Relationships; joyful or difficult, they all need the 5 A’s

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Some time back I was privileged to hear Alma Wakefield of Elijah Ministries address the ladies at family camp. She reminded us of the importance of the “5 A’s” in our interactions with others.

  1. Affirmation (showing value in a person)
  2. Appreciation (thankfulness)
  3. Affection (Love languages)
  4. Acceptance (Things you can’t change)
  5. Authenticity (Our relationship with God is our priority)

As we come into the Christmas period, it is a good reminder for all of our relationships. Is there a difficult relationship that you dread renewing at this time of year? Difficult relationships need the 5 A’s.

Is there a particular child who is getting under your skin? Children need the 5 A’s.

Have you been making your marriage relationship a priority? Husbands need the 5 A’s.

All relationships need the 5 A’s. Give yourself a relationship check-up to see if you need to spend a little more time on the 5 A’s.

other posts you may find helpful:

Stay at home date-night ideas

101 Family night ideas

The 3 times rule for husbands

Filling their love tank: The 5 Love Languages of Children

The 5 Love Languages of ChildrenThe Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That LastsThe 5 Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret of Loving Teens Effectively

Each of us expresses love to others and feels loved by others in different ways. These can be categorized into the 5 love languages of physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service. Most of us appreciate being loved in all 5 ways, but usually one way will speak to us more strongly than the others and is known as our primary love language.

Why do we need to know? Because it is possible to be expressing your love to your child (or spouse) in one love language (usually your own) and virtually ignoring the love language that makes them feel the most loved. Many children and adults can travel through life feeling unloved, regardless of the fact that their family members do indeed love them very much, they are just not expressing it in that person’s primary love language.

To find out which is the love language of your child, spouse, loved ones or yourself, there are several online tests. Reading “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman (and the rest of the series) will give you a much greater understanding and help you to be more accurate in your diagnosis.

Online tests:

Combine these tests with your own observations of how your child expresses love to you and others, what they ask for or complain about and discussions you have with them about what makes them feel most loved. I would recommend reading the books before you start as the best way to give yourself enough information to make a more accurate assessment.

Beware of pigeon-holing children into one love language too early.  Children need to be shown love in all 5 ways and it is difficult to tell their primary love language before the age of 6 or 7. They must also learn to express all 5 love languages. Who knows what their future spouse and children’s love language will be? Teens too will often go through periods of change so look out for this.

When discipline issues arise, first check your child’s love tank. If we ensure that our children feel well-loved then some issues will disappear without any other action on our behalf. Expect children to display childish behaviours. They are sinners just like you and we shouldn’t be surprised when they mess up. Be proactive and approach correction with a plan and calmness rather than anger and withdrawal.

Love must be unconditional. When you least feel like loving them is when they most need it. When you are having one of “those” days, take a break from the routine and spend 15 minutes filling their love tanks. We may not feel loving but we can still act in a loving way.

Teach children to fill other people’s love languages. Explain how siblings and parents in your family feel loved. Brainstorm ways the children can show love to each other. Take a few minutes regularly to plan with individual children one thing they can do to show love to a family member today. Make sure you demonstrate love for your spouse in front of the children.

Here are some specific ways that parents can show love to their children in each of the 5 love languages.

Physical Touch

  • hugs, kisses, cuddles
  • hand on back or shoulders while talking, passing by or during correction
  • back rub, massages
  • sitting on lap or cuddled up close
  • carrying or piggy-backing a child to bed rather than walking
  • wrestling, sock wrestling, rough and tumble, tickles
  • bumping on the way past, covering eyes, tousling hair
  • older boys like jostling, playful punching, high 5’s, bear hugs, contact sports
  • fathers need to be careful to continue displaying appropriate physical touch to teen girls
  • family prayer time before leaving the house in the morning including physical touch and goodbye hug
  • sitting or laying together on the bed and story time with cuddles as part of a goodnight ritual
  • finding them when you arrive home and give them a hug and kiss
  • games involving touch – Ninja, footsies, handsies
  • rub down or massage after sporting activity
  • pamper time with foot washing, manicures and pedicures, hair brushing and special hair-dos
  • teens may not want open displays in front of others. They may not respond openly to your physical touch, but may still want to receive it

Avoid:

  • rough touch, harsh or irritated touching, touching in anger or hostility and physically hurrying a child along.

Words of Affirmation

  • Cheer at sports games and give verbal encouragement throughout any kind of event or performance
  • Write thank you notes, encouragement, love letters, birthday card messages with depth and meaning. Make sure Dad writes messages in birthday cards as well as Mum.
  • Let them hear you praise them to others
  • Tone of voice and eye contact is important
  • Use words of appreciation for what and who they are, as well as words of praise for what they do or achieve
  • Avoid insincere or false praise and flattery. Do not give praise that isn’t genuine or deserved
  • Praise character rather than just achievement
  • Catch your child doing good and commend them for it
  • Lunchbox & whiteboard notes (Pop a small note in their school lunchbox for them to discover at lunchtime or for homeschoolers, Dad may write a message on the whiteboard before he leaves for work.)
  • Say “I love you” every day and do not connect it to any kind of condition (I love you, will you please….)
  • Write and post a real letter for the child to take from the mail box.
  • Send an invitation to your child for a special day or event you have planned.
  • Yearly reflections from Mum (Keeping a written record of achievements, milestones, special events and other information about each child. Perhaps in a photo album as part of your scrapbooking.)
  • Birthday letters from Dad (Imagine having a letter from your Father every year of your life tucked away. It could be filled with encouragement, advice, memories or anything that communicates love.)
  • Praise plates

Avoid:

  • Talking negatively about your child to others, especially in their hearing
  • Teasing, ribbing or put-downs
  • Criticism and harsh words. Do not allow your frustration to come out in cutting words or sarcasm.

