Saturday, February 9, 2008

A friend has some questions on a 6 year old with a negative attitude and whiny disposition who doesn't want to go to bed at night. Been there, done that. And while it's rather normal for this age group, it's not a behavior that will get them where they need to be in this life.

Well, I have had to change kids' schedules around. But to do that I also had to change mine around. I too am a night owl and so are my kids. The problem is that we live in a day time world and need to be on a daytime schedule.

The trick to getting them in bed a sooner is to get them up earlier.

My first dd was 9 weeks premature. When she was 22 days old, I took a 4lb 3oz baby home. On the way out the door, the nurse quipped; "oh, you're going to LOVE us."

At midnight, 3 days later, I understood what she meant. The night shift has the fun job of giving the babies their baths. Most of the kids are too sick to play with. But my dd was very portable, just a little too tiny to send home - even to a former paramedic with NICU training. (That training is how I sprung a baby that was under 5 lbs from the hospital.)

Anyway, my dd would wake up at 11pm and didn't want to sleep until about 2 or 3 am. When I figured out what was going on, mom did a rotten thing. She started waking that poor baby up. Yup! I'd wake her up. Now what does feeding have to do with sleeping?

Two things. First, if people are hungry, they won't sleep. In fact, that's what wakes infants up at night, crying. They're hungry. When they're full, they sleep (just like we'd like to do). I found that if I fed her first and THEN played with her, when she started to get sleepy, I could just put her in her crib. She wasn't nursing herself to sleep or taking a bottle to bed. I wasn't creating a habit she and I would only need to break later. Both are usually HARD habits to break.

Also, if they don't get enough to eat during the day, they will be wanting to eat at night. (By the way, as we get older, eating, winds the body up, we get a second wind and off we go. So if kids are eating into the evening, they're refueling - and that's NOT conducive to sleeping. It takes a couple of hours for our bodies to wind back down. If you want them in bed at 8 or 9, I'd suggest not to eat dinner any later than 6, have any dessert then and not letting them keep snacking until bedtime.)

With my dd, in order for our family to function, I realized that I need her to eat at 10, so that she would be in bed for the night at about 10:30 or 11pm, so that meant that I backed up all her feedings until I was close to the times I wanted to feed her. Then I awakened her to eat at the times I wanted her to start eating. It took me 3 days to get her completely changed over. Once she wasn't sleeping all day, she quit staying up when I needed to sleep. She still needed nighttime feedings at 10, 2 (and 6am - which is when I had to get up anyway.) But since she was eating more often in the daytime, she was able to sleep the extra hour at the 3 night feedings and still gain weight and be happy. I never made her wait or cry until the next "feeding time". By having her eat earlier than she was used to, she wasn't waking up crying to eat and then having to wait until it was "time". Rather I was awakening her TO eat and in this way, she was never upset by the schedule change. She was used to being fed every 3 hrs in the hospital. All I did was change the timing backwards a bit. And after eating, it was play time - well in a newborn, it was diaper change, snuggle and sing time, but she was awake and interacting.

(I know some people would have just put the baby on the breast and gotten into bed with them. We had a full motion waterbed. There was no WAY I allowed her into/onto that bed, the way it was setup made it too dangerous. So keeping her in bed with me wasn't an option. I just got up to nurse her.)

Anyway, back to the 6 year old. Don't try to get him in bed earlier, instead get him up earlier and feeding him earlier. Then set a loose schedule with him. Talk to him and give him choices about when he'd like to do things and what he'd like to do. Don't be a slave to the "schedule" and DON'T schedule every moment. Make sure he has blocks of free time. Tweak it as needed - schedules are never set up once and then forgotten. As life changes, the schedule will change.

Some people think of unschooling as no rules, no schedule, do as you please. Perhaps that works for some families. In my family, we do have rules that ALL family members live by. We all do chores, we all learn new things each day. I had/have a schedule, but it's not engraved in stone. I made sure there was free time for exploring, I made sure there was family time, chore time, fun time and (unknown to the kids) school time. Yup, I snuck (and STILL sneak) it in there. I read extensively to them. Not just nursery rhymes, but the children's classics as well as current popular books. We also read the scriptures together. When they were younger it was a picture book type scriptures. As they got to preschool and knew the stories better, I'd read from the regular scriptures. I kept it SHORT.

When they're little, we probably ought not to make all their lessons any longer than the kids are tall. lol Not quite, but 1,2, 3 and 4 year olds are not predisposed to sitting for long periods of time. Break up "lessons" and use a lot of visual aids. Have them "teach" you.

