One-on-one focus time – how do you do it with lots of children?

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Spending one-on-one time (focus time) with our children is important, but how do you find time to do it with a large family?

1 to 3 children:

Focus time for us has changed a lot along the way. When I only had a couple of children I had it planned as a set timeslot every day with each child. It’s especially important for the toddler of the family that they have some attention early in the day before popping them into playpen time or other independent play. We would read a story or play with the dolls house, toy cars, Lego or whatever toy was a favourite of the child at the time. This daily filling of their love tank early in the schedule set them up for success with room time and other alone times later in the day while my focus was on other children or tasks. Later in the day I would spend some time with the older children.

4 & 5 children:

Once we had our twins it became too cumbersome to fit one-on-one time into every day so we moved to having an “hour of power” one afternoon a week. Whenever the children asked me to do something with them that I could not accomodate then and there, I would tell them that that was a wonderful idea for our hour of power. We would add it to a running list that we kept so that we didn’t get to the special hour and have no ideas. The kids were happy that it was a delayed “yes” rather than a no and I was able to do it at a time that was suitable for me. The toddlers still had some focus time early in the day on a daily basis.

6 children:

As the older children were getting to an age where playing with toys at home was no longer suitable for focus time, we changed to fortnightly dates with Mummy or Daddy. The babies and toddlers in the family still had their focus time built into the daily routine early in the day and the older 5 were on a rotating schedule to go out on a Saturday for a couple of hours – 1 child per fortnight. Of course there were still plenty of incidental times along the way when we spent time with the children other than these special dates.

Some of the issues that we found with this was that 10 weeks was a long time to wait for the next special date and having these set times seemed to bring with it a sense of ungratefulness and entitlement rather than thankfulness that we were taking the time to do it with them. A lot of talk went into how long it was until the next date, with almost a depression after their turn as they realised how long it would be before they went again. It put a lot of pressure onto us to keep it up and not skip a turn and life tended to get in the way. The dates also needed to be something bigger which often came at a cost financially. We decided that as a long-term strategy it wasn’t working for us or the kids.

The next method we call date cramming. We would take a couple of days and take every child out on a date with either Mummy or Daddy all one after the other. We liked this because everyone got a turn very quickly and the children did not know when we planned to do it – we would just announce it unexpectedly and they were very excited and thankful that it was happening. We took the younger children first and then the older children as they had a better grasp of time and were able to understand that their turn was coming soon. All done and dusted in 2 or 3 days with no drawn-out waiting. We still do this as we find it works well for us – family holidays are a great time to fit it in.

7 children

7 children later we have settled into a very informal system. Except for the toddler, we don’t have it written into our routines (no expectations, no crummy attitudes) but are mindful that it is important to proactively build relationships. It’s different for every child and age. The holiday date cramming is still happening a couple of times a year, with the rest of the alone times balancing out informally in a a whole variety of different ways.

  • Our nearly 2 year old comes into our bedroom as soon as she wakes in the morning for some snuggle and tickle time with Mum and Dad before we start showers.
  • Homeschooling starts after breakfast and provides opportunities for the 4-year-old and our 6-year-old twins to have some individual attention as they have their turn to sit on my lap and do some reading or maths or other subjects I save for this time.
  • Our 8 and 11-year old girls are involved in a church dance group and the 11 year old in a girl’s choir. The trips to and from these events, plus occasional extra rehearsals etc. provide some one-on-one time connected with something that is special to them.

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  • Our 13 year old is up later than every other child and naturally gets lots of informal time with Mum and Dad as we chat while doing dishes, play board games, look something up on the computer or whatever comes up as a topic of interest. He will often accompany one of us if we head out to the shops in the evening or just sit about and chat.
  • Whenever my husband or I run an errand over the weekend we make a point of taking along just one child for some special time – usually the 4 or 6 year olds as they do not have as many other opportunities that naturally crop up without planning.
  • We have started some traditions connected to birthdays such as going camping alone with a parent when they turn 7 or horse-riding when they turn 9.
  • We occasionally have girls/guys day out – when I take all the girls to a special event or Daddy takes all the boys. Our next event will be a winter showcase concert that the girls are looking forward to seeing. While this is not strictly alone, it still gives us opportunities to focus on individuals within the group.
  • Daddy has been hiking with the older 3 children a couple of times in the last year which involves long walks (plenty of time to chat to individual children) and overnight camp-outs before hiking back.
  • Coming up to holiday periods I will sometimes get the children to make a list of all the things they want to do with me alone while we don’t have school work to get through. If something needs to be done like purchasing new sneakers for someone then we will turn that into a date opportunity and the occasional birthday invitation or other special event involving only one child also gives us some time alone. I frequently have a helper work in the kitchen with me to prepare a family meals and there are other times when we sit and simply read a story or work on a project with a child.