Quality Time

  • One-on-one time is important. Have a routine and spend time early in the day doing something together with your child before expecting them to spend time alone, even if it is only for 15 minutes. (Older children will happily wait if they know that there is a regular time planned for you to be together.) Use daily events as opportunities to spend time alone with individual children e.g. Roster one kitchen helper who helps to prepare dinner each night. Plan quality time into your day so that the time is already designated and set aside. You are then less likely to feel like you should be doing something else.
  • Take one child with you whenever you run errands. Perhaps incorporate a special treat while you are out.
  • Occasionally plan parent/child dates that are over and above the ordinary. (Don’t forget to plan dates with your spouse too!)
  • Plan family nights, holidays and special events to do together.
  • Maybe you need to remove something from your life so that you have the time for each child. TV perhaps?
  • As teens (especially boys) grow and mature, they often need to be doing something with you to open up and talk. Consider planning to have a pool table, ping-pong table, car to fix up or some other hobby that allows for communication while doing something.
  • Be open to the “window of opportunity” for sharing. Time in the dark before bed is an excellent time for this.
  • Eat meals together as a family, without a television on in the background.
  • Kidnap them from school at lunchtime as a surprise (arrange this with the teacher first!) and go for a lunch date together.
  • Go camping together
  • Go for a walk around the neighbourhood.

Gifts

  • Gifts need not be expensive to be appreciated. Something thoughtful will be treasured too. Be aware though, that the occasional investment into a larger gift is required or the message may be that they are not worth much.
  • The little bibs and bobs they make for you are important – regard them with appreciation
  • If you are away, bring home a gift.
  • Gift giving must come with the other love languages to express true love. If emotional love tanks are empty, a gift will not fill them up alone and may in fact be treated with disdain. A trip to the shopping centre together to choose new PJ’s for winter covers quality time and gift giving.
  • Do not use gifts as bribery.
  • Avoid excess. If gifts are given in vast quantity they lose their specialness.
  • Take care in choosing gifts. If the gift is given with love and thought, a gifts child will love it just because it came from you. If they perceive that you have not made any effort with the choice it cheapens the gift.
  • When you hear them comment on something that they like, make a note of it and refer to this list when it comes time to choose a gift. Perhaps add smaller items to your Mummy and Daddy shop for siblings to purchase from.
  • Occasionally give a gift “just because,” not just on a birthday or Christmas.
  • Wrap up any item you would usually just give to your child. New shoes, a hat for summer, a new school lunch box etc. Paper and bows are important and beautifully presenting the gift makes it doubly special. If a gift comes with little pieces, wrap them all separately and perhaps have a treasure hunt to find them. Do not rush the opening process; it is part of the experience.

Acts of Service

  • Generally it is a good idea to only do things for your child that they are unable to do themselves. We want to promote diligence and a hard-working attitude. However, an acts of service child will love you to dry them after their shower, brush their hair, dress them, put their shoes on or any other task that they are quite capable of doing for themselves every now and again.
  •  If they ask you to do something for them or fix something, make an effort to do it quickly. It means more to them than it does to others.
  • If help is requested and is genuinely needed, give it as soon as you can.
  • Time together working on projects, cleaning something they want cleaned or achieving something they would like done will be appreciated.
  • Occasionally do one of their chores for them and when asked why, tell them it was just because you love them.

Sibling Relationships

We all want our children to get along and to enjoy being with each other. I would take that one step further and say that I’d like them to develop life-long friendships and to be each other’s best friends throughout the childhood years. So what is our role in this process? Throwing them together and hoping for the best is unlikely to yield the outcome we are looking for, so some proactive parenting is necessary. Here are some specific steps we can take as parents to help siblings develop close relationships.

Have a routine. Too much time together, particularly unstructured time, is a recipe for conflict. Nerves become frayed and patience short. Think about the time of day that siblings play together. If they are tired and hungry things are unlikely to go well. The length of time is important. Wind it up while everyone is still having fun. Finish on a positive note rather than waiting until play turns sour.

Refer to them as best friends. Tell children regularly that they are each other’s best friends. Talk about how other friends will come and go but brothers and sisters will always be there for each other. Ask them if they are treating their sibling as a best friend should.

Supervise sibling play times. If children are not getting along well then they should not be given the freedom of unsupervised play together. Mum or Dad need to be within earshot and ready to step in before a situation blows up into a conflict. If you can hear a problem brewing and fail to do something about it then you as a parent are partly responsible for it. There is a place when children are older to let conflict run it’s course and give them the opportunity to use the conflict resolution skills you are teaching them. If they are never tested or given the opportunity to do what is right, then they will not be able to grow in this area. Be wise with this though.

Good modelling. Older children should be regularly reminded of their responsibility to be a good role-model. Even young children are a role-model if there is a younger sibling behind them or to friends outside of the immediate family. Teach children about good leadership; learning when to follow a good leader and when to be a good leader.

Non-conflict training. The majority of your training should be in times of non-conflict, rather than in the heat of the moment. Take time to teach Godly character. Act out and work through common conflict scenarios. Role-play conflict resolution and negotiation skills. Teach specific phrases for dealing with conflicts the children are likely to face; turn- taking for example.

Personality Types. Spend time teaching your children about the different personality types. Help them to identify their character strengths and weaknesses and to work on improving those weaknesses. Help them to understand each other better and relate with other’s needs in mind.

