Guest post: Structuring your child’s day

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Today I am excited to introduce Kristy to you. She has been inspiring me with the different activities she has prepared for her children and I have asked her to share some of her tips and ideas with us. Over to her…

Angela invited me to share with you on her blog. Firstly I feel very privileged to be doing this as I am a huge fan of Ang’s blog and it has helped me so much with parenting my two little ones. I hope what I share will help you also. Nothing I am sharing is my original idea, just how I apply it to my family life. I am so thankful to the Growing Families courses we have completed and also to Angela for her mentorship and encouragement.

Over the next 4 posts, I will be sharing things that I have found helpful. The first is structuring your child’s day, the second is busy boxes, thirdly sensory tubs and lastly I will be sharing a chore chart that has really worked for our family.

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STRUCTURING YOUR CHILD’S DAY:

We first heard about purposefully structuring a child’s day when our son was 18months old, after completing a toddler course from Growing Families. Now he is 4 and my daughter is nearly 2 and I have not looked back. It has been a huge help to myself and provides such a security for my children. They know exactly what is expected, they know what it means when a structured time is over (the timer goes off) and they know that Mummy makes all the decisions on how they spend their precious hours. It also helps me achieve things I need to get done in the day.

When I first began to structure my children’s day it was similar to when we first introduced couch time. At first it seemed a little fake, awkward and included lots of smiles while children either pined for our attention or were playing next to us very noisily. It seemed a little pointless, however we stuck with it and over time it was something my husband and I have started to crave. We can now catch up for around 15 minutes uninterrupted time while the children play near us. Even our son likes to remind us that “It is now couch time Mummy and Daddy.”

It’s the same with structuring your child’s day. It may seem pointless, loud, hard work and a bit of a joke when you start. But slowly as you persist with it, it becomes engrained into your everyday routine and in turn your children and yourself start to crave it. There has been many times in the morning when we have been in a little bit of a rush to get out of the door that a typical morning activity like table time has not been accomplished. My son begs for it now, so it’s used as an incentive once he has finished all his chores – if there is time left over he can do table time. I can really see the benefits of my children loving the structure and routine because of the security that comes with it. I have also found that trying my best to do certain structured activities at the same sort of time every day can help a lot. It saves the nagging and “What are we doing now?” questions.

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Our day comprises of breakfast, table time (4yo) or highchair time (1yo), chores, playpen time (1yo) or play room time (4yo), focus time (1yo), outing, morning tea, lunch, nap (1yo) or room time (4yo), tv time (half an hour), afternoon tea, outside play, sibling play, focus time (4yo) or mat time (1yo), chores, dinner, bath, couch time (parents) while children play on the mat or nearby, teeth, bed (2yo) story time (4yo) , bed (4yo).

This of course is very flexible and often certain times aren’t achieved. I just love having a ‘go to’ when I need to get things done. And because everything is thought out, it means I know that my children are spending their time well. You can add anything into your routine – book time, craft time, walk, errands etc.

How to start: I tried small amounts of time first and made sure I used a timer when their ‘times’ were over. They soon picked up that Mummy comes when the timer goes off, not in answer to their cries. Starting small and building up is the way to train your children in this and using praise, praise, praise when the timer goes off to indicate how proud you are of them. Verbally stating the time too with statements such as “Well done for doing PLAYPEN time. You stayed in your PLAYPEN the whole time. I’m so proud of you for playing happily in your PLAYPEN” etc. reinforces what the child has achieved and the word PLAYPEN will bring a new meaning and expectation into their little minds.

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Couch time and secure children

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Do your children know you love each other? Making your marriage a priority benefits your children and helps you to build a happy, secure and stable family. Much of your child’s sense of security comes from them seeing the relationship between you and your spouse functioning smoothly. When they can see that Mum and Dad really do love each other, they can rest in the assurance that the two most important people in their life are there to stay.

One tangible way we can give our children this assurance is by implementing couch time. Couch time comes from the Growing Kids God’s Way parenting course by Gary and Anne-Marie Ezzo. The Ezzos explain couch time this way: “When the workday is over, take ten or fifteen minutes to sit on the couch as a couple. Couch time is to take place when the children are awake, not after they go to bed. Couch time provides children with a visual sense of your togetherness. It is one tangible way your child can measure Mom and Dad’s love relationship and have that inner need satisfied. In addition, couch time provides a forum for Mom and Dad’s personal and relational needs to be met.”