Keeping love languages in mind is very important when thinking through focus time. The older children wanted help making Jedi capes to use for their home movies so this was a good opportunity to tackle a small project together – acts of service children all happy! A quick trip to the local shopping centre for some new socks has the “gift” child showing the world and overflowing with joy. Piggy backing my “physical touch” boy to bed and taking 5 minutes to tickle and cuddle before lights out each night fills his love talk. The “quality time” kids need just that – time and lots of it. They are the hardest to fit it and the ones we have to most proactively work to accomodate.

So yes, our children are not going on amazing Princess date with Daddy every weekend or heading out to expensive all day experiences with Mummy every other week, but they are well loved. I think we need to take a step back from the pressure to heap money and experiences on our children and ask ourselves what they need. Perhaps you just need to go and play a game of Monopoly or fix the toy you’ve been promising to get to. Filling their love tanks and letting them know they are special and loved is what its all about for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fruitimals – a stay at home family night activity for all ages

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Building strong family relationships is vital (read why here) and one of the vehicles we use to do this in our family is by having regular family nights. These “nights” are at any time of the day and simply involve spending time together as a family doing something that we enjoy; building memories and strengthening our ties with each other.

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One of the activities on our “family fun spot” last week was fruitimals. It is a new one to add to our mega list of 101 stay at home family night ideas and comes from our good friends the Clarks. (Thanks Mrs Clark!)

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It’s very simple and great for all ages. All you need is a selection of fruit and veg (plus cheese, nuts and seeds if you have them) and a couple of toothpicks and wooden skewers. Use them to create weird and wonderful animals, patterns and sculptures (fruit + animals = fruitimals) before gobbling them up for a super healthy lunch. Wholesome family fun with the added bonus of being good for them too. A great way to get fussy eaters to eat their veg!

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It can be a competition to see who can be the most creative, or have complicated design rules that must be followed (e.g.. must include at least 3 veg, 2 fruit and 3 different colours, be a pattern with at least 3 components, be a sculpture that will support the weight of another fruitimal ….. etc.)

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The little people can participate or not as they desire and the hungry ones eat as they go. Limiting toothpicks meant they had to eat one creation before they could make another.

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This is the second time we have done this and straight away the kids were asking if we can do it again. It could even work well for a kid’s birthday party activity with a few treat items thrown in to make it party food.

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Family night ideas – Family fun spot

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Depending on your personality, it can be easy to become too focussed on the mountain of tasks that surround us as Mothers (especially when you are homeschooling many children) to the detriment of our relationships with those children. With 6 children and a newborn in our house, life can get busy and with night feeds keeping me slightly sleep deprived it is easy to let all the fun leach out of life. Relationships take the back seat and jobs take priority.

In order to keep this somewhat in check we endeavour to keep our family “nights” going. Too often though we don’t get around to arranging anything and fall back on the old standby of movie nights. Despite having a very long list of ideas, I just wasn’t getting around to planning any of them. Introducing a family fun spot has addressed this issue for us. It gives us a place to write our family activities and keeps us accountable to actually getting around to doing some of them!

So how does it work?

The children write ideas of things they would like to do in a suggestions spot and Mummy and Daddy transfer appropriate ones onto the “coming soon” space on our whiteboard (adding our own as well) until we are ready to do them. We then transfer a couple at a time to the “fun spot” when we know they will be slotted in sometime in the very near future. We avoid giving a specific time as to when they will happen as a newborn can be unpredictable and we don’t want to make plans that keep needing to be changed and disappointing and frustrating the children. We simply wait for a good opportunity and announce the event as we are ready to go ahead. Once we have been there, done that, the idea is erased and a new one added in its place.

It gives the children something to look forward to with anticipation – a little sparkle in their day. It keeps them in front of me too so I can’t forget and am forced to plan the upcoming events – the children are very quick to point it out if there is nothing written in the family fun spot! The added bonus is that we do some of these type of things as part of our everyday life anyway and our children have it so good that they take them for granted, barely noticing the fun stuff that we do with and for them. Writing activities we were just going to do “because” on the family fun spot helps them to notice the good things we are already doing.