Dominion. All children need to have personal dominion over something. Special toys that are theirs alone and that they are not required to share is an excellent way of allowing them to exercise this dominion. Toys that they are not prepared to share should as a general rule not be used during playtimes together. If a sibling wishes to use that particular toy they must ask first and respect the answer given.

Memorise scriptures that relate to the conflicts they often face, such as “A gentle answer turns away wrath.” Ask children what God says about a particular behaviour? Make sure that children know the moral reason why. Read about sibling rivalry and its result in the bible. For example, Joseph and his brothers Gen 37 and Jacob & Esau Gen 25-27.

No means no. Teach children to respect another person’s “no” or “stop.” From a very young age we teach our children to stay “Stop please” when they do not like the play that is going on. They are expected to listen and stop the first time they hear those words. This includes parents and applies to wrestling, tickling, chasing and any other fun game. Children soon learn not to say “Stop please”unless they mean it as our play immediately halts. We avoid just “no” or “don’t” because children often shout those in fun when it is clear they do want the tickling to continue. “Stop please” is not something they would normally say unless they actually mean it.

Conflict resolution. Once a conflict between young children has occurred, walk through from the beginning and model the correct things to say. Ask older children what they should have said and then have them go ahead and say it. Require younger children to repeat the appropriate words after you. Give children specific strategies to address issues they face such as using a timer for turn-taking.

Pow-wow time. Older children can be asked to sit together to talk through the problem calmly and quietly until they reach a compromise that both parties are happy with. Some time apart to calm down may be necessary first. There is to be no yelling, raised voices or unkind words. This works best when a parent steps in before a conflict has had a chance to escalate into something serious. The solution decided on should be bought before the parent to ensure it is fair and equitable, otherwise one child may always assume the “peacemaker” role by simply giving in to their more forceful sibling in order to get the problem sorted out and move on. That is not a fair and suitable compromise. Watch out for older children manipulating younger ones. Both parties should be satisfied with the solution.

Justice and judgment. Teach children that if they are unable to resolve a conflict by themselves they should come to a parent. The idea that children need to just “work it out” is a faulty one. It leads to older, physically stronger or more dominant personality children always getting their own way and unpleasant character traits developing. “Might makes right” becomes the order of the day and good relationships will not be the result.

When someone has been wronged, you as the judge should listen to both sides of the argument. Have one child speak at a time with a calm voice – no interrupting. If there are tears, whining or loss of emotional control in any way, they may need a few moments to sit alone and regain their self-control before bringing the matter before you. Children should be expected to have taken steps themselves to work out the problem before coming to you. Pray for wisdom. The children may be able to come up with a solution themselves or need you to supply one.

When emotions are running high, it may work better to separate the children and hear one side of the story at a time without the other person participating initially. Sometimes this allows children to be more honest about their fault in the situation and what they need to do to make it right.

Telling tales. The difference between tale-telling, tattling or dobbing and sincere reporting of a problem for mediation is all in the attitude. If damage to person or property will occur they should be able to come immediately. The first step is to encourage the other sibling in right behaviour. When the intent is clearly to get another sibling into trouble, rather than a sincere effort to solve the problem, the tale-teller receives the consequence that would otherwise have been given to the offending child. When children first come to you they should be asked whether they have tried to encourage their sibling to do right and also whether they have done all that they can to resolve the problem first. “What have you tried to make this right?” is a good start.

Isolation. Children, especially older children, may need some time to work through the problems alone before coming back together to talk it through with the other party. Ask them to think through their responsibility in the situation, whether they have treated their sibling as a best friend and what God’s word has to say about it.

Physical touch. Hugging or shaking hands when the matter is resolved melts the tension and helps to repair friendships. Verbal forgiveness needs to be asked for and given. Shaking hands afterwards often helps children to break through that last barrier of unresolved anger or hard feelings towards their sibling. While children can forgive someone without hugging or shaking, often this physical contact will get them smiling at each other again.

Forgiveness and restitution. Saying “sorry” is for accidents, not for deliberate acts of unkindness. If the wrong was intentional then forgiveness is needed. Model this by asking for forgiveness yourself when you are in the wrong. Children are very forgiving and LOVE it when a parent apologizes and asks them for forgiveness. If something has been destroyed, taken or otherwise damaged, restitution or “paying back” must be made. A child who has knocked over another child’s tower can build it back up. A child who has drawn in a sister’s book can use their pocket-money to buy another one.

Consequences. Clear consequences for wrong behaviour should be given and acted upon consistently. Some examples of consequences for unkind behaviour are acts of service, losing the opportunity to play together and saying 3 nice things about the other person’s character – not physical features. See spoiled walls.

Reinforcement. Character reinforcement systems may be useful to jumpstart the process. Praise good behaviour and character when children do the right thing; catch them being good. Use specific praise that clearly labels what it is they are doing well. You may like to temporarily introduce a marble jar, praise plate, or treasure tree system.

The sorting out prayer is useful for the wronged child to work through and helps them to forgive their sibling. Based on biblical instruction, it is something we will introduce as the children get older and have to deal with more weighty situations.

“If… then…” charts are good for clear consequences. Take the time to write them up with the children’s help and refer to them when a problem occurs.

Resources:

I have linked to The Book Depository when products are available through them as that is the cheapest source for Australia in most cases. Other sources as stated.

Personality Plus: How to Understand Others by Understanding Yourself


For general personality information and identification see Personality Plus by Florence Littauer.

Personality Plus for Parents

Personality Plus for Parents is by the same author with more information specifically for parents.