Many couple will respond that they do not need couch time because their children know they love each other. They do not fight and get along just fine. That may be true, but if we step back for a minute and take a look at it from the child’s point of view, the children may not be getting the tangible reminder that they need. Many of us spend the evening after Dad gets home getting children fed, clean and into bed. Once the work is done, Mum and Dad sit back, relax and have some time together. But our children are not here for this together time. They have seen Mum and Dad working together but not operating within a husband/wife role that demonstrates their love relationship with each other.

Benefits:

Couch time is good for the whole family, but is particularly useful if you have children who are regularly waking at night or just seem to be misbehaving for no good reason. You will be amazed at how the simple act of talking together for a short time every night will help bring peace to your home. Sometimes the simple things really are the best things. Don’t knock it ’til you try it! A word of warning though; don’t expect any behavioural changes until you have been consistent for at least a couple of weeks. They are watching to see if this is a new flash in the pan thing that will disappear or if it’s permanent.

What:

10 minutes or so to sit and talk together, not engaging in any other task, otherwise children perceive that you are “cooking” or “washing dishes” etc. even though you know that you are sharing and catching up.They need to see you just talking and loving each other. Eye contact and full attention necessary!

Have Dad be the one that announces “It’s couch time, I am going to talk to Mummy because I love her and you need to play here with …. and not interrupt until we are done.”
Expect kids to test your resolve initially – in the longer term they will probably start reminding you to have it! Have Dad be the one who tells a child who is trying to interrupt that they need to wait until couch time is over to talk. Why? Mum is in charge all day and this is one way to demonstrate that Dad is head of the house. Otherwise your child may perceive that Dad is only doing it because Mum is making him as she is in charge of all else in the child’s world for the rest of the day.

When:

Any time of day when the children are awake and present. When Dad first walks in is a good time but not always practical. Does your husband get home late? Have the kids fed, teeth done, ready and in bed. You two sit on the end of their bed and chat before hubby spends some time reading a story and spending time with the children. Perhaps have it first up in the morning while Mum and Dad have a coffee together. The time is not important, consistency is.

Where:

Somewhere the children can see and hear you but not interrupt. Not while you do something else. The exception here is dinner. If your children do not need help during the meal, you may announce after grace is said and the food is served that it is Mummy and Daddy’s talk time now so please eat your dinner in silence until it is your turn to speak. The added bonus here is that with nothing to do other than eat, dinner gets eaten in record time! If you are still having to help little ones or be constantly interrupted, then dinner is not the time for you to practise couch time.

 

How often:

Every day if you can when you first get started, but once the habit is established then 4 or more times a week. The younger the children are, the more important it is to do every day until a pattern is set. Remember they will try to interrupt and you are training a new skill so be consistent until expectations are well established.

Preparation:

Teach toddlers to have blanket or mat time so that they will stay within the boundary set by you with a few toys to keep them occupied while you talk. Set aside a bag or container of toys that are just for couch time to keep interest high. Pop small children into their playpen while you talk. Direct older children to find a book, some cars or whatever will be interesting to them while you chat. Sometimes children will want to have their own “couch time” while you are talking.

What to talk about:

While with young children it really does give you an opportunity to share and develop your relationship, with older kids the situation is a little different because it becomes a filtered conversation. It’s not a true reflection of our day because we still have to watch what we say in front of the kids. I can’t really share what my day has been like because that involves talking about the children in a way I would not do in front of them or in front of their siblings. Now we use the time to communicate to Dad areas we are working on with the children, their successes from the day, academic achievements and other non-moral happenings. I would not embarrass a child by reporting their misbehaviours in front of their siblings.

Discipline:

Children who persistently interrupt may need to be removed from the room for that day’s couch time or given other suitable consequences. You may like to use a 10 minute sand timer so the kids can see how long they need to wait. Our 5, 10 and 15 minute sand-timers are always being used for something. They are great for little ones because they can see how much time is passing and how much remains