Pre and post-activity training

 

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Has your child ever rudely ignored an adult when they said hello? Or perhaps you noticed just a moment too late that little Johnnie was helping himself to the buffet food with his fingers. Or did you have to practically carry your screaming toddler away from the merry-go-round in the shopping centre after saying no to their request to ride?

Most of us will face situations like these at some point and would prefer not to. We teach our children the right thing to do, yet they regularly demonstrate that they are not ready to apply this knowledge consistently without help.

While there are many ways to address the problem, today we will look at pre-activity training as a relatively simple and effective strategy for changing these failures into success. Simply put, pre-activity training is just training, teaching or reminding children before a given situation occurs as to how they should behave.

Trying to teach our children what they could or should have done in the heat of the moment is usually not very effective. Taking them aside at another time when you are both calm is a much better atmosphere for training the heart. Explain that you are there to help them and walk alongside as they work to change their own character and behaviours.

What might this look like?

Work on character

It is important that we actively teach the virtues that we do want to see, rather than just focusing on the negatives we are trying to wipe out. Actively teaching character development by studying positive character traits helps children to learn what it means, looks and sound like to be diligent, respectful, thorough, kind etc.

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In the car on the way to the shops, or a party or a friend’s house for a visit, discuss all the possible scenarios they may face and what the appropriate behaviour in the situation will be. Brainstorm ways to show good manners before you arrive at your destination. Outline the boundaries and expectations for the coming situation before you arrive. Have your slightly older children tell their siblings some of the things they may need to remember before they get there.

Create a personalized Mummy and Daddy CD for your child.

Full explanation and instructions here.

Family devotions/bible time

During our daily bible study times we can look for the life application for each passage that we read. Talk about what God’s word looks like in our every day lives and how the children can actively demonstrate that they are following it. Ask each child to choose one or two things they will do today to apply the knowledge they have just learned.

teddies up at night 3Teddy training

Most little children own several favourite toys. Take a couple of these and have them act out scenarios that you have noticed during the preceding days that need work. Have the dump truck eat rudely and spill food as it drives around. Spiderman can then come along and with the help of the child explain to the truck how he should be eating. Little Ted can demand a drink from China Doll who responds with a mini lecture (role-played by the child) about how he can ask nicely. Storm Trooper can interrupt Barbie’s conversation with Bride Doll and be instructed by the child as to how to use the interrupt rule. Children love this!

We have also had teddy sit up at the table next to our children and each time we can see them about to do the wrong thing we exclaim with horror; “TEDDY! You aren’t going to put your fingers in your food are you????” We are amused to see the little one who was about to do exactly that quickly retract the fingers and grab their knife and fork. If putting on a bib is a daily battle, then we have a chat with teddy as he is sitting there about how we expect him to have self-control and put his bib on calmly, before turning to our toddler to do the same. Little kids love it when we say in mock horror; “Did you see that?! Teddy was picking her nose! She is not being loving. Do you remember the bible verse that tells us love is not rude? Perhaps you could remind teddy what she needs to do so that she can be a lady.”

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Older children

Help older children understand their love language needs, identify their personality type and develop strategies together to work on their besetting sins.

Pray together as you work through their areas of struggle, letting them know that you have your own areas that you are working on. (They don’t necessarily need to know what they are.)

While you are out and about

We often notice other children doing the wrong thing while we are out shopping or visiting. Once we have moved away from the situation we have a little talk about what they were doing, how it made others feel, whether they were being respectful etc. We do have to be careful not to create little Pharisees who judge others with an attitude of “I would never do that” but it is a useful training tool.

There are also situations that come up along the way that I have not anticipated in the car. When that happens I stop, get down on eye level and have a little chat about what is going to happen in the next few moments. Here are a couple of examples;

  • In a moment we will be passing the merry-go-round without stopping to have a ride. You will need to have the self-control to pass by without a fuss.
  • Aunty May has just pulled in the driveway. When she comes in you need to look her in the eyes and say hello Aunt May.
  • Before we go and take our turn at the buffet line I want each of you to tell me 3 ways we can think of others and show good manners while serving yourself.

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5 minute warning

The 5 minutes warning is another simple tool that assists us with pre-activity training in the heat of the moment, when there is little chance to talk about what is coming. Full explanation here.

Like many of my behaviour and training related posts, these ideas are all based on the Growing Families Australia parenting courses, including Growing Kids God’s Way.

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Buffet training

Something we try to remember as parents is not to expect our children to do anything while out that they do not do at home. For example, if my toddlers are unable to sit at the table for any length of time after a meal, I wouldn’t ask them to do so in a restaurant. We think it is unfair to expect something from them that we have not trained them to be able to do in the first place.