Spirit-Controlled Temperament

Spirit Controlled Temperament is a Christian take on the 4 temperaments and how the Holy Spirit can help us overcome our inbuilt weaknesses and improve our strengths.

Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends: How to Fight the Good Fight at Home

Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends is a good tool for teens to read through either by themselves or with you, with time to discuss each chapter together.

Proverbs for parenting is an excellent resources for finding what the bible has to say about parenting related topics with Proverbs sorted into easy to reference categories.

 The Power of True Success How to build character in your life.

A good resource for the Christian family for teaching character to children.

Mom's Notes Volume 3 - Notes in Binder

Dealing with sibling conflict by Joey & Carla Link is a topic from the Moms Notes.  These are an excellent resource for all things parenting. Very detailed with ideas for all ages. Brilliant but it is pricey. Audio CDs also available.

For Instruction In Righteousness

For Instructions in Righteousness Pam Forster is another character training resource with bible verses, stories and other ideas for training and building character into your children. (Also available at Heart and Home Bookstore in Australia.)

Four Chart Special

The Brother offended checklist and booklet and If..Then Chart are helpful in the thick of dealing with conflict. Great to take children straight to to help work through their conflicts with a biblical framework. Available separately or in a set at Heart and Home and Doorposts.

Parents Arise

Janine Targett’s book Parents Arise and scripture CDs show you how to use God’s word to overcome character weaknesses amongst other things. This is the source of the “sorting out prayer.”

101 (mostly) stay at home family night ideas

Dog and Bone newspaper hockey championships.


We are about to start another family night. Tonight the plan is for each family member to make their own pizza following a rousing game of Dog and Bone newspaper hockey, with perhaps a sock wrestle afterwards, depending on the state of the troops.

Family night for us is actually in the late afternoon so that we can do all our special things and still get the kids into bed at the usual time. It feels later than it is because we have done so much together before bedtime rolls around.

We have family night as part of a deliberate strategy to build family identity, foster unity and strengthen family ties. The old adage that “the family that plays together stays together” still applies and both quality and quantity time are important. With that in mind, here are lots of ideas to get you started.

