Reflections on the early years.

Sarah & JoshuaLast week a blog reader said to me that she loved reading my blog but wondered if I had some stuff suitable for where her children were at – a toddler and a new-born. Thus, this week’s blog is a compilation of some reflections from what I found personally helped me when my children were that age. I must confess, it is so easy to forget the hard times as I am someone who ‘lives in the present’.

  1. Have fun! Laugh every day. Be silly with your children. When my children were toddlers, I became thoroughly sick of sitting on our back deck playing the McDonald’s cashier as they would ride their toy car up to the window and ask for fries. I changed my attitude so as to enjoy it and to take pleasure in ’just being’ and I would sit there with my coffee in the sun just enjoying being with them, saying the same thing over and over.
  2. Routine is important. Right from when our first baby was a new born, we tried to establish a routine. I needed it as much as our daughter needed it. Princess was an amazing sleeper right from the beginning. Being a 10 pounder, I found that due to her being larger, she was able to sleep through quicker. In the first few weeks, I woke her regularly during the day for feeding (every 2 hours) so that she had at least 8 feeds by 8pm and then was able to settle for a long night very early on (ie 6 hours the first week, 8 hours the third week, 12 hours by 5 weeks. Matey, our second born was similar. We established a routine and tried to maintain it and it meant that by 6 weeks, he was sleeping through the night. We had a regular night time ritual – dinner, bath, story, bed. As my children grew older, they knew what to expect and when. It provided security and stability.
  3. Do what works for you and your family. For the first 8 years of my daughter’s life & the first 5 years of my son’s life, we had dinner at 4pm in the afternoon. They were then in bed asleep by 6pm. I hear a lot of people say that they keep the kids up until hubby comes home from work so they can see him etc. We opted instead to have the kids up when hubby left home of a morning and have hubby around a lot on the weekends and have a tantrum free life. We didn’t experience the late afternoon tantrums. Why? Because the kids weren’t hungry and tired. If dinner was later than 4-4.30pm, they were getting tired and hungry and that’s when things would begin to go ‘pear shaped’ and tantrums would start to appear. Also, my children had numerous allergies and anaphylaxis and we first chose to have dinner at 4pm when it became too hard to organise another snack that was egg free, dairy free, soy free, gluten free, fructose free, sulphur free, salicylate free, seafood free. I chose instead to feed them dinner and found that it worked so well that we stayed in that rhythm. We loved the peaceful late afternoons and early evenings. To be up at 6am when my children awoke, I needed early nights as well. Hubby went overseas for 3 weeks when Matey was 6 weeks old, and a major way I remained sane was to go to bed early and get as much sleep as possible so that I could cope with whatever came my way the next day.
  4. Pace yourself. I believe that sometimes we feel that we need to ‘have it all’ or ‘do it all’. We needed to be selective and even though we desperately needed the money, we decided that I would stay home with the kids. This meant that our lifestyle was a lot slower paced than others and there was time for just being and playing. I still remember feeling time poor but we had plenty of nurturing time and playing and reading and having fun. We weren’t rushing off to get to the next activity on the schedule. My mum died when my daughter was 3 weeks old and we had no close family nearby to assist at all. Before my aunt died when Matey was 2 years old, she had regularly reinforced to me to leave the house work (up to a point eg washing windows) and spend the time with the kids. Looking back now, I am so glad I took her advice. I believe one of the huge lies we buy into today is that we need the double income or that we are not satisfied with being home all day and want adult stimulation. Especially pace yourself with a new born. We had friends who had a new born when we had our second. We had lunch when the babies were about 6 weeks old. I had had a caesarean and had had complications requiring further surgery. I had been forbidden to drive for 6 weeks. Thus, I mainly stayed around home those 6 weeks. My friend, on the other hand, had been out every day for those 6 weeks and was exhausted. Also, don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to get too much achieved each day. Give yourself grace to enjoy that stage of life and celebrate what does get ‘achieved’.
  5. Consistency – Follow through on what you say. If you give your child a command with a consequence, then follow through on the consequence if the child does not obey. They need the reassurance that comes from knowing you are in control and that you mean what you say.
  6. Limit screens – television, computer screens and phone apps. I believe that it is another lie that if they don’t know how to operate computers and play games on the phone etc, then they will be behind when they go to school. They need good old fashioned play. My children had television for half an hour every afternoon watching Play School whilst I finished preparing dinner and got things sorted for the evening. Once Matey was about 4 year old, we realised that access to television had increased. We also noticed his attention and concentration wasn’t as great as we hoped. We decided to experiment and I stated one Friday morning that there would be no television for a week. The week came and went and we noticed no change in concentration, attitude etc. Matey was so excited the following Friday. Princess, though, immediately told him that no, mummy had meant no television until Christmas (another 3 weeks away). That second week without any television or screen time at all was significant. We noticed a huge change in concentration, attitude, behaviour, imagination and creative play, cohesiveness between the siblings, and an extra hour’s sleep per night (they were already getting at least 12 hours sleep per night). We kept the television off for the next 5 months and it was amazing the difference it made to our family life (apart from hubby finding it hard to adjust!!). It is also very interesting the correlation between television being on in the background of a room where babies and toddlers are (especially the news) and night terrors.
  7. Get outside. Try and have some outdoor time each day, even if it is just a walk around the block. I let my children walk beside me as much as possible and tried to keep them out of the pram. Sure – it was slower but they loved the exercise and slept better plus it was great for their skills. I found that the baby and the toddler slept so much better after being in the outdoor air. It was also great for my emotional status to get outside in the fresh air.
