When Madeleine was in first grade, she had a really rough bout of anxiety that appeared to be related to her current school situation. Like all typical American mothers I obsessed, read books and concluded there must be something terribly wrong. Off to the pediatrician, my knight in shining armor for all such occasions, and asked for his take on what was going on.
He, of course, would have nothing of my theories before checking in with Madeleine first. Together they discussed the possible reasons for her worries and agreed it wouldn't hurt anyone if she checked in with Dr. Dianne, the resident developmental psychologist on staff.
Madeleine, in the same way that squeaky sound always stops when you take your car to the mechanic, was a picture of mental health when interviewed by Dr. Dianne. While she did think a different kind of school would be ideal for Madeleine, Dr. Dianne had another, more immediate solution to Madeleine's worries.
Chores. And a healthy dose of self-directed self-care.
Do you make your bed? she asked.
Neither one of us had the heart to tell her that no one in our entire family ever made their bed under any circumstances.
Can you get your own breakfast? she quizzed.
At this stage of my mothering career, I was all into the shake and pour pancake scene. It had not occurred to me that Madeleine could be responsible for much of anything, let alone her breakfast.
A six year old girl can do a lot of things for herself, Dr. Dianne said. You'd be surprised how great that feels.
We ended up changing schools for the new year, and it absolutely helped. But what helped more was Dr. Dianne's nudge to help Madeleine overcome her anxiety by gaining mastery over simple tasks--like pouring her own juice and grabbing her breakfast bar of choice. I took a step back after that and while we still aren't big on bed-making, there are a lot more signs of competency around here.
As an eleven year old, Mad knows how to make some key contributions that matter. I know now when she's antsy or anxious that enlisting her support is the first line of defense. She can get Carter and company out the door when I am powering out a deadline, and she knows how to snack and water the gaggle of neighborhood kids when she gets home.
I'm still not going to win any awards when it comes to enforcing chores, but I know how to ask for greater participation in the ebb and flow of family life.
How do you encourage your kids to take care of themselves? On the continuum of hovering parent and boot camp supervisor, where do you fall? Is your house a tightly run ship or a kid-nation free-for-all? Tell us how you build competency and self-confidence in the comments below.
He's at that age. You know the one. One, actually. The age where you turn your head for just a second and all of the contents of your lower cabinets are in a pile on the kitchen floor. Someone forgets to close the bathroom door and you either hear the splashing that sounds like a 200-pound man doing a cannon ball into a pool or worse, you find all manner of objects floating in the toilet because they just wouldn't flush.
When Ethan was this age, we put on a toilet lock. Sure he was able to figure out how to undo the latch when he was 14 months old. It made us feel better for a little while, so that's all that matters. Now we just regulate the door being closed. Or I regulate the door being closed. If I can make it a day without finding a baby trying to swim in the toilet, it's a good day.
Then there is the laundry. Just the other day I walked around the corner to find the baby flinging neatly folded clothing over his head as fast as he could. When he saw me coming, he stepped up his speed and laughed with glee. I snapped at him and gave him my meanest look. He gave me a great belly laugh and moved even faster. I lunged for the basket and put it out of his reach. He sighed and toddled around the corner to see if one of his brothers had forgotten to close the bathroom door.
There is a gate at the bottom of the stairs and a gate at the top of the stairs. Cut off from taking his show on the road to a different floor of the house, the baby (can I still call him that?) now tries to get his brothers to open the front door or back door for him so he can escape. I hear him yelling to Ethan and banging on the front door. Ethan patiently explains to him that we all have to go out together if we are going to go out. Mason moves on to to trying to convince Nathan to open a door. Nathan just bowls him over and suddenly they are rolling on the floor.
Nathan has forgotten the purpose of their conversation but Mason has the mind of a steel trap. He climbs out from under the pinning and smacks on the door with his hand. Nate shrugs his shoulders and leaves.
The baby wanders off again to check the bathroom door. You just never know.
"Mom, is today a school day?" Lucy asks. It's so hard to explain why there haven't been any school days this week. She is familiar with missing it on the weekend, but her universe is rocked by being out for five whole days. It's time to break out the unexpected to keep all of us going. Here are a few ideas for small and busy hands.
Animal Hospital Hit up the dollar store for cheap bandaids and bandages. The brighter colors and more the better. Pull out a button down collar shirt in your closet to make the doctor feel official. Let your little one "treat" every stuffed animal in the house. This is always a hit with my four year old.
Frozen Grape Drop It's healthy and fun! Freeze some green or red grapes in your freezer. My kids prefer red. (You may want to cut grapes in half, as whole ones can be a choking hazard for young children.) From a standing position let the kids try to drop the grapes into a jar. You can use a bowl for younger kids. Place the bowl or jar on top of a placemat, so you can eat the grapes that don't make in after. This is the yummiest treat.
Musical Painting The spring weather makes this activity perfect to do outside. Bust out the paint and drag your easel or just a roll of butcher paper outside. Choose three very different types of music and instruct the kids to paint to the flow and rhythm of the type of music and sounds they hear. It always make for some interesting art.
Shaving Cream Share Use an under the bed storage box to make your very own sensory table just like at school. A can of shaving cream can provide a serious amount of sensory fun for squishy hands. Add different drops of food coloring to add to the fun.
What are your ideas for little kids this spring break? What keeps your kids busy and happy? Do share in the comments.