Asher in his highchair

With long-term goals in mind, we include highchair time as a regular part of our daily routine and our little ones are used to happily staying in their highchairs after meals with a couple of small activities to play with for a reasonable amount of time. We can then go to a restaurant or meeting and set them up with something to do and know that they will be happy to sit for quite a while without expecting to get straight down. At home, it means that I have time to finish cleaning up the table and kitchen and leave the area without having a trail of mess that I need to come back to later.

A sitting up on the mat

There are times when we visit others or find ourselves in a situation where there are just too many tempting items for the baby to get into. A young child will only stay in your arms for so long! Mat time training can help here. See introducing mat time and mat time on the go for ideas and explanations. Using a partacot (portable crib) as a playpen can also work well for those china filled houses. (See also starting late.)

Take a look around your table during a meal. If visitors were present, would you be embarrassed? Table etiquette and manners are something we need to go over and over (sigh..) but one strategy that has really helped us is the “3 warning” system.

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We occasionally hold “buffet training” evenings. They are great for a family night activity and really very simple. All we do is put out a whole array of food on the kitchen bench in lots of bowls and have the children move along and serve themselves in the same way they would do at a buffet. We discuss etiquette at the same time and add our own rules to make it work for a home dinner. (For example, “You may skip over no more than 3 of the dishes” to ensure that the tomato haters are satisfied but the vegetable phobic children still end up with a few specimens of the veggie kind on their plate.) The children need to know how to take an appropriate amount, avoid wastage, to think of others coming behind them, use the tongs, general manners and so on.

waitressing

Hosting high teas and other special events in our home and having the older children act as greeters, seaters, waiters and waitresses is also something they love and helps them to learn how to show hospitality and serve others by making people feel welcome and comfortable.

backyard boundaries

Have you ever had a visitor’s child waltz through your house as if they owned it, helping themselves to whatever they like? If children are used to having complete freedom in their own home to go wherever they like, touch what they like and do what they like, then don’t be surprised if they do the same while they are out.

As well as having a routine in place, limiting inappropriate choices and providing verbal, physical or visual barriers in our own home, when we arrive at someone’s house or a play area, one of the first things we do is identify the physical boundaries for the children.

We also spend a little time on the way there discussing the kinds of situations they may face and have the older children remind the younger ones of the manners they need to remember (a good review for them as well!)

A with teddy

To avoid having young children who will only sleep in their own cots at home, we occasionally put them to sleep in a variety of situations; in the portacot in another room, in the pram, on a sibling’s bed, in our big bed, at Grandparentss house for an overnight etc. While they never sleep as well when we are out, at least they will have part of a nap.

While far from perfect, the children are slowly growing and developing into young adults that we hope will be a blessing to us and to others.

Fussy eaters and 2 plate dinners


Do you have picky eaters who have somehow come under the delusion that your kitchen operates like a restaurant and dinners are made to order? Perhaps mealtimes are a chore and constant battle is being waged with a child who feels that the meal you have served fails to fit within their stated parameters of acceptable food preferences. Take heart, today’s training tool is for you.

The pervading advice around the traps seems to be along the lines of “Keep meal times positive” and “offer a variety of healthy choices and children will be sure to eat some of them” etc etc. Now I know my own children and their response to these methods would have been very positive – “I positively will not be eating these vegetables” or perhaps, “Thank you Mother dear for this wonderful array of spring vegetables, but tonight I will be having the sausage and bread with a side of sauce and perhaps a dash of mayo.

As a Mother, my aims for our children regarding meals are fairly straight forward. I would like my children to:

  • eat what is set before them
  • do so with a positive attitude
  • keep negative opinions to themselves
  • be able to eat what someone else serves them in a social situation regardless of whether they like it or not
  • be willing to try new things
  • finish within a reasonable timeframe

There are obviously exceptions to the rules. Sick children will not eat well, babies (especially those without all their teeth!) are not expected to plough through a plate of carrot and celery sticks and I do not serve mind blowingly hot and spicy meals etc. But within reason, I expect my children to eat what I serve.

They all have food preferences, in fact so do I. I often do work around these, but only once the children are characterised by eating what they are given. Every now and again, my tomato hating daughter is served a slice of tomato in her sandwich and is expected to choke it down. The mushroom hating son is occasionally expected to slide one of those little suckers down his throat without gagging. I do not serve him a bowl of mushrooms or her a heavily laden tomato bruschetta. I do teach them to quietly put the offending morsels on the side of their plate without comment. (Our rule here is that if they complain aloud about said offending item, they will eat every bite. If it silently appears on the side of the plate it can stay there, unless previously stated that they will be eating it this time.)

If you have ever been at someone else’s house and had one of your children loudly and rudely state that they do NOT like this food and refuse to take even a bite, you will know why I have chosen to occasionally deliberately give them something they prefer not to eat.

