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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Priorities

IMG_0009After people finish counting my children and comment on how I must have my hands full, the next thing they say is often along the lines of “How do you get everything done?” The honest answer is I don’t get everything done. I don’t work part-time, I don’t meet my girlfriends for coffee several times a week, I don’t attend MOPS, Mother’s Group, Toddler Jam, Jungle Gym and the local playgroup every week. I have to choose my commitments based on my priorities, knowing that it isn’t my list I need to get through, but God’s! I have enough time to do everything He has for me to do. Frustration kicks in when I try to take on more than He asks me to. Jesus reduces my responsibilities to those of today and today is all He asks us me to cope with.

We all have the same amount of time in our day and it is enough. If we start with God’s priorities we will be able to get everything that needs to be done and more abundantly than we expect. Perhaps we need to give up some good things to get on with the better thing of training our children?

So how do we choose these priorities? Because we do have to choose between the good, the better and the best – they won’t all fit in.

  1. PRAY
  • Give everything over to God – yourself, your home, possessions, time, body, mind, your children, your plans and projects, commitments, responsibilities – everything. Hand it all over and ask God what of these responsibilities He wants you to take back.
  1. TALK IT OVER WITH YOUR HUSBAND/WIFE
  • What are his priorities?
  • What is his/her vision for the family?
  • Remind yourself to be willing to hear the answer! Have a teachable heart that is open to the truth, even if you don’t see it quite the same way.
  1. PLAN AHEAD
  • Plan both short and long-term goals.
  • Make a routine. Routine is the key to it all hanging together. Our long-term goals of life are only met by the daily disciplines we follow. The daily grind is what takes us step by step either towards our goals or away from them.
  • Break large projects into day-sized chunks.
  • An immense “to do” list is overwhelming, day sized chunks helps us to see that eventually it will all get done.
  • Hold your plans loosely – be ready, willing and available for God’s plan B, acknowledging His right to alter your day.
  • What will it take? Time, money, mental or physical effort? All change will take a decision by you to make it happen and an investment of some kind.
  1. PREPARE
  • Your routine starts the night before. (Sleep, clothes, meal prep, clean kitchen, tidy space, gear at the door.)
  • Morning – get up early. Give yourself enough time for an orderly morning that includes time with God getting spiritually prepared for the day. We need time before the interruptions come to get God’s leading for the day and His perspective on what is most important, rather than letting the tyranny of the urgent take over.
  1. PROCEED
  • “Your success in life and work will be determined by the kinds of habits that you develop over time. The habit of setting priorities, overcoming procrastination, and getting on with your most important task is a mental and physical skill. As such, this habit is learnable through practice and repetition, over and over again, until it locks into your subconscious mind and becomes a permanent part of your behavior. Once it becomes a habit, it becomes both automatic and easy to do.” (Eat That Frog – 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time)

If we are honest with ourselves we know that we will achieve almost anything we really want to do and the same goes with our parenting. Sometimes the time, effort and commitment involved has us saying that we just “don’t have time” but really we do – we just don’t want to do it enough.

 

 

 

 

The dumping rule

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When there are 7 children in the house (or even just 1 or 2!) it doesn’t take long for a trail of destruction to threaten to take over. I do have systems in place to make sure it doesn’t get too out of hand but even with pack-up times built into our routine throughout the day there are certain areas that just seem to get cluttered with a pair of shoes here and a hairband or two there, plus a towel on the floor and a pair of knickers decorating the door handle… and so on.

I asked my worst trail maker what consequence they thought was appropriate for people who left their belongings laying about for others to pick up. They responded after some thought that they should pick up twice as many things as they had left behind. This was a brilliant answer as this happened to be exactly what I had been thinking of doing anyway (I love it when that happens), so I promptly instigated it as our consequence on the spot. One item left on the floor equals a consequence of picking up 2 more items, plus the original one you left in the first place.

It is amazing how quickly you can get the house tidied when there are a couple of bits and pieces strewn about. I just start at the front of the house and pick up the first item, identify the owner and point out it plus the 2 other items they will be required to put away. It a minute or two everyone is zooming about collecting stuff and the house is back to ship-shape. After a few days of this, I simply let everyone know that I will be conducting a dumping check in the next little while and they go scrambling off around the house madly putting their stuff away without me having to do anything.

It goes great with the 10 times rule for those who can’t remember to hang up a towel or shut the door.

Arsenic hour and toddler meltdowns

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Arsenic hour is that late afternoon time period where the short people in the household tend to have their meltdowns. Slightly hungry in the lead-up to dinner, tired from a day full of stimulation and unable to display the self-control necessary for “keeping it together” until dinner is served, young children (especially toddlers) tend to struggle during this time and easily tip over the edge. So how can we, as Mothers of young ones, structure our day to minimise the conflict and stress that is often experienced during arsenic hour?

