Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Coping Strategies (When All Your Children Are Little!)

My dear baby boy is now 3 weeks old :) Can you believe it? Time is flying by! Well, at least it feels that way if it's not between the hours of 3:30 and 6:30 pm on a weekday. Then, time draaaaags by until another adult face shows up in the doorway, lol. The children have been wonderful, though. I truly praise God for the smooth transition He has so graciously given to our little family. I also thank Him for little tips and hints friends have given along the way that have provided an arsenal of "coping techniques" for trying hours (or days). Three practical helps from friends top the list for me.

The first, far and away, is to occupy the other children with something purposeful and productive while I nurse or rock the baby. I've been trying to make the most of the time by having Punkin brush up on her Dostoyevsky. Sorry, I just couldn't resist posting this photo ;)

The real #1 help for me has been the advice to have a plan for the day at the beginning of the day. This "daily plan" has taken on various forms through the last six years. My "schedules" have ranged from highly detailed and neatly written out when SweetP was an infant to, now, mentally thrown together just upon rising in the morning and somewhat subject to last minute changes throughout the day. But, I have a plan! ;) Often, I lie in bed just long enough in the morning to pray and get some idea of what I'm doing that day. I may have a basic idea several days in advance, but not always. Somethings are given and fairly consistent. Lunch always begins around 12 or 12:30pm. Dinner is nearly always between 6:15 and 6:45pm. Punkin's naptime falls nearly always around 1 or 1:30pm, etc. Then, the rest of what I hope to fit into the day falls in the spaces between these set times. I have a friend who literally manages her home on a schedule broken down into 15 minute increments. She has a large, homeschooling family and this seems to work well for them. I might get there someday, by necessity, but - right now - I think I'd be a nutcase. I all too easily become a slave to the schedule, stressing out over getting "behind" 20 minutes here or there. I have a horrible time keeping priorities when I'm so distracted by the next "to do" item on my list. I really, really need a general plan of action, though. A direction for me and for each of the children. "Idle hands are the devil's workshop", and idle little minds are worse! Thank you, Lord, for friends who have encouraged and modeled the importance of a plan for the day :)

The #2 fantastic tip that has saved me more than once from sinking into a sobbing heap in the middle of the kitchen, is cribtime... 30-45 minutes for the older baby or young toddler to play, quietly in her crib. To those who haven't done it, this sounds like a far fetched idea, but - trust me - it works! Around the time that the girls dropped their morning naps, I started them out with "cribtime". Personally, I begin at 10 to 15 minutes and work my way up. I decide when it's over. I'm careful to not reward fussing by ending cribtime with a whiny or crying child. Instead, I wait for a quiet moment (they fuss at first when cribtime is new) then go and get them, praising them for playing quietly). It hasn't taken long to get to 30-45 minutes of quiet play on a consistent basis. It is really, really important to make certain the crib is completely safe. All toys must be chosen very carefully. No small parts, long cords, broken pieces. Larger toys are major dangers for the toddler that may use them as steps to climb up on the crib rail. Safety first. I leave the door to the room cracked an inch or two, set up a baby monitor, and we both enjoy cribtime! I can take a shower, lie down, nurse without distraction, teach phonics, or whatever else I may need to do. Baby benefits from increased attention span (she can't wander all over from this to that), skills in entertaining herself, and a period of restful quiet, too.

Once the girls have gotten too old for the crib, I've moved them to "quiet roomtime" in a well baby-proofed bedroom with a baby gate in the doorway. Even now, at 4 and a half, Shug loves roomtime. Sometimes children, just like adults, need a little time alone with relative peace and quiet. It can be a really positive thing for everyone :) SweetP and Shug don't nap anymore, but nearly every afternoon they have quiet roomtime with a few well-chosen toys, activities, and books. This is SweetP's time to read alone without interruption. I nearly always take a little nap ;)

Last but not least, the third little strategy is Book Time. Forgive the "schedule titles", lol, but the girls really like officially naming different parts of the day :) When I need ten to fifteen minutes of quiet, or uninterrupted time - book time is a blessing! Ten to fifteen minutes of quiet time with each child in a specific seat with a few books. All I need to do is say, "Quiet book time, girls!" and they're off to the bookshelves and then to their respective places in the family room until I'm finished.

Sometimes I may tell the older girls to choose specific books, like "science" books or "history" books, but usually I let them choose 3-4 of their own preferences. I choose Punkin's books for her. Anyone who's waited on a 2-year-old to decide anything knows why ;) And that's it. I try to save booktime for when I'm nursing Little Dude mid-morning, but it's also a great resource when I'm trying to make dinner in a hurry. They aren't allowed, generally speaking, to run back and forth from the bookcase getting new books. Part of the point is that they pay attention, real attention, to the books they chose first. Again, this is a wonderful attention skill builder, too :)

So, there you go! Those are my big secrets of staying sane each day :) None of them are my original ideas - well, booktime is sort of an original spin-off of another idea - but are ideas that were lovingly passed down to me from older, wiser moms. So, I lovingly do the same, although I'm not much older than many of you and definitely lacking in the "wiser" category. Hope something can be a blessing to one of you ;)