Our treasure tree reward system

Character development is an ongoing focus in our house. We finished with the marble jar reward system several months ago now and the children have been asking for a while for a return to our praise plates (more on them another day.) Rather than go back to something we have already used, I decided to introduce a “treasure tree” which linked in very nicely with our reading of “The Treasure Tree” by John Trent.

Our treasure tree reward system.

The system is very simple. When the children demonstrate positive character traits they are given a leaf to stick onto the tree. Character qualities like unselfishness, kindness, generosity and the like are promoted and reinforced throughout the day. Flowers are given when all the children have displayed Godly character together. A great chart of character qualities including a definition and the opposite negative quality is available here.

All you need is a painted tree, a bunch of paper leaves, paper flowers and sticky dots or a glue stick to stick them on with. The dots allow us to keep track of how many leaves need to be earned to reach our family reward – once the dots are all used, the tree is full.

You may like to tie it in with scripture memory work and focus on bible verses relating to treasure such as Proverbs 7:1, Proverbs 15:6, Matthew 6:21 and Luke 6:45

For a full explanation of the difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives please see my post on marble jars. We don’t always have a reward system operating, but we do use them every now and then when the tone of the household is becoming negative and the children are beginning to bicker.

Rewarding right behaviour is not enough though, we need to spend time teaching what Godly character looks like in action. We use bible study, good books, songs and discussions during morning circle time and discuss how we can display these qualities throughout the day. It’s one thing to talk about serving, showing kindness and loving others, it’s another thing to practice it!

The Treasure Tree

“The Treasure Tree” by John Trent is an introduction to the 4 personality types for children. It uses the 4 main characters of a lion (choleric), beaver (melancholic), golden retriever (phlegmatic) and otter (sanguine) to tell the story. The animals have to work together to overcome some obstacles and find the golden keys to reach their destination of the treasure tree.

The personality types are woven into the way the animals approach each situation and can begin to give your children an insight into why they each behave differently and help them to understand each other and get along a little bit better.

While no means a detailed overview of the personalities, it does provide a great springboard for discussion and helped us to lead into identifying personality and character strengths and weakness that each child needs to be aware of and work on.

The children loved it and asked for the next chapter every day, even though we were only reading from it once a week! I’m looking for something a little more meaty to go on with, but I would recommend this story as an enjoyable read-aloud and worthwhile discussion starter.

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The “if…then” chart

From around the age of three it is important that children begin to understand the principles behind the behaviour we expect from them – the moral reason “why” of any given situation. This allows them to apply the principles to any and every situation they are facing, including those that are entirely new to them. As Christians, this moral reason should be based on the authority of scripture.

It was somewhat of a surprise to me to realise that while I know the right thing to do, I didn’t actually know the biblical reason why in some situations. Everything came back to obedience and respect. While these are important, there has to be a little more to it as our children grow. “Because Mummy said so” is a legitimate response, especially for the very young child, however children need more than that as they mature. Similarly, “because the bible says so” does not cut it for ever. Where does it say so and exactly what does it say?

I also find myself easily falling into the habit of nagging, reminding and scolding the children while not actually doing anything about the behaviours in the form of applying suitable consequences. Many times in the past when I have sat down and thought through what our problem areas are and applied consistent consequences (explaining clearly the moral or practical reasons why behind the rules) it has been a matter of days before those behaviours are no longer a problem. With a plan and consistent reinforcement it takes only days to eliminate behaviours that at times have been driving me nuts for months! Ideally my husband and I will sit down once a week to take stock, plan and work on our children’s moral development, character and behaviour together.

One tool we find helpful is the “If…then” chart. (Available from here or make your own.) Ours has space for a bible verse explaining the moral reason (or practical reason) behind the rule, a description of the behaviour we are working to eliminate and the consequence that will be given if the behaviour occurs. At the same time we work on the positive side of the character trait. It is no good telling children what not to do if they do not clearly understand what it is they should do.