So now for the 2 plate dinner tool. It is very simple. Place a small amount of whatever food it is that your picky eater will likely be reluctant to eat on one plate and the rest of the meal on the other. The plates are both set in front of the child at meal times, however the least liked plate is directly in front of them and the rest of the meal is a little out of their reach, but where they can still see it.

With a positive tone and pleasant attitude, explain that you will happily pass them the second plate once they have finished everything on the first plate. Inform the child calmly that when the rest of the family is finished their meals (or at a time set by you) both plates will be removed and dinner will be over. That’s it! No nagging, force feeding, threatening or anything else.

Ensure that you do not give any snacks before the meal that would take away from their appetite and do not allow the child to have a glass of water or anything else before the first plate is finished. Keep the serving very small to begin with and you may even like to have dessert on the table for a meal or two as an added incentive while the initial training is taking place. I always start with other foods that I know they love to eat, as well as a tiny amount of the veggies or whatever else we are battling over.

You may find that they do choose to go without the first couple of times. But if you stick to your guns, give no other food until breakfast, ensure they are hungry at dinner time and not full of snacks, milkshakes or drinks, this will envariably do the trick.

We will face battles with our children at some time or other. For some, eating is never an issue but the challenges arrive in other behavioural areas. With others, the battle is fought and won during meal times and spills over into positive progress across many other areas.

Out of the five children who eat solid food we now have 4 very good eaters. This has not always been the case. The fifth child is in a league of their own and is improving, but I won’t shock you with how we are dealing with those issues just yet!! (Let’s just say that they are becoming intimately aquainted with the laundry.)

Thankfulness and gratefulness

We all want thankful children who notice the things others give to them or do for them and express this thankfulness freely and without being reminded to do so. We love it when others are grateful for the things we do for them and let us know. How intentional are we though when it comes to teaching our children the character quality of thankfulness?

Before Christmas, we talked a lot about receiving gifts, thankfulness and good manners in relation to receiving gifts. I have tried to take this one step further with the children by instilling in them the importance of giving thankyou cards. It’s almost a lost art these days. A quick email or phone call is easy to do and better than nothing, but it is so much more personal and special to receive a handwritten card of thanks.

A friend of mine always sends thank you cards, (well done Miss Jaq!) even after a visit for dinner. They are so pretty and such a bright spot in my day and I have endeavoured to make it a habit for myself and the children with varying degrees of success; in busy seasons it just sometimes gets away from me.

Yesterday we all sat down and had a card making session together (minus the baby and toddlers.) It was lots of fun and we all enjoyed creating a variety of designs. We used a bunch of pretty papers, some silver thank you stickers, flowers and butterflies and some coordinated card. My scrapbooking shape cutters came out, a stick of glue and some flowers and leaves we had previously pressed.

The result is a lovely collection of pre-made cards that will be ready and waiting the next time we need to thank someone. Now all I need to do is get better at actually posting the cards we do make…

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:

Receiving Gifts, Thankfulness and Good Manners

With Christmas in just 2 days I thought it was timely to remind the children about thankfulness and gratefulness for what they are given. We spend a lot of time in the lead up to Christmas focusing on Jesus and the true meaning of the season, discussing how we can bless others and think of others first etc. but we are realistic and know that if there are presents involved, they are usually where the focus and excitement of the young (and not so young!) children will be.

Like many families, our children are very blessed to receive gifts from close and extended family on Christmas day and we want them to enjoy these, but at the same time remember the preciousness of the giver and the importance of showing thankfulness for what they receive.

A friend of mine (thanks Cherub) gave a group of Mothers and I some excellent suggestions a while ago about receiving gifts and how she has taught her children to show good manners and thankfulness when they receive their gifts. She has the child say thank you as they receive their present and take it to sit next to the gift giver to open it. The children know that it is considered good manners to open the card first and read it (or have it read to you) before opening the gift. Once open, they spend a little time looking at and playing with the item as well as thanking the giver with some specific comments before moving on.

I think this is a brilliant idea and we will be endeavouring to encourage our children to go through this process this year. We have talked about what to do and say (or not say!) in a variety of situations including:

  • when they already have the same item at home
  • the kinds of comments they can say to the gift giver once the present is opened
  • the importance of being truthful whilst respecting the thought, time, money and effort that the giver has gone to in order to give them their gifts
  • some tactful ways to respond when the gift is not something they like, want or need. Let’s face it, that happens at times.
  • guarding their facial expressions when they see the gift for the first time
We have perhaps not spent enough time on it to get perfect results, but we are hoping that our family members can take pleasure in the reactions of our children to the gifts they receive and the character that is displayed during this wonderfully exciting season.