Now that mine are older, we read the regular "classics". We have extensive discussions of history, civics, social studies, morals, ethics, science, , etiquette, life skills (how to find a job, apartment, register to vote, open a bank account, manage money, cook, sew, iron, mow a lawn, etc - both male and female). English is taught by gentle speech correction when they are learning to talk, correcting (gently) misconjugations as they mature as well as games, videos, cds, etc. We do use math books for the math, but we have also used videos, Cds and games to teach math concepts, as well as manipulatives to demonstrate math principles. Reading was taught as they showed interest and I tried a variety of phonic programs, none of which the children or I cared for. I do wish I had found the program I have now, which is a spelling, writing and reading program for dyslexic kids. I'm using it with my older kids - even though they can already read and spell. It will make better spellers out of them. I also have my eye on a program that teaches essay and creative writing in a positive way. The public school textbooks that I have are really dry and don't walk the kids through in a way that they can use - which is why so many of us who were public schooled hated to write, but yet we like to blog.

The thing is, if you don't have some type of plan, then you have a harder time helping them fill their days with interesting things. Familiarize yourself with what areas of life there are to learn about. History, civics, social studies, language arts, regular arts, biology, earth sciences, physics and chemistry. When they are younger, use children's "experiment" books. Have fun with baking soda and vinegar, baking (yup, some of the best chemistry there is!). As they get older, go to the library and check out college age text books. Read them yourself first or even with your teens. Have them learn the forumlas. It's easier than it sounds - if you've made learning a joy instead of killed that joy with extensive dead tree work. (note: I have one that loves dead tree work. Go figure.) As Ms Frizzle of the Magic School Bus says: "

Bottom line, if they see you (and dad, if he's involved with his kids) learning and studying, they will too. If you have a "let's see what we can learn today" attitude they will pick it up. But if you're grumbling about having to learn something, I guarantee you, they will pick that up too.

Make sure in the early evening he gets some large motor exercise - run him around the block, up and down the sidewalk. Play catch with him, whatever you can do to tire him out some. Get a bath, a glass of milk - if he's not allergic to it. And then a story, prayers if you say them in your family, and bed. Set up a chart with stickers - even if it's just a dollar package of stars. He gets one for each of the tasks he completes. The bed star he does not get until in the morning IF he has gone to bed on time and another if he's stayed in bed.

I use a program called "Homeschool Tracker". I have a chore section set up. Good behavior and chores/school done earn points. Bad behavior and whining, negativity or any undesired behavior cause points to be docked. (You could spray paint some tiny pebbles gold and use a cup for the same effect. Which is something to give and take according to behavior.) Or a Chart for stickers or smiley faces. Then set up goals WITH him for him to reach. When he has earned XX number of points, rocks, stars, etc. he can do..., or have ... or play... (fill in the blank.) Mostly, kids enjoy time spent with parents over things. Ask him what he'd like to do for a reward. Perhaps bowling, a special picnic with dad, a walk with mom or a grandparent, aunt or uncle. You don't have to spend money. I've never had it to spend. I do know some families that have a Mom Store. Mom prints her own money (from a web site) and then the kids earn points. (or lose them) At the end of the week, the points were changed for "Mom" money. They could save the money for a larger purchase, or shop at her store right then. She got stuff from yard sales, thrift stores, dollar stores and ordered from some of the oriental trading companies where she could get a lot of little things that didn't cost much. ( I also didn't have the house space that they had and it would have been clutter for my house.)

You want to REALLY praise the good and almost ignore the bad. Actively look for him TRYING to do what you want. Offer praise and points, star, rock, whatever. If the behavior is starting to disintegrate, then simply take a point, star, rock, etc. Don't yell, don't argue, don't threaten - as in "If you don't quit that, I'm taking (rock, point, etc) from you." As Yoda told Luke; "Do or don't do. There is no try." Either use a reward system or let him run along as he has been doing, but setting one up and then only threatening to dock points does no good. In fact, it's worse than not doing anything, because you put yourself in the position of rewarding BAD behavior. You're giving the bad behavior attention with the threats and teaching that mom won't follow through, she whines! Yup, I never realized that when I scolded and threatened, I was whining. I needed to just go and quietly DO. If I want my kids to just go and do, then I need to go and do - not sit and complain (in the form of threats to them). Ouch! kids could "take points" from ME too. And there were days I got on a roll and didn't realize it. And it helped them understand that even grownups can have bad days. But it was probably more important that they saw how I conducted MYSELF when they took MY points. (We'd all usually end up laughing hysterically, but I would also apologize to them for MY bad behavior.) Surprisingly, they didn't take my points in retaliation. They tended to be quite honest at those times when I was being a bear - it wasn't often, but it did/does happen.