I am also transferring each behaviour onto an A4 page and each child will illustrate the ones particularly applicable to themselves for display. This will help the non-readers to remember what we are working on. I used the book “Proverbs for Parenting”  to find a verse to back up each rule. The book has proverbs sorted into categories/topic areas relevant to parenting which makes it easy to find bible verses relating to a particular kind of behaviour.

We will focus on 2 or 3 behaviours per child that are problem areas for each of the eldest children (consequences will apply to all though) and add more once those problem areas have been significantly reduced. I am hoping to see some very positive changes across the next few days and weeks and I know I will be less frustrated because I have a plan of how to deal with the situations. I will be proactively parenting in these areas, rather than reactively parenting, which is always a better way to go!

Mealtime madness – conversation skills, table etiquette and manners

Meals are a time for sitting face to face around the table and sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences together. A time of bonding and growing with worthwhile discussions across a broad range of topics, inclusive of all those at the table. While using your cutlery correctly and displaying beautiful manners of course. Well, in my ideal world they are!

The reality at the moment is that meal times are often full of foolish talk, semi foolish behaviour and questionable manners. The latest spanner in the works is a newborn who’s feeds often coincide with everyone else’s meal time, requiring me to leave the children eating together without supervision during lunch. What to do? Here are a few ideas that we have used in the past to combat the lunch time sillies and to try to redeem this time.

  • Reading aloud. I either eat before or after the children and use the meal time itself to read aloud from excellent literature. Quality conversations can often be had relating to the themes and ideas we are reading about. Reading aloud is such a valuable activity and all children should have the opportunity to be exposed to good literature even before they develop the ability to read it for themselves. There are times that I do manage to insert lengthy read aloud sessions into our day and then there are times that it is much more difficult. A couple of chapters a day is better than nothing.
  • Audio Books. When reading aloud is not practical I substitute audio books instead. Not as nice as a “live” voice but they are still being exposed to great literature. There are thousands of classic stories available online for free download at librivox.org. Some of the volunteers who have recorded the stories are more polished and easier to listen to than others but the children don’t seem to mind.
  • Discussion starters. I trawled the net a while back for discussion starter ideas and printed out hundreds of them onto coloured paper before cutting them into strips. When conversation isn’t going well, one of the children lucky-dips a conversation starter and we all take turns to answer the usually thought-provoking question. Some of the sites with lists of ideas are here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
  • Etiquette posters. I purchased a set of etiquette posters from above rubies and have those on display. (The “etiquette posters” link above is the American site but you can order from the Australian site; “above rubies” link.) We occasionally read through them and discuss different scenarios, situations and occasions where a variety of manners and behaviours are expected and considered polite and respectful. We play “What would you do if…?” where we set up a  story situation for the children to respond to by using good etiquette or manners.
  • 3 marbles. When we were running our manners marble jar reward system I was putting 3 marbles in front of each child at the beginning of a meal. If poor manners were used, I didn’t lecture, I simply removed one marble. Any marbles that were left at the end of the meal were added to the marble jar.
  • 3 warnings. Assuming your children already know what is expected, the time for nagging is over. When fingers go in food or other behaviours that we have been repeatedly working on, I hold up one finger without a word. That is the signal for one warning. A second warning is given in the same way and the meal is placed in the centre of the table for a couple of minutes. If the same behaviours are used again, the meal is over for that child. (For those who use this as a convenient excuse to get out of eating the food they don’t like, we ask them to go and finish their meal in the laundry.)

Please and thank you

Manners at times are becoming a lost art it seems. I am constantly amazed whenever we are around a large group of children how many of them simply do not think to say “please” and “thank you.” It horrifies me on rare occasions to catch my children amongst them!! Time for a clamp down and some re-training in our household!

As with most child training and behaviours, the failure of my children to use manners when it does occur can usually be traced back to my consistency in enforcing their use. When I let the standard drop, the children do too.

We begin training our children to say “please” and “thank you” as babies using baby signing. From the time they are starting solids we are saying the words for them and signing them at the same time. As they get older, we gently move their hands, helping them to copy the correct sign. At anywhere from around 8 months to 12 months we usually see the first signs being independently used by the children and from that point on will require them to do it before meeting their request.

