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!

Other posts you may like:

Circle Time Planning

Circle time is next on the planning agenda. I’ve missed starting the day off together each morning and am looking forward to beginning our day with circle time again once we start our homeschooling programme.

We’ve used a lot of wonderful resources already. Here is our list of materials we have already worked through, plus the ones we will continue on with or start fresh this year. I have been very happy with those we have used so far and expect the new ones to be just as good as they are all based on the highest recommendations of homeschooling friends with similar philosophies to mine.

Click on these titles to see my reviews from previous posts and where to get them.

Our resources for 2011:
  • Building On The Rock Series by Joel Beeke (These 5 books of short stories contain a very strong gospel and biblical message. Stories of great faith, conversions, answers to prayer and miraculous happenings will help you to explain the great truths of the Christian faith, challenge you and your children in their own Christian walk and inspire you to serve God with renewed vigour.)

  • Go To The Ant Check-list (Another great chart to work through with children and then put on display as a reference. In the publisher’s words: “Use the Go To The Ant Chart to help your children examine themselves and replace laziness with habits of godly diligence.”
  • The Answers Book For Kids Volume 1 to 4 by Ken Ham (Answering tricky questions about God and this world in a way that children can understand, yet without oversimplification.)

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.

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!

Travelling with young children – plane trips

Earlier this year we took a plane trip with 5 children aged 8 and under. While our children are generally well behaved, it was not without some trepidation that we embarked on this experience, particularly when we thought about the long hours with TWO 15 month old toddlers to keep entertained.

We also had 5 days at a conference once at our destination and although there was one session per day of children’s activities planned, we had potentially a lot of time throughout the remainder of the day when we would have to keep the children quietly entertained. What to pack?? Here is our survival list, both for the plane trip itself and for quiet times throughout the day.

1. Snacks

Any parent of young children knows that you never leave home for any length of time without snacks and this was no exception. We bought an assortment of dry snacks and treats that wouldn’t make a mess and shared them out between little ziplock bags. Each bag was labeled with the child’s name and when it was for; one for the plane ride over, one to come home and one for each day of the conference. They included yoghurt coated sultanas, mini pretzels, dried banana, several varieties of cereal, tiny teddy biscuits and a lollipop per bag and as we rarely buy this kind of food they were a real treat.

2. Books

  

A couple of new books (new to the kids anyway) and a few favourites that were suitable for all ages. At one point we looked over and the big burly gentleman that had the dubious pleasure of sharing a row with us was reading one of the books to our 3 ½ year old! Not sure how that came about but it was very cute.

3. Sticker books

Another quiet and absorbing activity and as we were catering for a variety of ages perfect for us. The three older children all love to do stickers, particularly the girls.

4. Drawing equipment

     

Magic markers (they change colour when you draw over the top with the colour change pen) were new to the children and so had novelty factor. A mini whiteboard and eraser is good for even the littlies under supervision and a general supply of gluing, cutting and drawing equipment was useful for when other children wanted to join in.

5. Activity books

Dot to dots, mazes, colour-by-number and other simple puzzles keep the older two busy and number 3 enjoys simply colouring in the pictures.

6. Water painting books

These are brilliant. A small brush and a little water is all that is required and the pictures change colour in front of their eyes. The children especially loved these, although they completed them very quickly and they were fairly pricy considering the small amount of time they occupied. I had a lot of trouble locating any in the shops and ended up buying this set on ebay for around $5 per book including postage.

7. Toddler toys

       

 

I find toddlers the hardest to cater for. They have the shortest attention span and are easily bored with the toys they have already used at home, plus commercial activities often tend to be large and bulky. I have found with my own children that a selection like the ones above of new activities with equipment I can gather from around the house is even better that trying to pack their usual toys and holds their interest longer because they are new. I also capitalized on current interests such as putting on hats, brushing their own hair, Velcro, posting objects etc Obviously, behaviour training is very important and teaching toddlers to sit and concentrate at home during highchair time, mat time, playpen time and other structured elements in your routine pays off in situations like this. If a toddler is not taught to sit still and focus on an activity and to stay where Mum and Dad put them, then a plane ride is not going to be a pleasant experience at all.

8. Playdough

I didn’t get this out on the plane but it was a nice afternoon quiet time activity and was easily shared with new friends.

9. Lacing and sewing activities

    

I purchased the Filo lacing and lacing cards from Skillbuilders, an occupational therapy business. They are excellent for fine motor control but do require more effort. I use these in my homeschooling activities but find that the children would not generally choose to use them just for fun. They were well used on the trip though simply because they were new.