Get his help in setting up this chart. Talk to him about how we need a good attitude to be successful in life. Give him some chores to do. He's old enough to empty the house waste baskets into the main house trash can (he's probably still too short to get the trash bag out of the trash can).

Make him "Chef's Assistant". Let him help you cook. Notice that help isn't in quotation marks.
He is old enough to really cook. Because of problem pregnancies, I had to teach my little ones how to fix easy things. Tortillas with presliced/preshredded cheese, popcorn, Cheese "toast" (all in the microwave) peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, presliced cheese. Milk either on a low shelf in a small container that a child can handle or prepoured milk in sippy/straw cups. (ones that are either closed or don't spill easily.)

At 6, he can do a lot in the kitchen that does not involve sharp knives, hot ovens (they're still a bit too uncoordinated) or stoves (not tall enough without a chair - which is too dangerous). He can use a plastic knife or table knife to cut tender veggies, spread butter, peanut butter, jelly, etc. He can peel boiled eggs. He can hand you ingredients and you can let him help measure ingredients - show him how to level a cup and then watch as he does it. (teaches fractions and as he gets older, have him double, triple, halve or quarter, etc. a recipe.) He can also help mix by hand any recipe. Personally, he's still a little young to use a hand mixer. He needs more heighth and dexterity before it's safe to do that, even with you right there holding his hand. They're too quick to stick a finger into the beater or bowl.

He can also set and clear the table. Help put any food away - he can get you the container to put the food in. He can wash the plastic bowls and the silverware. He can probably dry all but sharps and heavy things. Work with him on how to safely dry glass items and then don't be upset with him if something gets broken. If it's that important to you just tell him it's one of your treasures and you would be upset if anything happened to it, so you don't want to put him in the position of possibly breaking it. If you break it, you will be mad at you. If he breaks it, you might be mad at him and it's not fair to him. Sorting silverware is a great premath skill!

He could also help clean the bathroom. He can clean the tub and the sink. Until he's a little older, I'd not let him do the toilet.

He can help put away groceries when you come home from shopping. He can feed and water any pets. He can fold towels, wash cloths, dish cloths and match socks - other great math skills. There are many more of these type activities that he can do.

Now several things about this list:
One, he's not doing them all by himself. You're there working with him, first teaching him how to do what you want and then letting him do it so he's actually being a help to you, while you're doing the rest of that particular job. Remember to thank him and praise him for his efforts. And NO REDOING his work!! (And don't redo what you husband has done either. It tells them you don't value their efforts. And if you're going to redo it or complain, why should they even bother doing it?)

Two, even when he's old enough to do all his chores without help, don't overload him. I have 3 teens and we have a schedule set up so that we all have about an hour of chores a day. Except for the person who is the cook. That person has about 1 1/2 - 2 1/2 hrs to do, depending on what they fix. We rotate the chore lists among us. When there was 4 of us here, we had a "Cook's list", a Dish washer's list", a "Dish dryer's list" and a "Table setter's list". Now that there's 3 of us, we split up the "Table setter's list" among the other 3 lists.

The best thing to do is to talk with kids and take them everywhere with you. Explain what you're doing and why you're doing it. Read out loud to them. Let them see you reading. Give them time to read - and they can't do that if they're running from one activity to the next.
Let them see you studying and express how much you like to learn new things. Talk about how you research things you want to know.

We live in an age where it's no longer possible to know "everything". But if we can read well, write well and know how to research what we don't know, then we will be able to compete in this world. Toss in the ability to do ordinary "consumer" math and they will be in good shape. They will be in a position to understand higher math. There are discalculate kids - they have a learning difference in math that makes it very hard to do math. It's harder than dyslexia to overcome and they struggle until they are quite a bit older to "get" a lot of math concepts. Teach them to use a calculator. Yes, we DO need to do math in our heads, but some CAN'T, or they can't do it in stressful situations - teach them how to cope, but also to keep trying to learn it. Bit by bit they will learn it. I'm 54 and Algebra is finally making sense. I now "get it". Never thought I'd see the day that I would.

As with anything, work on being consistent. We have to train ourselves as well as our children. Be patient with them AND ourselves, but never give up.

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