Once they are able to sign independently, manners are always expected. If an older child forgets to say please or thank you, we may simply hold on to the requested item and make eye contact with the child. After a moment’s pause while they are wondering why we are not letting go, they realise what they need to say and say it, without us having to give a verbal reminder.

We also use a timer. After explaining once or twice what the timer is for and how we will use it, we no longer say anything at all. When a request is made without a “please” we simply grab the timer and turn it over in front of the child who immediately realises what they have forgotten to do. They may not make the same request again until the timer has run out and then it obviously must include the “please” that they forgot in the first place.

Once we consider that the training is complete and an older child is characterised by remembering their manners there may be rare occasions when they forget. For the once-off event, we may simply give them a verbal reminder. If it appears that they are slipping back into a habit of “forgetting” then we will simply tell them that they will miss out completely without the opportunity to try again. We find it interesting to note that our children NEVER forget their manners when there is chocolate involved!

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Building Focussing and Concentrating Skills in Toddlers

Patrice Walker was one of the speakers at our big GEMS night recently and she gave an excellent introduction to developing focussing and concentrating skills in our toddlers and young children. She has kindly given me permission to reproduce her notes here and while there is a lot to read, I think they are well worth the time. I have added links to further information or explanations from my blog posts as they relate to what she has to say.

Focussing and concentrating skills are habits and skills which are needed for a lifetime, as they affect all areas of our lives. An impulsive child who is always looking toward what is next rather than enjoying what is in front of them, becomes an unsettled adult, unable to stick with a single task very long. Whether it is in the classroom or workplace, this impulsiveness will often result in work that is poorly or incompletely done. This child or adult will be unlikely to achieve any personal sense of accomplishment or have the confidence to tackle bigger projects; they can be easily discouraged and give up quickly. We can help our children to use all the gifts and talents God has given them, if we help them develop the virtues of attentiveness and self-control.

So, let’s begin by looking at encouraging focusing and concentrating in the toddler years. What will help you most as a parent is to understand the need to manage the freedoms your toddler is allowed, and therefore, the routine and structure of his day.

We know that God has blessed our toddlers with an insatiable curiosity for the world around us. It’s so exciting to see a little one’s eyes open with wonder as they see something for the first time, maybe an ant moving along with a crumb… They lie down on the floor and watch it, maybe pointing with their chubby little fingers or poking it and making “gooing” noises. Very cute, right? Would it be so cute if it was an electrical power-point which had captured their attention? Probably not, and you would be justified in wanting to remove your little one from the danger. While we do not want to suppress the natural, healthy curiosity of a toddler it’s clear they should not be allowed unlimited freedoms to come and go with no guidance; to explore without limits or to touch without restraint. The boundaries that a toddler needs, however, go beyond just the health and safety concerns.

The best way that parents can establish healthy limits for their toddler is by making decisions for them, and setting reasonable physical boundaries. You should make the most of your toddler’s curiosity, by helping them pay attention, focussing and concentrating on what is best for them. That means Mums that you decide who does what, when they do it and where they do it. So you are able to make good decisions yourself, it is helpful to have some order and structure in your day.

It’s important to understand that a routine is meant to serve you and your family. It should give you the opportunity to make the most of the days that God has given us, to do the work that he has appointed for us. Having some structure and predictability in the day provides security for your little ones and helps you use your time effectively enjoying and training your toddler. There are many activities that can be included in your day which give healthy boundaries, use their curiosity and  attention, and will therefore encourage a toddler to focus and concentrate.

I will be explaining some of the activities we have included in our toddler’s days that are useful for developing these skills. Most of these I have learnt about from reading the Growing Families materials and observing the results in families we know who use these principles in their own homes, with their own children.