  • dark hide and seek A variation on traditional hide and seek which is also lots of fun. Wait until the sun goes down and turn off all the lights in the house. Players move in pairs of one older and one younger family member which reassures those little ones who don’t like being alone in the dark. Hiders use torches to find their place to hide before switching them off, with older family members helping their younger partner to find a hiding place before hiding themselves.  Seeker pairs find by feel and peering about in the dark. It allows a wider variety of hiding places simply because in the dark you can be more exposed and still remain undiscovered. Works well as “Sardines” also – see further down the list for an explanation.
  • photo albums Children are fascinated by photos of themselves and love re-living family memories together. They also enjoy seeing their parents as children and hearing stories about them growing up. My children regularly ask us to tell them about our childhood and ask all sorts of questions about other family members too. Having a new baby and watching me photograph all his milestones prompts a heap of questions about themselves as babies and it is fun to go back through the albums I have created for each child to show them their own special milestones and events.
  • family shields Another way to build family identity is to create shields, banners and flags with mottos, goals, creeds and values that you want to cultivate and uphold as a family. There are lots of examples on the web and instructions on how to do these with ideas and examples of the kids of things you may like to include.
  • sleep-outs Whether it be in the back yard in a tent or cubby house or indoors in the loungeroom, a sleep-over is always heaps of fun. Combine it with fun food, story telling and games or any other family night ideas and you will have a memorable time together.
  • toast marshmallows It’s rare for us to have the opportunity, but a campfire cook-out is always very special, especially for boys! Toast marshmallow, roast damper and potatoes or BBQ over the camp fire for a great evening. Whether it be the real deal, combined with camping out, or simply an evening in the backyard with a gas burner, sitting about the fire is a great way to bring the family together.
  • late library run Once at the library, everyone heads off to find picture books that interest them and meet back together for a shared reading time. Older children can read their picture book to the family and choose a chapter book or two to take home for themselves. If you are game enough, the whole family can go in their PJ’s for some extra fun. The kids will love it and won’t be able to stop giggling at Mum and Dad in their pyjamas too. (Neither will the public, but I dare you to do it anyway!)
  • Duplo charades See here for instructions and ideas.
  • board games and card games Play in teams with older and younger pairs; younger children count squares, move counters and hold the cards while older family members deal with the strategy side of the game.
  •  dog and bone/newspaper hockey Split into 2 teams. Traditionally numbers are allocated so that a given pair (ie. number 1 from each team) comes to the middle when their number is called, however we play that a name from each team is called so that uneven ability matches can be evened out and uneven numbers of team members are not a problem. Each pair races to the middle (we crawl because we play in a combined space), grabs their newspaper bat and hits the ball towards their team goals while the other person attempts to do the same. See photo at top of article.
  • icecream run 50 cent cones from drive through at McDonalds are a bargain for us. Grab one each and head to a beach or somewhere with a view to eat them.
  • trampoline star-gazing On a clear night, take sleeping bags, pillows and blankets onto the tramp to watch the stars and find as many constellations, satellites, aeroplanes or falling stars as you can. Take some kind of treat to snack on while you do it and be prepared for littlies to be jumping all over you while you do it. Perhaps combine this with a good sock wrestle. (See below.)
  • sock wrestling Every family member puts on socks (the longer the better, but only one pair allowed!) The simple rules are that the last person left wearing a sock wins. You may like to confine the wrestling to a certain place or make it a fast paced, wide-ranging game that moves throughout the house. Ground-rules are necessary and older children must be taught how to look after the little ones and how to make it fun for them ie. NOT removing both their socks in the first 3 seconds of the game or handling them too roughly. We like to sock wrestle on the trampoline and Mum and Dad both enjoy the tussle. With little kids, we pretty much wrestle each other while they gang up on us to try to get our socks. It’s harder than you think but lots of fun. You can play that once you have no socks you are out of the game but we let the children continue regardless.
  • giant icecream Sundays Provide a stack of yummy ingredients and everyone helps to create one large masterpiece. All dig in with spoons to the same dish to enjoy the creation once complete. A large serving tray or similar works well.
  • feeling rich? Visit the local ice-skating or roller-skating rink, theme park, miniature golf, bowling, indoor playground centre or other attractions in your city.
  • fish and chips at the beach Summer is perfect for a fish and chip dinner and sandcastle competition or even a dip. If the budget is tight, take tomato sauce, mayo, and a loaf of fresh bread from home and just get a bulk lot of chips for chip buddies.
  • progressive dinner Follow clues to track down the entrée and enjoy it wherever you find it. More clues lead you to the main in a different part of the house and still more to an interesting location where dessert is waiting.
  • museums Museums are usually free and can be interesting. Find out what is on first and choose a couple of sections to visit that will appeal to the children. Don’t drag them through every single display and insist on reading every plaque or they will hate museums for ever! Many museums have sections especially designed for children and some even have hands-on displays and activities to do. Find out what they usually do for school class visits and ask for an activity pack or whatever they usually supply to the students.
  • sardines Another variation on hide-and-seek. One person hides and everyone searches. As each seeker finds the hider, they must join them in their hiding place until everyone is squashed in like sardines. The trick is not to hop in the hiding place when others are watching, but to wait until you are alone to join the hider.
  •  hiking/nature walks Head to the country, local lake or river or anywhere scenic for a nature walk. Take a kite, football, quoits, bocce or any other outdoor games to enjoy together. Enjoy a picnic along the way and perhaps have the children create their own trail mix to take with them before you leave home.
  • pick fruit or berries together Visit a fruit orchard or berry farm and pick tonnes of luscious fruit for jams or just to enjoy fresh off the tree. Have fun cooking it up into treats when you get home.
  • bake-off Choose you favourite biscuit and/or cake recipes and hold a bake-off. Pair older and younger participants. Take some of the delicious cakes and cookies to neighbours, visit someone who is sick in hospital or spend time visiting a retirement home.
  • art and craft night Find some simple craft activities the whole family can enjoy. Things that require mess and/or effort that you wouldn’t normally get around to. There are unlimited ideas available on the net.
  • make birthday, Christmas or special occasion gifts and cards
  • catch a bus or train to an area you don’t usually visit. Perhaps go to a cafe and let the children choose a special drink or snack.
  • indoor picnic or backyard picnic. Under the kitchen table, in the cubby, under or on the trampoline, in a sheet tent, at the local park, beach, bush area etc.
  • Go on a neighbourhood walk. See how many different kinds of plants and flowers you can identify. Prepare a list of items to spot along the way. Perhaps the kids can ride bikes while Mum and Dad walk.
  • tub of icecream  Swing past the supermarket for a tub of icecream. (Don’t forget the spoons.) Take it to the local park and let everyone grab a spoon and go for it. If you want to be more civilized, buy a pack of cones as well.
  • backwards dinner Start with dessert and work backwards. Tip: Don’t prepare a large main meal or entrée. Chances are the kids won’t get that far!
  • movie night Make caramel popcorn or another suitable movie style treat. Set up a snack stand and “sell” the treats and drinks for Monopoly money. Roll out the red carpet (bath mats, towels, sheet etc) and make pretend tickets for the kids to distribute. Darken the room and have ushers seat guests by torch-light. Set out doonas, pillows, beanbags and cushions. We watch very little TV on a day-to-day basis so a movie night is something special for the kids.
  • make your own pizza. Roll out the dough and top it with sauce. Set out a selection of toppings and let the kids choose their own. Don’t forget to make a dessert pizza too.