For more info on family nights (the why’s and a great list of ideas) see this post.

Silver Boxes – Words of life

The concept of silver boxes comes from a book I read recently by Florence Littauer, itself titled “Silver Boxes.” The positive, uplifting and loving words we say to those around us are like giving them a pretty silver box. Each time we use these powerful, positive words to speak life to our children it’s like placing another silver box onto their pile.

As I read I was reminded again of how powerful our words are and how careful we must be to guard our tongue. We have the ability to build others up or tear them down with only our words, to brighten a day and encourage someone or to make them feel flat and down. Our spouse and children are the first we should be considering when we use our words, but how often do we turn on the cheer for the person at the door or on the phone when moments before we have been barking and growling at the ones around us that we love the most?

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Formal certificates, stamps and other small tokens are a tangible form of silver boxes. Try to link them to character rather than just ability. One child can memorise and recite a poem in a few minutes while another has to apply themselves diligently for weeks. Praise the effort, not only the skill.

Deserved praise is one of the special ways we can give our children silver boxes. Again, focus on praising character rather than skill. When your child completes a puzzle, commend their focus, concentration, perseverance and effort in doing so, rather than just the act of completion. Otherwise the message becomes “You must be successful to earn my praise,” when it should be more along the lines of “If you work hard and try your best it is a commendable virtue.”

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If we praise a child for being a “good reader” for example, the sibling who is not gifted in this area cannot be praised for the same. However, every child can practise diligently, work responsibly, learn sight words with perseverance, be attentive to your teaching and refuse to give up. Praise them for these character traits even as they struggle with learning the skill.

Avoid over-praising. For many of us, giving too little praise is more of a problem, however make sure that the praise you do give is deserved. Do not go into raptures over mediocre efforts and achievements. Look for achievements that come after hard work and effort. Again, linking praise to character means you can give copious amounts of praise that is deserved, rather than false flattery. If your child has done a sloppy job of cleaning their room but you want to encourage them in their efforts, comment specifically on something they have done well. Do not say “Your room looks great!” when clearly it does not. Try, “Well done for showing initiative and responsibility in remembering to tidy up this morning without Mummy having to remind you.”

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Teach siblings the power of words. Encourage them to give each other silver boxes. Do not allow them to be harsh, critical or unkind to each other.

Praise plates are a great way of giving silver boxes in the form of written encouragement. They help those of us who need to remember to be intentional about praising the good things our children are and do, rather than always focussing on the negative. For a full description, see here.

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Giving children chores is a great way to teach them character, responsibility and a sense of achievement. Don’t forget to be thankful for the work they do and let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. A child will often go the extra mile with pleasure after you have noticed the effort they put into doing a task.

Each year on our children’s birthdays my husband and I both write them a letter. Throughout the year, as the children achieve milestones, learn something new, lose a tooth or make a funny statement we make a note of it on our calendar. Anything that we want to remember is quickly jotted down right as it happens so we don’t forget it. As their birthdays come around, we use these calendar notes to write our letters. They are full of love and positive memories for the children to treasure – another way to give silver boxes. Read more about them here.

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My children love to have me take photographs of things they have created. It shows that I value their work, especially if I use the photo in a bog post for all the world to see!!

Mummy and Daddy dates are a great forum for silver boxes of quality time and uplifting words. We don’t do them all the time, but when we do, the children remember them as highlights. We keep the outings simple; breakfast at McDonald’s, a trip to the local op shop, a play at Jungle Gym or an icecream run once everyone else is in bed. Especially if there has been some conflict in our relationship, a “date” outside of the home removes all the conflict points. You are not expecting anything from them, you are doing something they love to do, no-one else is there to compete with and they have your full attention. Make sure you use the time to speak some uplifting words and tell them how much you like to spend time with them.

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If your child is always showing you something, pointing out what they have done and generally seeking after your praise, consider whether this may be their love language. If you withhold it from them their love tank will become empty and they will behave in ways you do not enjoy, just to get attention from you. Far better to supply deserved positive words than to be dealing with a child who is “needy” in this area.

Some people require more silver boxes than others. Those who’s love language is words of encouragement need to hear those positive words. Some of us can give or take them, but others cannot feel loved without those verbal expressions of love, acceptance and praise. Negative words also cut more deeply for children to whom words of affirmation is their primary love language. Be aware too, that unkind, harsh or negative words can tear down that pile of silver boxes much more quickly than it was built up.