I’m going to begin with the activity that most toddlers have a “love-hate” relationship with – the playpen or room time. This is a time, determined by Mum, for your little one to have some time to play on their own.  Learning to play contentedly for a period of time without having someone there to entertain him is an important skill for a toddler to learn. Playpen time can be used from a very young age for short periods of time, initially only 10 minutes or so but increased over time, particularly as the little one’s sitting skills develop. We have used wooden playpens, a portacot or sometimes, when space was tight, their own cot. We have also varied the location, depending on the child and our home, but as much as possible tried to make it an area that is reasonably secluded from the rest of the family, sometimes even using a playpen outside.

Playpen time transitions to room time around 18-20 months of age, when the toddler’s room is usually used as his play area. For some toddlers, going from a playpen to a room can be an overwhelming freedom, so a blanket placed on the floor as a visible boundary may help your toddler transition better. I used a quilt my mother-in-law lovingly made for our first to line the base of our playpen and then used that on the floor of their room during room time. Again, beginning with short periods of time, build up the time spent in room time as the toddler develops the skills of focusing and concentrating on their toys.

My children have all learnt to enjoy their room time for up to an hour by the age of two or so. When children are left alone it is amazing to see how content they can be playing with one simple toy after another, undistracted by the other people or noises in the home. I have, at times, had to encourage our other children to leave the little one alone to enjoy their play! Don’t confuse room time with a free play time in their bedroom – your toddler needs to learn to play in his room when you, the Mum, says it’s time to do so, for the period of time you decide.

Playing in his room also doesn’t mean he is able to do whatever he chooses in that time. Mum chooses the toys which should be age appropriate, rotating them regularly, keeping them interesting and challenging. As we know, bored children quickly find trouble! I have found it helpful to spend time showing a toddler how to play with their toys during the day before using it in either the playpen or room time. I’ve also spent time learning about age appropriate toys and activities through books, the internet and talking to other mums. For a while we belonged to a toy library and this was great for exposing us to different toys that were often more educational in nature. They had a variety of toys and activities that were not available in the local toy shop or were beyond the range of our family’s income. It’s also great for those toys which little ones only use for a short period of time.  Another way we’ve found to keep the interest levels high without having to keep purchasing new toys is to swap and share toys with other families. It’s a good way to determine which toys last well and whether the interest in a toy is high enough to consider purchasing it.

It’s important to include some free playtime in your day. This is when your toddler has the freedom to choose what he plays with. It is still supervised because you decide when he is able to do it but it is free time because the child is making the decision about what to play with, based on his interests. This time should usually be short, around 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the age of your toddler. I have found it best to decide where the play is to take place and usually encourage outside play several times a day as it’s important for little ones to have the opportunity to get fresh air and use up some of their never-ending energy. I try to encourage my toddler to sustain his interest in his chosen activity by not allowing them to flit from one toy to the next, leaving a trail of destruction behind them. Limiting the number of choices helps with this. For example, we don’t have all the toddler’s toys out in a huge box to be rummaged through but have several smaller containers of toys both inside and outside. We also teach our little ones to pack up one thing before moving to the next, meaning less desire to “chop and change” and less cleanup at the end of the day.

A structured, focused playtime with Mummy should be a priority for toddlers. Not only do they need your supervision, they need your love and attention. I’ve found that making a time each day for me to focus solely on the little ones really helps them feel loved and secure. Some days the time is shorter than other days and the activities are almost always chosen by me. We might read, play with toys or a game, do crafts, bake together, do a puzzle or so on. I have found with some of our children that spending this time with them early in the day has meant they are more content to play by themselves later in the day. When one of our children was younger they were becoming quite difficult in the early evening, but I discovered that if I spent a short period of time focussed on them in the late afternoon that usual fussy time was much less likely.  This time also provides me with the chance to encourage an older toddler with their attitude or behaviour we’re working on. The Terrific Toddler books by Mel Hayde are excellent resources for how you can build happy, healthy hearts in your toddlers – very practical, positive and encouraging.