Start by looking at your overall day. Who is in charge? You or your child? Who is making all the choices? Evaluate your overall day in light of this and see if some or much of the conflict is simply caused by you trying to get a reluctant toddler to do something they do not want to do after making their own decisions for the majority of the day. (See “choices” for a fuller explanation.)

Look at your routine. Do you have a flexible structure to the day with a good flow of events? It should include a mixture of time with Mum, time with siblings and time alone, physical activity, quiet time, structured play times etc. (See “routines” for ideas of what to include throughout your day.)

What time are you serving dinner? Are you expecting your young child to wait until Dad comes home in the late evening and trying to feed them when what they really need is to be getting into bed? Family meal times are a priority for us and very important, but if you husband is home later than is practical, consider feeding your toddler early and bringing them back to the table when Dad arrives for finger foods, a snack or a healthy dessert so that they can participate with the family. The bonus with this is that all your mealtime/manners training can be done on-on-one with the toddler, leaving the family table free from conflict.

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Bathtime can be difficult if left until after dinner. There has been seasons when I have bathed all the younger children at around 4.30pm when they are still coping relatively well and are unlikely to get into conflict situations. I can then pop them at the table, in the highchair or on their mat, with a suitable activity to keep them usefully occupied on a worthwhile task while I am free to finish dinner prep and serve them their meals.

Do not test your obedience levels during this time. What do I mean by this? Do not give directions to your toddler and expect them to obey. Rather than say, “Junior, go and get into your highchair please,” simply walk over to Junior, take his hand and cheerfully state “It’s time for highchair activities” as you walk hand in hand with him to the chair, pick him up and pop him in. When it is time for Suzie’s bath, rather than say “Suzie, go and get your PJ’s and go to the bathroom”, you grab the PJ’s and walk little Suzie to the bathroom, undressing her and plopping her in the bath. Don’t forget to give a 5 minute warning before making these announcements.IMG_7743

Having a good routine throughout the day, coupled with these practical suggestions will help make this time as enjoyable as any other period in the day.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Getting dinner on the table

Activities to make for babies and young toddlers

Playdough for toddlers – no biscuit cutters please!

Emergency Visitor Scramble

s cutleryHave you ever walked around a display home or perhaps one of your friend’s homes and admired the perfectly arranged, tastefully decorated and incredibly neat rooms? On occasion I have to confess that I have wished for a house that is always “visitor ready.” With 6 homeschooled children however, the reality is that our house is functional, never filthy, but sometimes slightly (oh, ok downright) untidy.

It also seems that it is on the days when things are at their worst that the phone rings to let us know that someone is just around the corner and about to pop in for a visit. Thus, the emergency visitor scramble was born.

All the children have regular daily responsibilities (chores) and throughout the week we cycle through the main cleaning jobs so as a general rule, the house isn’t too far from presentable. We are working towards the long-term goal of fully equipping our children in all areas of responsibility relating to running a household so that by the age of 14 or so they will have all the skills involved in being able to manage their own homes well.

Because we have taken the time to train them to clean the house, organising our visitor scramble wasn’t too difficult. I simply call out “Emergency Visitor Scramble, come to Mummy!” and all the children report for duty. Knowing that the visitors are only a short time away gives us the incentive to work hard together, knowing that it will only be for a short time period.

The house is divided into zones and these areas are quickly parcelled out. We all dash like crazy to get the worst of the mess stowed and tidy before the knock sounds on the door. The little ones are paired with an older sibling or myself who give them specific small jobs to do (pick up the dinky cars) or are sent on deliveries (take the socks to the laundry basket etc.)

The toilet is checked and spot cleaned, the floors are picked up, bedroom doors shut and offending items tossed out of sight. Some families like to have a list for this, but I prefer to just look around and tackle whatever is the worst at the time. The older children who have enough initiative are sent to the most conspicuous areas with their little helpers while I direct the others.

Another strategy that we employ on a regular basis is a whole family house sweep. It works very similarly to the scramble, except instead of everyone heading off in different directions to try to cover the whole house, we all start in one room and work together until it is done before moving to the next area and so on throughout the house. This is a 5 or 10 minute per room tidy-up, not a deep clean and Mum and Dad are the directors. The eldest children who have enough initiative to handle it choose what they will tackle in each room, while little ones are given specific instructions to complete small bite-sized tasks. The adults do whatever else needs to be done while marshalling the troops.

We now can transform a pigsty into a reasonably tidy looking house in a very short time. All that’s left to do is throw a brush through my hair and fling that door open with a cheery smile and the visitors are none the wiser!

Related posts you might like:

making pack away time fun

cleaning bedrooms

variety of chore systems

what to do with models and artwork

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.

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.)