Wednesday, June 29, 2016

“Go make your bed!”—the importance of specificity when assigning chores (or any tasks, really)

"Go make your bed!" -- The importance of specificity when assigning chores
If you haven’t read McKenzie’s post about chore charts or our other posts about chores and teaching responsibility, you really should. McKenzie and her 5 and 3 year old kids, along with her husband, are still early in their parenting journey and figuring out what methods work best for their family. I have had 17 years of parenting and experience with my son, a neice, and an ex's children and have tried a variety of chore charts and systems. Below is one of the most important lessons I have ever learned as a parent when it comes to assigning chores. It's so simple and obvious that most of us miss it...

I absolutely love the chore charts McKenzie made for her kids and love that she was thoughtful about using pictures since her children are not yet reading. Symbols can have just as much meaning as written words (sometimes more!) and this is such a great tip if you have younger children or children who are learning to read at later ages {{more on late readers another day!}}.

When my son was young, I tried a variety of chore charts, task lists, money incentives, and so on. Pretty much none of them really worked all that well. They simply weren’t right for us. While I love rules and order in some areas of my life, chores is not one of them! My son is very much the same way. Instead of doing set chores on set days or at set times, we both do best when certain chores are done when they obviously need to be done—for example, if the sink has dishes in it, someone needs to wash the dishes.

Over the years (my son is almost 18), our chore system has evolved. When he was much younger, I did chores alongside him, providing guidance as he learned new skills, eventually giving him more and more responsibility until he could do tasks nearly independently. I didn’t expect perfection, but I did expect competence.

I realized quite early on that my son, and many other children I have worked with, need concrete, targeted instructions.

It simply wasn’t enough for me to say, “Go clean your room.” My son might look at his room and think it looks clean while I might look and see a disorganized disaster zone. Words like clean, organized, tidy, picked up, and so on are open to interpretation and often you and your child may not be on the same page.
I began to switch from “Go clean your room” to “Please put all of your Nerf darts in their container. Then, put all of the clothes on the floor in the hamper” followed by more specific, task oriented instructions as we went along. My son needed to understand what “clean your room” meant to me before he could really complete the task. The same is true of many other household chores.

Telling a child “Make your bed” may seem pretty straightforward, but what if it isn’t? What if you child goes into his or her bedroom, comes out five minutes later, and then you find the bed in nearly the same state in which you had last seen it?

You ask your child, “Why didn’t you make your bed like I asked?”

Chances are you’ll receive a reply such as, “I did!” or a shrug of the shoulders.

It was times like those that made me examine the task I had given and how I had given it (after I was able to shake off my feelings of frustration, of course!). 

Had I explained my expectation that a “made” bed means the pillows at the head of the bed and in their cases? 
That the sheets should be pulled up and about even across the bed? 
That the comforter or duvet should also be pulled up and about even across the bed? 
That any extra blankets should be folded and on top of the bed?

Had I ever had my child watch me or help me make the bed to begin with???

I know that I do best on tasks when I have a clear understanding of what is expected, and I often do even better when the task is demonstrated for me, and even better still if someone guides me through steps as I do the task myself.

Next time you find yourself frustrated by your child's inability to complete their chores, ask yourself if you have given them specific enough instructions. 

Did you tell them that putting away their clean clothes means socks in this drawer and shirts in that drawer? 
Did you explain that putting away toys means stuffed animals on the bed, books on the shelf, and blocks in the bin? 
Did you demonstrate how to properly wash and dry a plate, cup, bowl, and silverware before asking them to do dishes?

Be specific. 
Be concrete. 
Lead by example.
Children do best when they know exactly what is expected of them. Next time you assign chores or any other tasks, be sure you've explained what the job actually entails and what you expect from your kids. If you aren't specific, how will they know what to do?

In future posts, I’ll write about our current version of the chore chart and I’ll also share how competitiveness between two sisters got them to do their chores.

When was the last time you explained your expectations about chores to your children or actually taught them in a hands on way to complete a task? What methods of assigning chores have or have not worked in your family? Share by leaving a comment!
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Monday, June 27, 2016

The importance of family meals

The importance of family meals
It is amazing how we can cram our days full of tasks and still squeeze in little things feel that important to us. After all, sometimes it’s the seemingly little things that end up being the truly big things, right?

One thing that is important to me is having dinner as a family every night.

Admittedly, we have those busy nights where we just can’t make it happen, but those are rare and we mostly sit together at the table to eat dinner.

Before kids, my husband and I sat at the coffee table and watched tv while we ate. We didn’t start sitting at the table until I was pregnant. Then, when my son was born, family dinners at the table became so important to me, even before my son could sit in a high chair, that I scooted the pack-and-play over next to the table so my newborn son could be a part of dinner.

Looking back that was kind of silly, but it also illustrates my point.

Starting habits like this early sets the tone for when our kids are older. If it becomes normal early, then hopefully it will be not so painful when our kids are teenagers and barely want to talk to us. My hope is that if nothing else, it is our one guaranteed moment to be a family and catch up. Since I tend to cook most nights and our kids are still young, this has been fairly easy to enforce for us.

So far...