  • puzzle night Choose some difficult and some easy puzzles to work on as a family. For the younger kids, hide puzzle pieces around the room and have them search until they have completed the puzzle. Perhaps have a race against the grown-ups or older children to see who can complete theirs first.
  • watch home videos Most of us take home videos from time to time so sit down and enjoy watching them together. Kids love to see themselves on TV.
  • make home movies Sing songs, perform plays, read radio dramas, record favourite stories to make your own read-along audio tapes complete with sound effects, record video “letters” to friends or family who live a distance away, write scripts and act them out or try scripted funny home movies.
  • press flowers Go for a nature walk to collect flowers and sprigs of attractive leaves to press in home-made flower presses or in the pages of telephone books. A couple of weeks later, use them to make home-made cards for friends and family. Make sure children get permission before taking flowers from neighbours’ plants or trees.
  • Hold a gingerbread man decorating competition. Pre-make the dough and provide rolling pins, cutters, cutting boards, knives, toothpicks and the like. Lay out the icing and toppings for everyone to decorate to their heart’s content. Have several categories for winners (most interesting, most colourful, neatest, most appetising etc.) so that everyone can have a prize (eating the gingerbread man of course!)
  • obstacle course Use household items and equipment to set up an indoor or outdoor obstacle course and run time trials. Place time handicaps on older participants or have them do it running backwards etc.
  • old-fashioned games night Go bobbing for apples, play jacks, hopscotch and other traditional games.
  • scavenger hunt Collect all of the items on a written or pictorial list as quickly as possible.
  • treasure hunt Follow clues to get to the location for the next clue or look up bible verses to provide answers to questions that must be complete before the next clue is handed out. Don’t forget to have a “prize” at the end; perhaps a special snack to share together.
  • neighbourhood trivia hunt Spread out around the local area in teams with an older child or adult leading each one. Go to various locations to answer trivia questions once they arrive at the designated place. For example, “What colour is the letter box at number 10 James St?” or “How many trees are there in Mrs Jones’ front garden?”
  • playdough Pictionary Use suitable cards from Pictionary or create your own. One member from each team looks at the card and both race to create the object using playdough. The first team to guess what it is wins a point. Be sure to match abilities of team representatives for each round as evenly as possible.
  • visit the confectionary and chocolate isle at the local supermarket and let the children have the chocolate or lolly of their choice. When children are not regularly eating this kind of food it’s a big deal to do something like this. This can also be done in the lunchbox snack area with all those pre-packaged processed lunchbox snacks that I never buy my kids!
  • tower or castle building competition Use Duplo, Lego or whatever construction materials you have at home with a time limit for construction to take place.
  • Visit the local Bunnings, McDonalds or Ikea playground. Have a cone or sausage sizzle while you are there.
  • shopping centre adventure Ride on one of the merry-go-rounds you usually say no to before going into the supermarket and letting the kids choose items for lunch at the park afterwards (fresh rolls, packet of biscuits, snack cheese, sliced sandwich meat, yoghurt tub, mini chip packets or whatever takes their fancy and fits within your parameters.) Don’t forget to grab a cheap packet of  plastic spoons for those yoghurt pots – it’s very difficult to scoop out chocolate Yogo with your hands. (And yes, I am speaking from experience!)
  • $2 dollar shop Go to the local discount variety store and give each child $2 to spend.
  • op shopping Visit the local recycling boutique or secondhand store and give each child $3 to spend. The catch is, they lucky dip the name of a sibling or family member first and must choose something for them, rather than themselves. Supervision is required here for the younger ones. While my 4 year old daughter was sure my 8 year old son would LOVE a pair of pink sparkly shoes, I was not so convinced.
  • google playgrounds and parks in your city and visit one you have never been to before. We were introduced to a new one recently that was just 10 minutes from our house that we didn’t know was there and it was great!
  • charades Play in teams and dress-up in costumes and props from around the house.
  • bike rides Bike riding is always fun. Use tag-alongs, baby seats or toddler trailers for the littlies and take the bikes, scooters or skateboards to the local bike path, unused basketball or netball courts or just for a cycle around the local neighbourhood.
  • wet weather exploring Don wet weather gear, get out the gumboots and go for a rain walk, jumping in as many puddles as you can find along the way.
  • karaoke/Australian idol Rehearse and perform for a family concert. Organise a ticket booth and snack bar as for movie night. Video proceedings for a laugh later.
  • surprise lunch For those whose children are at school, a surprise pick up and special lunch at a nearby park or take-away venue will be a memorable treat. Collect Dad from work in his lunch hour and “kidnap” your school children. (With the teacher’s knowledge of course!)
  • breakfast dates Head out early before church or school for a family breakfast together. This also works well for one-on-one dates with Dad or Mum.
  • dress up Choose from the dress-up box or Mum and Dad’s wardrobe if you’re game. The kids will love it, especially the shoes. There’s just something about shoes! Have a photo session with everyone in crazy attire, followed by a disco dance session to boppy music with a couple of rounds of musical bobs and musical statues.
  • talent quest and family orchestra or marching band Singing, playing instruments, acting, skits, reciting a poem and telling jokes are all suitable for the talent quest. Finish off with a family orchestra – everyone grabs a percussion instrument and plays along to lively music while marching about the house.
  • cooperative drawing Cover the table with a huge roll of paper and everyone draws. Try blindfold drawing. Everyone closes their eyes to draw a picture and has a laugh at the results.
  • pamper night Give everyone face masks (yes, even Dad!), paint nails, give the girl’s “up do’s,” spike up the boys’ hair and get dressed-up in fancy clothes. Take family photos now that everyone looks so nice and go out somewhere to take advantage of everyone looking so good. The photos could be serious (set up lighting, use a tripod) or silly (weird clothes, expressions and poses.)
  • teddy bear’s picnic or tea party All stuffed animals and dolls must be dressed for the occasion. Make invitations and menus. Cook some tiny food treats to share.
  • tapas night Serve authentic Spanish tapas or just little plates of nibblies. We put out heaps and heaps of tiny plates from every tea set we own with 7 of everything on each plate – one per person. 7 strawberries, 7 meatballs, 7 apricots, 7 grapes,  7 finger sandwiches and on and on. Ours was just regular food but after you’ve eaten one block of cheese, 1 cherry tomato, 1 mini muffin and so on, it makes for quite a meal.
  • outdoor movie nights Check local guides over summer for sessions and go all out with a fancy picnic. Don’t forget the chairs and blankets – even on summer nights these events can get chilly.
  • beanbag wars (See here for instructions.)
  • spy missions  (I’ll post on this separately another day)
  • story telling Combine this with a sleep-over, star-gazing or other family night idea. Take turns adding one sentence at a time to the story. Play “Fortunately/Unfortunately” where each person adds on a small section of the story at a time, alternating between fortunately and unfortunately. (1st person: We were driving along in the car when unfortunately the tire blew. 2nd person: Fortunately we had a jack in the boot. 3rd person: Unfortunately the spare tyre was missing.)
  • ping-pong (table tennis), badminton or tennis championships Play round robin style games where everyone gets a go and rotation is fairly fast.
  • junk modelling Collect boxes, tubes, containers and decorative bibs and bobs of all kinds. Use them to create sculptures and amazing creations as a family. (If the creations are suitable, the children may like to keep them in their rooms for a few weeks to play with eg. castles, 10 story building etc.)
  • nobody’s birthday party Complete with cakes, party food and party games. Choose gifts and donate to a charity organisation.
  • puppet shows Set up pairs of chairs with sheets draped across as makeshift theatres. Use old socks, paper bags, bottles, wooden spoons or other simple items to make puppets. Use your puppets to rehearse and put on a puppet show for each other.

