I was inspired to write this blog when some families I work with had a three week half-term (that has only just finished!) – boy and girl at a private school both who have a two week half term, one had the week before the “conventional half-term off and the other the week after! They were struggling to keep up with running the household in addition to doing things with the children, and that’s where I can help.
The key to creating time to get things done is in encouraging independence. And the key to encouraging independence is through expectation. It’s worth noting here that you generally “get what you expect” – so always expect things to go well. It is vitally important that children learn to be more independent as soon as possible, because the more independent they learn to become as children, the better they will cope with life as an adult. Plus, independent children are less needy (neediness is an unattractive characteristic and doesn’t benefit them, or you) and more mature, so you are able to give them more freedom to learn and explore and do their own thing. This way they can discover for themselves where their interests lie and what they want to do with their life. They will be more successful if they’ve had the opportunity and encouragement to discover this as children. Let me explain how best to go about doing it.
You can encourage independence even with babies. When they are very tiny it is advisable to have several beautiful designed hanging mobiles. There are some great Montessori mobiles that I’ve seen made use the colour wheel as inspiration. Seven different shades of the same colour (thread) are selected and woven around a spherical polystyrene base with a hole in the centre and hung in order from the lightest to the darkest shade. This contrast is clearer to a tiny baby whose focus is still developing. Plus, and you can paint these yourself whether or not you’re particularly crafty; black and white symmetrical tessellation style images also support the developing focus of a very tiny baby as they are able to see it more clearly and are attracted to the colour contrast and symmetry.
If you have these images along with a mirror and a few specially designed toys they can grasp in an area designated for them in the house that is completely safe (obviously nearby – a neighbouring room at the furthest) you can get a couple of bits done whilst they enjoy looking at the images (which is “work” for them) you have created for them. The fact that you have created them makes it even more special. Obviously common sense needs to be uses; they should be nearby and not left for too long. Check in on them regularly and if they look okay, then it’s okay to get something done (that’s fairly quick), or use the toilet – that’s not always easy with a very little one! I’ve seen this strategy used very successfully and with older babies, just add a small variety of toys (refresh then regularly) such as balls, child-friendly musical instruments and even a few kitchen items such as wooden spoons and spatulas – no knives!!! I’ll go into what kind of toys are the best to buy each age-group in a separate blog. It’s also worth noting that if you have a child that crawls then their “safe play area” will need to be able to be moved to whatever room you’re in so you can keep an eye on what they’re doing whilst still allowing them to be independent.
With toddlers and older children when I worked with them in their homes I had a couple of effective strategies that I used when I needed to get things done. Firstly, with most things I involved them to varying degrees. Obviously older children are able to help with far more than toddlers. For example, whilst changing the beds I would get them to help with the unbuttoning of the “old” duvet cover and the buttoning up of the “new” one. The buttons are larger than most of the buttons on their clothing and thus easier for them to manipulate. Hence they quickly learn how to button and unbutton things for themselves. If I was doing something either that wasn’t suitable for them to help me with, or they could only help me with some of it I would say to them; “I need to do this (task name); what are you going to do?” This first let them know that I needed to give my attention to something else. Second, it let them know that I expected them to find something to do whilst I completed the necessary job (NB It would never be one that took longer than about 15 minutes – they’re capable of finding something to do within that time).
The key to setting this type of expectation with children is in your body language and voice tone. Look at them directly and say things calmly with an “air of expectation” that they will co-operate. They will then know that they need to find something constructive to do whilst you get things done. Every child I’ve worked with in a home setting has always been very sensible and co-operative (NB I had to get to know them a bit and bond with them first before supreme co-operation regularly occurred) when it comes to helping with household tasks. It’s lovely because it’s real teamwork.
Another thing that I would really encourage (may be even insist slightly!) that you do is, maintain good order in your home at all times!!!! Seriously, I promise that if you do this life will become much easier and it is Easy to do! For example, take recycling out straight away as opposed to letting it build up to the point it is overflowing in the space where you keep it ready to go outside. For a start allowing what is essentially rubbish to overflow isn’t very hygienic with young children around. Second, it’s good role-modelling to show your child/children that you care about the environment. Plus, children love helping with recycling (please read my earlier blog on Re-Cycling for more information) and sorting everything into the correct bin. Also, wash things up/ get them in the dish-washer straight away so a build-up doesn’t occur. I can already hear you say; “Yes Paula-Elizabeth, but their isn’t always time…”. Let’s not get in the habit of making excuses and create the extra time needed. This is simple when everything is kept in order because you never have to do more than the necessary!
This also illustrates that “life” gives you enough work to do, so only do the necessary instead of creating unnecessary work for yourself as that is a massive waste of time. Plan ahead; think about what it happening during the week and plan the best way to get things done the most efficiently. Again I can hear you saying already; “Yes Paula-Elizabeth, but I want to be able to relax and not treat my life like a business”!! Trust me; when working with children in their homes I learnt very quickly that the only way I could stay on top of things was to think ahead and plan in my mind how to do things. Once I had compartmentalised how everything was going to work I felt much more relax and able to get things done. Hence, I wasn’t stressed and everyone (the children and I) was happy. Planning ahead and keeping on top of things actually cuts down the work you need to do around the house – trust me, I know from experience!!!
Another very import point that I will be writing about more extensively in my main book relates to Tony Robbins’ idea of “The Toolbox”. Basically, it’s worth paying that bit more for things (particularly kitchen items) that work! I have worked in a household where nothing appeared to work and it trebled the length of time it took me to do things. Obviously I had the skills and experience to deal with this; has your profession taught you this skill? If not then make sure you have everything that you use regularly in good working order and keep on top of things. You may find yourself doing a few things during your evening (it can’t always be helped with little ones) however, if you stay on top of things and have the correct “tools for the task” then you don’t need to spend any longer than necessary. Remember, you can’t buy back lost time – ever.
If you want to implement these strategies and feel like you need some help, please get in touch. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org ; or find me on Twitter/ Instagram: @FamilyTeamCoach; Facebook/LinkedIn: Paula-Elizabeth Jordan.