A quiet reading or “sit time” is another essential element of our toddler’s day. During this time our little one is either in the high chair, on my lap or next to me on a couch with a few books. Starting with small increments of time, this can be increased as the child matures. Your toddler can learn to focus and concentrate, to love books and to develop the self-control to sit and read what, when and where he is told. This skill can be transferred to many situations outside the home, while waiting at the doctors, queues at the shops and especially at church. We do encourage our toddler to read quietly but this is an enormous task for some so I have found it helpful to concentrate on training our toddler to sit still first. Then, when they can demonstrate that consistently, I begin to train them to sit quietly. Separating the two skills has really helped those of our children who are chattier by nature. I will sit with them reading quietly myself, praising them and in time they learn that it is a quiet reading time. Sometimes, I’ve found that beginning this time by cuddling our toddler on my lap, reading a story to them first or perhaps asking them to find a particular character in a book for an older child, has helped those who have struggled to focus on a book for more than a minute or two. I also choose a quieter time in the day, usually after lunch, as a toddler is starting to wind down for an afternoon rest, sometimes the early evening works well too.

Attending our library’s storytime session was helpful for me in our earlier parenting years. We had an excellent storyteller who had a way of captivating the children’s attention by choosing only the best children’s stories and using her voice to really make the story come alive. I learnt many useful skills that have made more confident reading aloud to my children and also how to help them focus and concentrate on stories and their illustrations.

The virtue of attentiveness is one that can be greatly encouraged by expecting and maintaining eye contact and a verbal response when talking to your toddler. The best way to teach this to your little one is to demonstrate it to them. Show you care about what they have to say by stopping and listening properly to them when you can. This may mean getting down to their eye-level or bringing them up to yours when talking to them or listening to them. When giving an instruction to a toddler, don’t overtalk to them, explaining in great detail every little thing that they are probably not going to understand. You do need to speak clearly and make sure you tell, not ask. This could be as simple as picking up your one year-old and looking him in the eye and saying, “It’s time to go play in your playpen now” and then carrying him there. I would sometimes have to gently but firmly hold our toddler’s chins to encourage them to look me in the eye.

Another activity which encourages focusing and concentrating is a high-chair or table time. I use the high chair mainly for younger toddlers and a table time for the older ones. During this time the toddler is directed to an activity Mum has chosen in a place Mum has chosen– the highchair or table. Simple activities that will hold the attention of your toddler that don’t require much assistance or preparation from you mean that you can then do other things nearby. I often use this several times a day after meal times and particularly during meal preparation time, as the little one is then not likely to be needing too much of my attention while I’m handling sharp knives and hot food. Good activities for younger toddlers include a few small cars or dolls on the tray or mat, magnetic shapes or letters, wooden puzzles, stacking cups and rings, container of pegs or similar to put in and out. For older toddlers try paper and crayons or pencils, felt boards, play dough or threading activities. All my little ones have enjoyed playing with various kitchen items, mixing bowls, spoons etc copying me if I’m in the kitchen. Again, I start with small increments of time, but gradually, as your toddler develops the power of attention and self control, they can sit and play for increasingly longer periods of time. My good friend, Ang Pascoe has an excellent blog which has an abundance of articles and examples of activities and resources to use with young children. They are mother and child-friendly with lots of photo’s to encourage and inspire. Her blog address is angathome.com.

A few other factors to consider when planning your toddler’s day include deciding the best order of the activities, the transition times and the gender and personality of your child. I’ve found it’s best to keep to a similar flow of activities each day. This encourages the toddler to feel secure in what is expected of him throughout the day. I also think it’s best to alternate activities that our toddler does alone with those that he does with me or other children, those that are quiet with more active ones, and inside and outside activities. Watch the transition times between activities – don’t allow your toddler to wander aimlessly waiting for your directions. I would rather have my little one in the highchair, playpen or a stroller for a few more minutes while I organise what is happening next, than have them getting into all sorts of trouble because I’m not quite ready. I have often played a game with our older toddlers where I tell them they are my shadow, so they have to stay really close to me, this is very helpful during those transition times. I think it’s worth noting that, as a mother of four delightful boys I know very well that God made them all different to each other and also to my two lovely daughters. Rather than compare them, I do my best to accept that God has made each of our children with different needs, strengths and weaknesses. I need to be mindful of that when I’m choosing their activities and training them to focus and concentrate.