Well, there you have it; please share your ideas via a comment below – its always nice to glean a new idea from someone else!

The 3 times rule

My wonderful husband; the only adult who got in there with the kids on the black plastic water-slide at family camp.

I wrote some time ago about the 10 times rule for children. Today it’s the 3 times rule for husbands. At an Easter conference for families and leaders in ministry, the wives got together for an informal chat about ways to support our husbands. There were many ideas bandied around, most of which I had heard before. But one was new to me and worth passing on. It is very simple; the first time your husband does something that irritates, grates, you dislike or simply don’t want him to do for practical reasons, say nothing. The second times he repeats the action, say nothing. After the third occasion it is time to raise the subject – at an appropriate time. More on that in a minute.

Let me give you an example. I like my house to be fairly tidy but don’t knock myself out about it. With 6 children I’ve had to face the reality that it will never look like a display home. However, when I have cleaned up and it is looking good, the first bit of mess or clutter that is dumped really bothers me. My husband arrived home to a spotless kitchen and dining area (rare I know) and proceeded to kick his shoes off underneath the bench before heading outside to play with the children. My immediate impulse was to tell him (politely) not to leave his shoes there please, with the fear that he might start doing it regularly. When I stopped to think about it I had to concede that he usually doesn’t leave his shoes there and that this was a one-off occurrence. With that in mind, I said nothing.

If however, he began to kick them off there day after day it would be time to raise the matter. Now to the next important point; how to raise it. With my personality type, I tend to confront immediately and efficiently and solve what I see as the problem straight away. It is in fact often wiser to wait for a moment when you are free from conflict, both calm and relaxed and you have had time to think through the words you will use and how to phrase the problem so as to not sound negative, angry or like a nit-picking, nagging wife.

It may be that it is time to praise some of the things you do like about what your husband does, before starting on the things you don’t like. Next time you catch yourself about to jump in with a negative, stop and think. Is this the third time? You’ll be surprised at how many things can be left to slide by without comment, leaving only those that you really do need to talk about. Your husband will appreciate it.

[9] It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
(Proverbs 21:9 ESV)

Stay-at-home date nights

My 8 year old son set the table for our stay-at-home date night last night. He included everything he could to make it as special as possible, even placing a hidden note informing us that a CD had been selected and was in the player ready to go.

Once children arrive, going out for date nights is no longer as easy as it once was. If you have ready access to babysitting you may be able to go out regularly, but many of us find that it becomes more and more important to spend some time and effort planning special evenings at home, to be enjoyed after the children are in bed.

Good date nights take planning and effort. Decide ahead of time what you will do. If left to the night itself, most of us find that we simply lack the energy and inclination to peel ourselves off the couch to get to bed, never mind make a date night special. Pick a night each week or fortnight that will be your non-negotiable date night and don’t change it unless something extra special comes up instead. Perhaps arrange babysitters for one or two nights a month and plan to have date nights at home for the other nights.

If you are lucky enough to have two sets of Grandparents, you can alternate between them which means you only require them to babysit for you once a month – not too much of a load on those already often committed parents of ours. If you find it difficult to find babysitters, perhaps you could get together with another trusted family and swap babysitting with them – you go out one week while they watch your children and they go out the following week while you watch theirs.

Keep in mind your spouse’s love language. These date ideas will cover acts of service, quality time and easily lend themselves to physical touch, but don’t forget gift giving and words of affirmation. You could write a special invitation and leave it in the letterbox or email it to hubby at work, telling him how much you love him, how wonderful he is and building anticipation for the evening to come. A love note can be included on the dinner table or in the picnic hamper or written on the bathroom mirror in the morning before the date night and of course, you can spend the date itself speaking affirming words that you know will be meaningful to your husband.

Simple, inexpensive gifts can also be easily incorporated into the evenings. Why not wrap up the massage oil for the bathroom evening for example and hide it in his briefcase before he goes to work? You could tuck a wrapped new pair of socks into his undy drawer for a sock wrestle later and instruct him to wear them to the date or the brand new CD he has been wanting could be playing on the stereo as a surprise with the case wrapped up for him to open as the date begins. Simple items that will be a part of the date night anyway – even his favourite chocolate – can be given prior to the actual date to have him looking forward to it excitedly or as a part of the date experience itself. As you can see, all of these ideas are relatively inexpensive and easy to do but do require pre-planning. All communicate love!

Don’t forget that you are romancing your husband so take the time to look nice and present yourself in the way you know he likes. If he has a favourite outfit, why not wear it? No one else is around to see you so please his tastes, rather than your own, when you choose what you will wear. Take a shower and get dressed up – the same as you would when going out. Put on some makeup, the perfume your spouse loves and more importantly for him – the undergarments he loves! Anything he has chosen for you will usually be appropriate here. You don’t have to go out so you don’t have to wear them for too long and if you let him know you have it on at the start of the night, he’ll be fairly keen to take it off you by the end of the night!