10. Toy cars

Again, good for all ages and compact for travel. We were allocated one item of carry on luggage and one suitcase per person (including the twins), plus a baby bag, a portacot and a twin stroller and we used every single bit of it. The eldest child dragged two carry on suitcases on wheels, the girls had one each plus a jacket and hubby and I had the rest between us plus 2 babies. Moving about was not an easy affair but we did get excellent service as the air hostesses took one look at us and instantly we had pity factor. Especially when we first arrived and hubby went to park the car after dropping us and the luggage off at the entrance. I was asked in horror(?) if I was travelling alone with the children as the bags were carried through and we received one on one attention to get through the queue.

11. Wikki Stix

These are wax coated bendable sticks (also known in Australia as Bendaroos) that will stick to themselves and almost any smooth surface. The children can make models, spell out words, make pictures and put them to a variety of other uses due to their open ended nature. They are clean, quiet, small and easily portable so brilliant for travel. I did read on one parenting forum though that they are poisonous if ingested so without knowing if this is true or not, I am very cautious with the twins not to let them get a hold of them.

Two more activities that we didn’t take this time, but have used for travel activities in the past are:

12. A roll of alfoil.

Yep, that’s it! You’d be amazed at what kids can do with a roll of alfoil; it makes an excellent sculpting material. I trawled the net and found a bunch of pictures and included these as springboards for ideas and they went from there.

13. A packet of pipe cleaners.

Again, I found heaps of pipe cleaner creations on the web, printed them out as ideas and the kids created to their heart’s content.

In the end, we only used half of the activities that we took, but we made it there and back in fairly good humour and the people around us didn’t have much to complain about!

Check out this post and this one for more related travel activities for toddlers and children.

 

 

The 10 times rule

Our children all have them. They drive us crazy, but they’re not a big deal. The children in our family provide us with several of these little annoyances on a regular basis.

What am I talking about you ask? Leaving shoes in the middle of the doorway, forgetting to flush the toilet, leaving the back door open, forgetting to turn bedroom lights out when they leave, leaving bandaid wrappers on the bathroom bench, leaving hats on the floor under the hat rack, taking dirty dishes to the kitchen and leaving them on the bench right above the dishwasher but not in it. I could go on and on. And I know that you have a list too. Take a moment to come up with one little thing that the children in your house do that drives you batty. Now, the answer to your problem;

Ta daaa…. The 10 Times Rule. A nifty little solution (care of Meredith and Patrice– thank you) that will abolish these little bad habits in no time, with very little effort on your behalf. How does it work? Very simply. Gather the children together. Point out the offending habit. Inform them that from that moment on, anyone who persists in that bad habit will be repeating the offending action correctly 10 times.

This is what it looks like:

Child A leaves the back door open as they run out and jump on the trampoline. Child A is informed that they have not completed the task correctly (i.e. shut the door behind them) so will need to re-do the task 10 times in the correct manner. They are then required to run to the trampoline and come back to open and shut the back door (quietly) 10 times before they are free to continue on with their play. The door must be opened and shut properly and quietly and the trampoline touched each time or it does not count.

No need for a lecture, no raised voices, nothing other than supervising and counting that the 10 times has actually been done is required from Mum.  It’s kind of fun for the child the first time, but then it gets old really quickly. Family members will very soon be yelling out “10 times rule” to remind a child to shut the door because they do not want their playmate to be taken away for the time it takes to re-do it. In the same way, the child who is actually guilty of forgetting will soon start to remember as their play is held up once more. Most of these problems occur in the first place because the children are intent on getting to something they want to do, so being held up to repeat something they didn’t want to do in the first place is a great incentive not to forget the next time.

One more example; the children persist in placing dirty dishes on the bench, rather than in the dishwasher. All children are warned about the 10 times rule applying to this behaviour. Child B forgets and leaves their dirty dish on the bench. They are then required to place their dish in the dishwasher, remove the dish and take it back to the table, take it back to the dishwasher and place it in and so on, until they have repeated the task 10 times. It works and I love it!

We also have developed an extra consequence for behaviours such as leaving bandaid wrappers on the bathroom sink. Children who do this are considered to have immediately volunteered to clean the entire bathroom sink. The bathroom gets cleaned, bandaid wrappers are no longer left lying about and everybody is happy. Well… I’m happy anyway and the children are learning responsibility for their actions 🙂