Please be encouraged that while it is hard work, it is possible to have wonderful days with toddlers! They can learn many positive skills and attitudes through playing and good direction of their time. The skills of focusing and concentrating are ones that will affect them for life and influence the development of virtues such as attentiveness and self-control. If most of this is new to you, don’t feel overwhelmed but choose one or two things which you can begin with. The small GEMS groups are a lifeline for many mums, myself included, to encourage and equip us by talking through issues and sharing ideas with others on the same parenting journey.

Choices

Why do we need to teach our children to obey? The first reason for me to do so as a Christian is that God’s word tells me to:

Ephesians 6:1-3 Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honour your Father and your Mother, this is the first commandment with a promise.

Also, I believe that children who are taught to obey their parents are more likely to obey God as well. If a child cannot submit to the authority of their parent, how will they learn to submit to God’s authority in their lives as they grow?

If you are noticing many occasions during the day where you are having problems with a child who is reluctant to obey, whinges and whines while they obey or flat-out tantrums when they don’t get their own way, you may have a child who is becoming “wise in their own eyes.”

A child who is given too many choice begins to imagine that they are in charge and will question your authority in unpleasant ways during the day.

Have a think back over one of your typical days. Keep a look out for every single choice you are allowing your child. Who chose:

  • when to get up?
  • what to do when they did get up?
  • which clothes and shoes?
  • which cup and plate?
  • what food for breakfast?
  • what activity after breakfast?
  • which book for story time?
  • where to sit for story time?
  • when to go outside?
  • what to do outside?
  • when to come inside?
  • what to watch on TV?
  • which toys to have in the bath?
  • where to sit for dinner……
The list is endless and these are just a few examples. Are you making these seemingly small choices for your child or are they making them for you? Choices are closely linked with freedoms. The freedoms and choices a child is given should be in harmony with their age and moral and intellectual ability. A toddler is not able to handle the same freedoms as a preschooler, who is in turn not equipped to handle the freedoms and choice an older child can cope with.
Freedom and choices should be granted as the child ages and shows that they have the maturity and responsibility to make good choices and to use their freedom well. As moral responsibility is demonstrated,  more and more freedoms are granted until they reach young adulthood and are making almost all of their own choices and decisions.
As a rough guide, it is around the age of 3 that children are ready to make some choices (e.g. jam or peanut butter?) with freedoms gradually increasing from there. A 5 or 6 year old is ready to make more choices in their day and should be able to make appropriate choices because of the modelling you have been giving them over the previous years which shows them what good decision-making looks like.
This is not to say that a younger toddler can never have a choice, it just should not be a day-to-day, all day pattern of behaviour.
How do you know if your child is “addicted to choice?” Simply take away all choices for a day and observe what happens. If the child graciously accepts your decision-making then they are probably ready to handle those decisions themselves.
Be aware though, that a toddler who has had a lot of freedom with too many choices will initially have a very bad reaction to this loss of choice and behaviour will most likely be quite difficult for a couple of days. If you are calm and consistent and continue to make all the choices for your child they will actually be much happier and calmer in the long run too.
The concept of being “wise in your own eyes” comes from “On Becoming Childwise”  which is an excellent resources for parenting your 3 to 7 year old. It includes information on choices, freedoms, routines,  and many other parenting issues:
On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years
Mel Hayde in her book “Terrific Toddlers” covers choices and gives extensive information on how to set up a toddler’s day. My favourite book for 18 month to 3 year olds.

Mat time on the go

In my previous post on mat time I wrote about how to use and introduce mat time to your little ones, including the benefits that mat time brings to you and your child. Mat time allows you to go anywhere and place a simple boundary on the ground for your child to play quietly in while you can relax knowing they are safe, quiet and happy.

How do you cater for mat time when you are out and about though? I like to keep an activity bag in the car or near the front door with some special toys inside that are used only for this purpose to keep interest levels high when I do pull them out. I don’t have enough commercial toys to put a whole bunch out of circulation so I like these toys to be simple hand-made activities or items that won’t be missed. I have a small mat that also stays in the bag, acts as the boundary and gives the children something comfortable to sit on.