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An unthoughtful comment about a child’s appearance may be remembered for the rest of their life and knocks down many other positive silver boxes they may have been given in the same area. I can still remember a comment a primary school teacher made about my toes!

When you are having a bad day, take a deep breath and look around for something you can praise for. Catch that child doing anything positive and start to give some words of appreciation and encouragement. Even the tiniest silver box can turn the day around. A good rule of thumb is 3 positive comments for every correction you need to give. It’s harder than it sounds but so worth it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Where do your children find their identity?

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We have recently returned from a Growing Families Australia family camp. It was a fun-filled weekend, with activities for the kids, time for fellowship with other like-minded families and sessions for the parents with Norm Wakefield from Elijah Ministries. Norm is a gifted communicator and presented a series of powerful messages for parents (Fathers in particular) across the weekend.

His message on finding our identity is one that we should all be aware of. To find out where we get our identity from, he asks 5 pointed questions:

  1. Who is your power source?
  2. To whom do you look for happiness?
  3. To whom are you connected/belong to?
  4. Who do you imitate in order to connect?
  5. Who is your God?

Is the answer to these questions your husband? wife? friends? children? yourself? God?

What about if we ask ourselves the same questions, but this time with our children in mind. Who are they looking to for their identity? Is it their peers? workmates? boyfriend or girlfriend? themselves? us as their parents? God?

Norm points out that whoever offers the most hope of happiness and identity will have their heart. Whoever has their heart has the most influence. Parents, if you don’t offer your children the most hope and point them to finding God as the only true source of identity, your children will look elsewhere for it.

Scary thought isn’t it? Who has your children’s hearts?

If you would like to know more about how to keep your children’s hearts, I  recommend reading “Family Driven Faith” by Voddie Baucham and “Keeping Our Children’s Hearts” by Terri Maxwell. Taking a Christian parenting class would also be a wise step in the right direction.

Praise plates, character and love languages

We occasionally use reward systems to boost the tone of interaction between siblings and reinforce good character. While our marble jar and treasure tree were an enjoyable way to focus on building positive family identity, they do come with a reward and as such I do not always use them. I do not want the children to get the impression (however subtle) that it is only worth displaying good character if there is something in it for them.

We have just reinstated our praise plate system which we have used and loved in the past. The children have in fact asked for it more than once. It is very simple to set up. Each family member uses one and a half paper plates to make and decorate a pocket (see photo above) using art and craft materials. A bunch of paper slips are cut up and left handy with some coloured pens and we are ready to go. Whenever I or one of the children notice another family member displaying positive character in any way, they write it down on a slip and pop it into that person’s praise plate.

The focus is on character rather than physical attributes and they are not allowed to write them for themselves or point out their own sterling qualities! Some examples are: G showed hospitality today when she greeted Mrs Smith with a lovely welcoming smile and hello. B showed kindness today when he tied his brother’s shoe laces for him. C was very helpful to Mummy and served our family by preparing a delicious salad for lunch. S showed initiative by putting away her ironing before she was asked to do it. The possibilities are endless and the children get better at writing their own as they hear more and more examples.

Older children write their comment and the younger children draw a picture and dictate their praise comment to be written underneath.

Occasionally when there are a few minutes spare before dinner or at an opportune time, all the children are instructed to sit down and complete at least one slip for every other person in the family. This insures nobody is left out and gives me a wonderful way to use those spare moments before a meal is served. My husband and I also take the time to write out several slips for each child and each other and slip them in the praise plates.

This great character chart helps us think of different qualities we want to commend and recognise and prompts us as we think of what we can write. Catching our children doing the right thing is such an encouragement to them.

On Sundays after lunch we stay at the table together and read each person’s praise slips out loud for all to appreciate. This is a wonderful way to fill love tanks and particularly speaks to those children who have words of affirmation as their primary or secondary love language. If you have never come across the idea of love languages, I strongly suggest reading Gary Chapman’s book “The 5 Love Languages.” The 5 Love Languages website is also helpful, with diagnostic tests to determine the love language or your children, spouse or yourself. If you are someone who finds it difficult to speak encouraging words consistently, or tend to be critical with your words, this is an excellent way of ensuring that those ‘building up’ words are heard by your children.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Sizzlers and grace

Spoiled walls – bickering and sibling conflict

Sibling relationships