Now for some ideas:

  • Do you have a trampoline? Take out the doonas, sleeping bags and pillows for some cuddling and star watching. Sock wrestling on the tramp is fun too – each of you wears socks and tries to pull the socks off the other first. Lots of giggling and close body contact here.
  • Set up a restaurant dinner at home with candles, tablecloth, wine – the lot. If you have one, hang a mozzie net around a small table and chairs on the back patio for an intimate setting. Alternatively, a table for two in your bedroom may work well. Perhaps the older children could even wait on the table for some extra pocket-money, just like a real 5 star restaurant.
  • Try a picnic on the grass in the backyard – don’t forget the portable stereo for some mood music. In wet weather, a picnic on the lounge room or bedroom floor can be nice.
  • What about a board game championship play-off with all the old board games you used to play and enjoy growing up. Maybe the winner gets to choose something the looser can do to (or for) them. Maybe this is your chance to try strip poker?
  • Set up a tent in the backyard with the kids during the day and have some fun playing in it with them first. In the evening before hubby gets home, turn it into an “adults only” area. Fill it with a mattress, doona, pillows and the like. Maybe set up the coffee table and lots of cushions around it for Middle Eastern style reclined dining. How about roasting marshmallows over the camp stove? You could even sleep out over night.
  • Cook a meal together. Something difficult and fiddly that you never usually have time for, or a favourite meal that you miss because the kids won’t eat it – super spicy curry, a highly expensive seafood platter…
  • Clean the bathroom from top to bottom during the day. (There’s nothing romantic about sitting in a mouldy, sandy, finger-marked bathtub – or is that only my bathroom?) Deck the bathroom out with ALL your candles, sprinkle rose petals, put on some mood music and fill up the bathtub. Set out the best towels for afterwards. Perhaps have some massage oil or a back massager on hand. Wash each other all over and go from there. If it’s the kid’s bathroom that has the tub, make sure you remove all those toys and other paraphernalia – you want the setting to be romantic.
  • Movie nights are great occasionally but don’t let this be the default option on a regular basis. Hire an old favourite or a DVD that you with both enjoy. Set up the lounge for the full cinema experience – low lighting, blankets, make popcorn and snacks and put them in paper cones or cups.
  • If babysitting allows, how about having the children looked after in the morning instead (or even better, overnight at the Grandparents for bonus date night AND morning). One of the things we miss most is a sleep in, leisurely breakfast, coffee and reading the newspaper in the mornings. We like to go out to breakfast and coffee at a café too if we get the chance, maybe stroll around the shops, markets or wherever we are, before collecting the children at lunchtime.
  • Hold a karaoke night for just the two of you. Not my thing, but some love to sing along and since there’s no one watching, why not give it a go.
  • Dust off that icecream maker, waffle maker, or simply set out a bunch of toppings and icecream flavours to create your own tasty treats – perhaps make a huge icecream Sunday to share.
  • Climb up on the roof with a blanket and do some stargazing and have a heartfelt conversation. All right, not all roofs are suitable and we don’t want any broken necks, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to find a comfy position on some. Don’t put your foot through the tiles though; climb up the ridge capping rather than across the centre of the tiles.
  • Check out many more stay-at-home date night ideas at http://www.healthymarriage.org/homedates.htm

Beanbag Wars

We think it’s really important to make a deliberate effort to build our family identity, to invest in relationships with our children and to foster a “we-ism” rather than “me-ism” attitude. That takes time and means that we have to plan to spend time together as a family. Saturday is often the day of the week that we make this happen.   

We had our first beanbag war on a Saturday morning a few months back. Surprisingly, it was really great fun. I have to admit, the idea of heading outside to play family games in the backyard didn’t interest me in the slightest, however I was very glad I did in the end. It turned out to be a really enjoyable family bonding time with the added bonus of getting some exercise while we were at it (something I am not particularly fond of normally!)

Who can play?

All ages – it’s a family game. Our youngest ones are a little lost but we simply assigned them to “guard the fort” and call out to warn us when a foe was approaching. They could also collect beanbags for other team members or just have fun randomly throwing their beanbags at anyone in range. My husband and I had a ball chasing after each other (it’s good for your romantic life too!) and if you had teenagers they could really get some strategic plans happening.

What you need:

Two flags (tea towels will do, or home made are fun and each team can design their own)

Ammunition – in the form of small beanbags or newspaper balls. (Scrunch up sheets of newspaper to form tennis ball sized balls and tape together.)

Two forts (we use a plastic kiddy slide at one end and a water trolley on its side at the other – anything will do.)

Game objective:

To snatch the other team’s flag and return to your own fort

How to:

Each person begins with a set number of beanbags (how many depends on the age and number of children playing. In our house, adults get 2 or 3, older children get 3 and younger children get 4.)

Once the battle charge is raised, team members simply have to get to the other team’s fort and grab their flag, returning it to their own fort before the opposing team captures theirs.

Team members are able to throw their beanbags at the opposition at any time and when hit, players must return to their own fort and touch it before beginning their approach again.

Rules:

If you are hit by a beanbag, you must return to your own fort before rejoining play.

If you have been hit and have not yet touched your fort, you are unable to participate (You cannot throw your beanbags at an opposition player)

If you are carrying a flag and are hit, you must drop the flag wherever you are before returning to your fort. Beanbags must not contact above the shoulders

Once bean bags have been thrown, you may collect any available beanbag, but not more than you had to begin with – extras must be left for other players to collect.

Rough play is not part of this game – it is a non-contact activity.

Good sportsmanship must be displayed at all times. All team members will congratulate the winning team after each round.

Poor sportsmanship will result in players being barred from participation and given further consequences if deemed necessary by team captains (Mum and Dad.)

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