I put everything into little bags, containers or boxes as this doubles the interest factor. Once we have finished with the toys I do have to spend a few minutes returning everything to its own container but as I don’t use them all the time, I’m happy to do that.

I use the following categories to help me come up with ideas of what to include:

  • books
  • vehicle (dinky car, Duplo)
  • stacking toy (plastic containers, cups, bowls)
  • containers to open and shut (bags, boxes, zippers, flaps, press-studs, drawstring, handbags)
  • something to wear (hats, necklaces, bangles, scarves )
  • something textured or unusual to handle, tip or put into the containers (shells, rocks, pegs)
  • construction (Mega-blocks, Duplo, magnetic blocks, stickle bricks, train tracks)
  • pretend play (teddies, dollies, bottles, dishes, cups, clothes, food)
  • posting toy (a hole in the top of a small cardboard box with something to post like noodles, blocks, pipe cleaners, straws or pegs)
  • household (I wander through the house looking for items they are currently interested in like hair brushes, hats, shoes, cleaning cloth, tea towel, hair clips)

With a small amount of preparation and some training at home, you can have a toddler who happily sits down for an extended length of time to focus and play quietly with their own toys. Perfect for Grandma’s trinket filled house or a coffee date with the girls.

5 minute warning

Picture it: You are sailing in the ocean on your pirate ship, catching huge child-sized marlin as you go, just about to reach the treasure chest that is buried on the abandoned island and…Mum calls out “Bath time, come inside please.” Imagine the battle raging in a child’s heart between the desire to continue on with the game, to just find that treasure first, to whine, complain, tantrum and otherwise fail to display obedience in this situation and the moral requirement to obey.  When we put our children into this kind of siuation we set them up for failure.

Think about what it’s like as an adult to be in the middle of a project, or just about finished with something you are working on and to be called away. Frustrating!!

There are times when a child just needs to obey without a warning; first time, straight away, when Mum gives the instruction. Much of the time however, we can prepare their hearts to obey with a simple warning of the instruction about to come. Once the instruction is given, obedience is expected: immediately, first time, without complaining.

It may sound something like this:

Mum: “Pirates.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum?”

Mum: “In 5 minutes I’ll be asking you to put your ship away and come inside for a shower.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum.”

Mum (5 minutes later): “Pirates, put your ship away now and come inside please.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum”

The pirates have had time to find their treasure and prepare themselves to obey and the struggle that may otherwise have taken place inside the children has been much reduced. When a child hears themselves agree to obey, they are much more likely to follow through and actually obey.

Counting after an instruction has been given and ignored simply trains your child that obedience is not expected until the third or fourth repeat of the instruction or at “3” which is when Mum or Dad now actually require obedience. If your child can obey at “3” why not train them to obey when the instruction is given for the first time. It may even save their life one day.

The idea of giving a 5 minute warning comes from the book “On becoming Childwise”, available here.

On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years

Routines: Highchair time

Do you want your baby or toddler to be able to sit and focus for an extended length of time? Do you want them to be able to sit and wait patiently during an unexpected delay in a public situation? Do you want time to tidy up the kitchen after meals, clear and wipe down the table and move to the next activity of the day without leaving a trail of devastation that needs to be cleaned up later?

Like all behaviours and character traits, we must actively work to build patience and concentration in our children. Highchair time is a practical way to achieve this goal with our little ones. It is easy to consistently implement and work into the daily routine without having to change much at all.

After each meal is finished, simply wipe up your child and hand them a book to read or small toy to play with. Around 20 minutes is a good time to aim for and if put into place after breakfast, lunch and dinner, gives you three daily training periods to work on these skills.

Initially, your little one may not be thrilled with Mum’s new plan and a common response will be to cry, complain, whine, throw the books and toys down and other such behaviours. If you ignore this kind of behaviour and simply go about cleaning up the kitchen, you will find that over the next few days, your child will be showing great strides towards happily sitting and concentrating on whatever it is you have chosen to give them.

