BOTH lately

Whether it’s morning sickness, the flu, or a hangover from being up all night with a needy baby, these low-energy ideas will help you entertain kids when you’re exhausted. Whether it's morning sickness, the flu, or a hangover from being up all night with a needy baby, these low-energy ideas will help you entertain kids when you're sick...or tired...or both.

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If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen that our little family shared some fun news over the weekend: Little Man and Little Brother are going to be getting a NEW little sibling in September of this year!

Introducing baby BOY #3!Apparently, we only know how to make boys around here, but that’s okay because I LOVE being a boy mom. Before I had my first child, I was a little nervous about having boys because I’m more of a girly-girl, and I didn’t know what to do with a boy. But almost five years later, I’ve LOVED my little boys! I have learned more about dinosaurs, construction vehicles, and all the ways you can use dirt than I could have imagined. Hooray for boys!

Everything with this little guy looks great according to the ultrasound, and I’m super grateful for that. I don’t get really sick with pregnancies, thankfully, but I will say that this one has been my hardest. Let’s just say that in February, I lived in a state of general “ick” and subsisted mostly on ginger ale, apples, and crackers. I tell you what…being pregnant WHILE raising two rambunctious little boys AND surviving the cold, dark winter is no small task.

I love being at home with my boys, and I want to be actively involved in their lives, but for a a couple of months there I just didn’t have the energy to do a whole lot. We made it through, thankfully, and spring has brought with it new life for me as well as for the trees outside my window, and I’m so glad to be feeling better.

Now that I’m through the icky morning sickness part of pregnancy, I thought I would share some ideas for how to entertain your kids when you are exhausted. Whether it’s morning sickness, the flu, or a hangover from being up all night with a needy baby, these low-energy ideas will help you play with your kids without getting off the couch…at least very much.

How to entertain kids when you’re exhausted

1. The Sleeping Dragon game

You pretend to be the sleeping dragon who has a treasure while your child tries to steal it. Simply choose a toy (we actually have a little treasure box that my boys love, but we’ve used other toys or stuffed animals, too) and lay down on the couch or floor with the “treasure” next to you. Your child’s quest is to tip-toe as quietly as possible across the room and steal the treasure before you wake up. If you hear him or her, open your eyes, growl and send the brave knight running back to the other side of the room to try again. My kids LOVE this, and I only have to lift my head occasionally.

2. Play doctor

You ARE sick, after all, so milk it for all it’s worth. Have your child be the doctor and fix your various injuries and illnesses. We gave this little doctor kit to Little Man a year ago for Christmas, and it’s gotten lots of use. Sometimes they want to take a turn being the patient, but being the doctor is still pretty low on the energy-requirement scale.

3. Indoor obstacle course (you get to be the timer)

This is a great way to wear the kids out without having to run around with them. Just gather items from around the house, or use the furniture as it stands, and make an obstacle course with your child…think American Ninja Warrior. For example, crawl under the kitchen table, go around the couch, hop on the pillows, walk across the blanket “bridge”, and tag the door to finish. You can make it as complex or simple as you want. Little Man will do the same course over and over again, trying to go faster each time. I sit on the couch and time him and cheer him on, happily not moving.

4. Dig in cloud dough

If you’re okay with cleaning up a very sweepable (I love making up words) mess after a good, long play session, break out the sensory bins. This two-ingredient cloud dough has gotten us through many winter days of the boys happily digging and scooping. They usually need a bath afterwards, but it usually keeps them busy for at least a half hour, often more.

5. Break out the rice bin

For the past six months, Little Brother’s absolute favorite activity has been digging in a bin of rice. It’s just a rectangular bucket (actually the one they sent me home with from the hospital filled with goodies when he was born) that I dumped a bunch of regular, cheap white rice in. I swear, this child is going to be an engineer or something with as much as he loves tinkering. He will literally play with a bin of rice for over an hour independently. He’s pretty good about keeping it in the bin for the most part, but inevitably some spills on the table and floor. Still, it sweeps up super easily (even more so than cloud dough), so I’m willing to sweep for five minutes after getting an hour of play from such a simple, inexpensive activity.

6. Make reading time special

I could lay on a couch and read ALL day long. I’ve been a bookworm for as long as I can remember. My boys don’t have quite the same stamina for reading as I do, but they do love story time, so we spend a lot of time reading books. Sometimes on days when I didn’t feel well early in pregnancy, I would invite the boys into Mommy’s bed for a special reading party. I would let each of them pick out a big pile of books and we would all snuggle under the covers for as long as their attention lasted (often 20-30 minutes). You can also make reading time special by making a tent/fort, making a bird’s nest with blankets and pillows on the floor, or whatever else you can think of.

