I don’t know if we’re the only family who experienced this, but after the holidays our kids went nuts. It probably didn’t help that we had almost two months straight of visitors to help us prepare for and take care of our newest child. Then, of course, there was Christmas and New Year’s, and to throw oil on the fire, we decided to potty train our 2 year old. So, thinking back on it now, we were probably asking for the tantrums and the fighting.
We found that our kids, normally pretty good, had behavioral issues that increased as the day went on. Now if someone else was describing this problem to me, I’d chalk this up to needing more sleep, and our kids did, but that was only part of the problem. Kids love routine and since our oldest loves pre-school so much, we decided to change a few things to help him manage his feelings and set a good example for his younger brother. Really, we just needed our lives to be a little bit easier and we’d be willing to do just about anything to go through the bedtime routine peacefully.
- We put a stop to sugar, which included juice
The holiday season was full of sugar for us. I made cookies with the boys, we received bread and hot cocoa from our neighbors, and all of the grandparents brought some kind of treat for the boys. They don’t normally get a lot of extra sweets in their daily diet, but it was the holiday season so of course we let them have some. Plus, it was snowy so hot cocoa was mandatory. But we needed to move them away from that now that the holidays are over and to do that all we needed to do was remember that juice, hot cocoa and treats are not an every day occurrence. So this shift was really for us (the parents), than the kids because our kids didn’t even notice after the second time we told them no.
- We moved up their bedtime from 6:45/7 to 6:15/6:30
I know some people would look at this and think the 15-30 minute change makes no difference, but we found for our kids it does. Having them tired BEFORE starting the bedtime routine made them really fight going to bath time, which is the beginning of the end of the day. But, if we started them on the bedtime routine BEFORE they became tired, then we were able to get through bath time without a major meltdown.
- We implemented a schedule that I wrote up and put on the refrigerator door
We have always had a routine. Wake up, eat breakfast, get ready for pre-school, have lunch, nap, then play until daddy comes home and I can start dinner. It is a pretty loose schedule, but very much our normal routine. So we didn’t really change the routine so much as write it down so that each time segment had it’s own title and general guidelines. The morning is for independent play (since my oldest is usually at pre-school anyway), then lunch and naptime/quiet time, then activity time, chores, dinner, then bedtime. While writing it out doesn’t seem like much, it has been so nice to have my 4-year-old go check the schedule. When he doesn’t want to do nap/quiet time, I ask him what time it is and what’s on the schedule. It’s amazing how simply having him check the schedule cuts down on whining and fussing.
- We included a designated time for chores
With a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, some may think chores are inappropriate. But I’m not talking about chores in the way you might give an 8-year-old chores. Chores means doing an activity that benefits the entire household, like helping to fold laundry, sweep the floors, or put dishes away. It changes every day and either my husband or I oversees my son’s work or we work alongside him. My 2-year-old doesn’t have to help if he doesn’t want to and we never bother him if he wanders away to play with his trains. But our 4-year-old loves chores time. He enjoys the special time with one of us and the praise he inevitably gets once he is done. I think he also really enjoys being independent and grown-up. The benefit for us is that we have some time set aside during the day for us to clean-up, which makes a huge difference in how much mess we have to clean-up once the kids are asleep.
- Our new schedule did not include television or any other screen/device
Now I know this is a sore spot for some people. We’ve always tried to keep screen time to the recommended amount prescribed by the American Association of Pediatricians, but we also give ourselves a break. We monitor their viewing and we try to play with them when it’s electronic games. That being said, television is not something that is on our schedule and, in fact, doesn’t really fit into any of the time slots. If my son asks to watch television it is always dependent on how he’s behaved that day, which is something I talk to him about. If he’s been considerate and hasn’t whined or fussed, then I usually let him watch it. But, if his behavior is teetering on the edge of bratty, then I tell him no. This gives our family some flexibility, but also tells him that television isn’t a right, but a privilege that he earns.
These are some of the changes we implemented in order to help our kids last throughout the day without having major meltdowns and for the most part they have worked for us. Sometimes my kids are fussy because they had a nightmare and couldn’t sleep, or because we woke up late and our schedule is out of whack, but overall we’ve seen a lot of improvement. We’ve also changed some things with their beds and we don’t have them take baths together anymore, but those are minor things. The major yelling and screaming around dinnertime has pretty much vanished and for that we are thankful.
What are some things your family does to help your kids survive the day with their good humor intact? Have you made any changes that have revolutionized your family dynamics?