If you pick up toys that are thrown down, then a very amusing game of fetch will be instigated. You may leave a child for 5 minutes and then return a dropped toy, instructing them that they need to stay in the highchair until Mummy is ready to get them down. If it is dropped again, leave it there. They will soon come to the conclusion that it is better to have something to do than nothing at all and keep what they have been given.

You may need 3 or 4 little toys or books and change them over every 5 minutes or so to keep their interest,  however this should be in Mum’s timing, not the child’s.

If you have heard about the 4 personality types, you will know that a choleric child loves to be in charge. A lot of the battles you have throughout the day and at bedtime with any child, particularly the choleric child, will be eliminated by instigating a parent led routine throughout the day, rather than allowing your young child to plan their own day or giving them large blocks of free time to fill.

An excellent resource for routine planning is Terrific Toddlers by Mel Hayde. It is my “must have” toddler and young child training book and I have gone back to it over and over. It is an easy read but is full of wisdom and excellent advice that will enable you to love the toddler years and eliminate the “terrible two” syndrome that everyone talks about. I will be posting ideas of activities to give your little one during highchair time over the next couple of days.

The marble jar is full!

342 regular marbles and 36 tom-bowlers have been earned and the marble jar is finally full. Our marble jar has been going for about 3 months (it’s bigger than it looks!) and has helped to change the unkind tone that had been developing around here. We put it in place as a reward system for kind and unselfish behaviour. Whenever a child displayed the kind of behaviour we wanted to promote and was noticed by a parent or sibling doing so, the behaviour was rewarded with a marble in the marble jar. Particularly outstanding acts of kindness received tom-bowlers. When the marble jar was full, a whole family reward is given.

Before I continue; a quick aside. There is a difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives. A bribe is offered BEFORE a BEHAVIOUR is demonstrated and is used to “buy” the child’s cooperation and display of the behaviour you are bribing them to get. A reward is given AFTER a BEHAVIOUR is displayed and is not previously discussed – it comes as a pleasant surprise to the child after the fact. A goal incentive is offered BEFORE a SKILL is mastered (not for behaviours) and is received by the child after they have mastered the particular skill.

Here is an example of each:

“If you are good in the shops today, Mummy will buy you a lollipop.” (Bribe)

“You showed such diligence earlier today when you helped Mummy clean out the pantry; let’s go and have a treat.” (Reward)

“When you learn all of your catechism questions, Mummy and Daddy are going to buy you a new bible.” (Goal incentive.)

Obviously bribing our children to get the behaviour we want from them is not a helpful parenting strategy and will not improve a child’s character. It does in fact promote a selfish attitude and teaches the child that it is only worth displaying good character when the bribe is big enough. Practically speaking, they are difficult to maintain because the bribe the child expects will generally need to get bigger and bigger to keep their cooperation.

Now, back to marble jars. These operate as a reward for kind behaviour that has already been displayed. The child who is acting in a kind way is not allowed to report their own good behaviour, it must be noticed by others. Obviously to begin with, while the marbles are very fresh in their mind, there is a lot of kind behaviour that is happening only for the promised reward. Because of that, it does in some ways operate as a bribe for a couple of days. It isn’t long however before the initial interest wears off and the marbles are forgotten about. It is then that the true reward part of the system kicks in as behaviours that are naturally being shown without thought of reward are reinforced with the nice surprise of a marble.

One of the biggest challenges when trying to change the “tone” of sibling interaction is to get it lifted out of the negative and niggling mode it has sunk into and into a positive and building-up tone where we want it. Once the positive tone is reached, it is a lot easier to keep it there. The marble jar gives a quick method of changing the tone (yes, in a “fake” sort of way for the first little while) but once lifted, it can be kept there and become a more natural expression of “how we treat each other in this family.”

Oh, in case you were wondering, the reward was a trip to Sizzlers for dinner. It was thoroughly enjoyed and the children have now been introduced to the joys of the ‘all you can eat’ dessert bar and never ending drink refills!