  8. Read, read and read to them. Snuggle up and enjoy the reading. Aim to read at least 1,000 books to them before they start school.
  9. Prepare dinner early in the day. Straight after breakfast had finished and I had washed up, I would start preparing the dinner so that it was ready to either be put in the oven or cooked. That way, no matter what happened during the day, we always had dinner on the table that night.
  10. Quiet time daily. Keep the afternoon sleep going as long as possible with your toddler. When it becomes an issue and it means that if they sleep in the afternoon, they then won’t go to sleep until later at night, still get them to have a quiet time every day in their room/cot. It was a great opportunity for my kids to ‘read’ their books and look through them. It helped with my sanity and gave me a much needed break and it taught them to be able to amuse themselves.
  11. Let them ‘help’ you with the housework as early as possible. Children love copying. Let them help fold the washing and take the clean clothes to the appropriate rooms. Let them wash up the plastic plates. We used plastic plates and cups and it meant that they could help wash up. From a very early age, they learnt to take their empty plate and utensils and cup to the sink and help to clear the table. They also learnt that when they had a bath of an evening, they had to take their dirty clothes and put them in the laundry. I have never ever had an issue with dirty clothes not being in the laundry. Even now, with Princes 13 and Matey 10, every night, they take off their clothes and put them in the laundry ready for washing. I never let them see me cleaning the toilet though or putting the toilet brush in the toilet and consequently we haven’t had any issues with them putting anything down the toilet that shouldn’t be there.
  12. Always take snacks. When going out, pack heaps of nutritious snacks. One of the most common causes of tantrums is hunger, the other tiredness. Remember also that it is easier to finish an activity, play in the park, play time with others when everyone is still enjoying it rather than wait until the end when everyone is tired and then try to leave. ‘Ride the wave’ is what we called it – thus we went home with great memories and wanted to do it again. The same with craft. We stopped the activity whilst they were still enjoying it but getting towards the end of the attention span. When going to the supermarket, I would ensure that they were well fed or had a snack. Taking them with you when they are hungry and tired is a recipe for disaster and tantrums. Now days you could order online but I found that my children learnt so much at the supermarket. We would try and buy a new vegetable or fruit each week and have fun trying it to see what it tasted like. When Princess was 10 and Matey 7, I could take them to the supermarket and they would buy everything on the list and put it ready for the cashier and I just had to pay the money.
  13. Peace in the home is paramount. Children are so much more settled when they know that everything between mummy and daddy is right. They can sense when things aren’t going well and this creates insecurity.
  14. Pray over them at least every night and bless them. The greatest thing you can do is to bless their spirits and call out their true identity.
  15. Teach manners early on. Learning to say please and thank you are important.
  16. Make communication easy. We taught our babies some basic sign language. Thus, before they could communicate their needs verbally, they understand the sign language for more, thank you, please, no, yes, drink, etc. This made communication so much easier and resulted in a more peaceful environment.
  17. Talk properly Don’t engage in ‘baby talk’. We used our normal words and normal voice. We have never had any issues with our children ‘putting on’ baby voices. We also used the normal medical words for different body parts.
  18. Trust your child. Take your cue from your child if they don’t want to be near certain adults. Children tend to have an amazing ability to sense who is safe. Please do not push your child to kiss or sit next to or go with another adult whom they don’t see as safe or who they are scared of. I can remember when Princess was extremely shy when new adults came to the house. If she didn’t greet them as we expected to by saying “Hello Mr…” we would send her to her room. That was wrong of us. We needed to take the time to role play what was expected and help her to be prepared in her ability to be able to say a greeting to them. Also be careful when they are tired and the expectations you have of them then.
  19. Your attitude and atmosphere is what sets the tone in the home. If you get up tired, running late etc then expect things to go pear shaped and the kids to pick up on that and start acting out. We also noticed that children take on the expressions of their parents. Our neighbour’s children were a classic example of this. The children hardly ever smiled. Guess what – the parents didn’t either. Whereas most of our friends used to call Matey ‘smiley’ as he was always so cheerful and smiling.
  20. Get dressed first. When Matey was a few months old up to about 2 ½ years old and Princess 3-4 years old, I had a craft area set up at the bench for Princess. Every morning she would be up at 6am sitting at the bench cutting out, pasting and making some project. I would hear Matey wake up and start talking away to himself. Thus, I would spring out of bed, have a shower and get dressed before getting Matey out of his cot. It meant that I was already dressed and was never in my pyjamas at midday and Matey was content to sit in his cot and babble away and look at a board book and play with his toy. The same occurred when Princess was that age.
  21. Chat. Talk about everything throughout the day. Kids learn their vocabulary skills by being exposed to it so chat as you go about your daily life. Treat their questions as important and answer them. I can remember at one stage becoming thoroughly tired of Matey’s continual questions whenever we were in the car until I realised that that was a major way he was learning.
  22. Kiss, cuddle, touch. Touch them gently and appropriately as much as possible. Children need an abundance of the 5 love languages – touch, verbal affirmation, gifts, quality time and acts of service. Snuggle up often on the couch. Tickle and tumble together. Wrap your arms around them often.
  23. Develop your parenting ability. Allow your parenting style to grow and develop and change as they grow, develop and change. I love reading books on parenting and child development so that I can be the best parent for my children that I can be.