Here are some of our favorite books, all of which have made many appearances during our special snuggle reading time:

10 Laugh-out-loud Funny Children’s Books
Best Board Books for Toddlers
Favorite picture books we discovered in 2016
12 Awesome Alphabet Books to Start the School Year Right

7. Do puzzles or play board games

Anything you can do while sitting down is a plus, right? As much as I loathe Chutes and Ladders, I played it a lot this winter because it meant that I at least got to sit down and not jostle my sensitive stomach. You don’t have to play games you hate either. Some of our favorites are Tenzi, Trouble, and Alphabet Kaboom!

 8. Play with water

Both of my boys love standing on a chair at the kitchen sink or on a stool in the bathroom and “washing” their toys. Give them a little soap, make sure the counters are clean of anything that could be damaged by spills, and let them play.

Alternatively, throw them in the tub for a play bath when you’re completely exhausted. On nights when my husband has to work late, I make sure to schedule in an extra long bath time. Sometimes we sing songs and play together, but sometimes I just let them do their own thing while I zone out. It’s a great way for me to get a break while the boys happily (mostly) play in the tub for 20-30 minutes.

If the weather is good, give the kids paintbrushes and buckets of water and let them paint the driveway or back patio. Challenge them to make shapes, letters, or numbers. All of these activities have been really successful at keeping my busy boys busy for at least 20 minutes at a time.

9. Flashlights in the dark

Raid your emergency supplies and give each of your children a flashlight (snag one for yourself, too). Go into a dark room (the kids’ room with blackout curtains pulled is effective) and play with the flashlights. Here are some ideas:

  • Play the classic flashlight tag
  • Play “I spy” and shine your light on each object you’re guessing
  • “Draw” shapes, letters, or numbers on the walls and try to guess what the other person drew.

10. Don’t underestimate the power of novelty

When all else fails, try giving your kids something completely new and random to explore. A large cardboard box, a pile of tupperware, an empty cereal box, your old jewelry, a toy they haven’t seen in months…whenever something is new, it’s likely to keep their attention for at least a few minutes.

Good luck, mommas! You will survive the rough days and make it back to feeling human again…with the help of these ten ways to keep your kids busy (and even to interact with them meaningfully) without expending your non-existent energy.

Thankfully, I’m through the worst of the exhaustion and sickness of pregnancy, but momma still isn’t running a marathon any time soon. Hopefully you’ll find these activities as useful and enjoyable as we have.

How do you entertain kids when you’re exhausted? (Still moderately tired momma looking for more ideas…send help!)

Whether it's morning sickness, the flu, or a hangover from being up all night with a needy baby, these low-energy ideas will help you entertain kids when you're sick...or tired...or both.

24 thoughts on “How to entertain kids when you’re exhausted or sick + why I’ve been BOTH lately

    1. Oh no! Somehow (knock on wood) I don’t think I’ve ever had to deal with both parents being sick at once, but that sounds awful! I hope there ISN’T a next time for you, but if there is, I hope these ideas help!

  1. These are awesome ideas! Love the dragon idea & always a cardboard box! I too was so sick during both my pregnancies. Good luck with baby boy #3

    1. Thanks, Jenny! Sleeping Dragon makes regular appearances around our house, especially after 4 o’clock in the afternoon when I’m just DONE for the day.

  2. Congrats! This past pregnancy I went through I had to get very very creative. I had 4 little ones! two are school age so it wasn’t too hard entertaining them. The toddlers on the other hand were a challenge. Reading is a great way to keep things calm and quiet and also doubles as a way to get out the house by going to the library. -Breyona Sharpnack Savage Seven Blog

  3. Ok these are all such great ideas! You sound like an amazing momma! Love the sleeping dragon game and the rice bin idea! We had one of those in my kindergarten class growing up and it was a HIT!

  4. congrats on the baby!! So exciting!!! It can be pretty rough! get some rest and I hope these tips for well for you!

    1. TV is completely acceptable. When I had baby #2, I just set my expectation that #1 would watch a little more TV for awhile while we all got adjusted to life again. I’m pretty sure he’s still relatively normal, so I don’t think a little TV during a rough patch is permanently damaging. 🙂 Sometimes, we just have to give ourselves permission to give ourselves the break we need for a bit.

  5. Congratulations, and thank you for another great post! Wish I had read this a month ago when I was dog sick trying to work and take care of my baby!

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