That said, I don’t live in a bubble and I understand that a family dinner on a regular basis may be difficult for some families (and even for mine someday). You may have an already jam packed scheduled. Or, maybe mom and dad work opposite or overlapping schedules. Or the kids have fifty different activities each. Or maybe you’re spending so much time trying to make ends meet that family dinners aren’t high on your priority list.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter what meal you focus on--it could be breakfast, lunch, snacks, tea, or any other time where you and your family come together regularly. It is the fact that you are sitting with your children and giving them distraction free time to talk and share--doing so over a meal just makes sense since you all have to eat, right?

While I love family dinners, I hate all of the clean up.

Dishes to wash, the floor to sweep, napkins to toss in the laundry (we use cloth), leftovers to package. Ugh! With that in mind, I totally get that it is unreasonable to expect that everyone (or most people) can prepare a healthy meal every single night, sit with their children, and give those kids undivided attention.

My family certainly isn’t perfect.

We do drive-thru dinners and use paper plates sometimes. We get distracted by the phone, the dog, or our chickens.

The truth is that it doesn’t matter quite so much if you are eating fast food or a homemade gourmet meal.

What does matter is that you are present and in the moment.

You do what works best for your family.

Always rushed? Feel like you don’t know how to fill the space and time when you sit down to a meal together? Not sure how to get the family on board?

Family meals are a great opportunity to enlist the help of your kids to make the process a little less painful, more inclusive, and more special.

My kids help set and clear the table even at ages 3 and 5 and that alone makes a huge difference. My son also now helps to chop and prep and is so engaged in learning to cook.

Sometimes our best conversations are during dinner prep when it’s just the two of us. 

Some of the benefits of making such an effort to enjoy a meal together are that I get to check in with my kids and get their perspective on life. Even though I spend all day with them as a work-at-home-mom, I still like to ask how their day was. Often we may have day where we don’t even leave the house. I love to hear their responses because they usually still exclaim that they had a great day! They can even list all of the fun things that they did on days like that.

Of course it’s equally as entertaining to hear about their days outside of the house. For example, we have spent a lot of time at the local fish hatchery lately--recently their favorite part of the day was seeing a decomposing dead fish and now they want to go back to see if it’s still there. Of course!

I think it’s enlightening (and reassuring) as a parent to see that you don’t have to provide a ton of bells and whistles for your children to have a fantastic day from their perspective! But, you do have to make an effort to check in with them regularly to make sure everyone is on track and thriving or to find out when they aren’t and why.

Once again, family meal times can be key.

{{Stay tuned for some fun ideas for dinner time conversations for you and your kids!}}

Aside from the obvious bonding time you spend with your family during meals, there are also other benefits which are equally as important:

  • Children who participate in family dinners are more likely to have higher GPAs.
  • They are less likely to use or abuse substances.
  • They have lower rates of teen pregnancy and depression.
  • They have greatly reduced risk of childhood obesity and eating disorders.

Check out the website for stats and ideas related to family dinners.

Of course, I also get that there is nothing worse than making a healthy and delicious dinner and having your kids turn their noses up at it. It feels like a slap in the face.

And, at times, I struggle with balancing the time it takes to prepare a meal versus the time we sit at the table together. Sometimes I will feel like I have devoted an hour to preparing a nice dinner and we end up sitting together for less than 10 minutes and it’s over. That’s not fun either.

Do you sit down for daily meals with your kids? If so, is it dinner or another meal? What are your successes or challenges when it comes to family meals? Leave your answers in the comments!
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Are you looking for other ways to stay connected with your kids, or maybe you aren't sure what to talk about over family meals

We have you covered with our unique and fun set of conversation starter cards! Your set of cards contains 20 different questions and conversation prompts, with space to add more of your own. You can print your cards straight from your printer and just talk about the topics or use them as a fun family coloring activity as well. Get yours HERE!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Connect with your kids or students with conversation starter cards

Conversation Starter Cards for Families and Teachers
Lately, we've been talking a lot about connecting with our children and partners and ways that we work on nurturing those relationships. 

If you are like most of the parents, you are short on time, perpetually running late, a little frazzled even on the good days and can maybe squeeze in a few minutes of alone time every once in awhile. 

Oh wait, you are also juggling laundry, dinners, errands, homework, and happy/sad/tired/cranky/sassy/excited children at the same time!

Am I right?

We've been working hard at Mom2MomEd to develop tools and ideas to help you to connect and engage with your children in a fun and unique way, maybe with a little education slipped in along the way. Regardless of how busy you are, we know you want to make time for your kids and to feel connected to them. 

With that in mind...

We're excited to introduce conversation cards! These are printable cards with a discussion prompt and an image to be colored by your kids (or by you!). Each page in your conversation starters card pack contains four cards to print and cut out and used whenever or wherever you want! 

Your conversation starter cards set includes SIX pages (20 pre-printed prompts and 4 fill-in-your-own). Print as many copies as you would like!
Conversation starter cards for families and educators
So, what exactly do you do with these cards?

These cards are really versatile and can be used in a variety of ways--and they are great for families, teachers, therapists, or anyone else needing to break the ice with a child.

In my household, meal prep tends to be a busy time and I hear a lot of "What's for dinner" or "I'm bored" comments. These cards are great solution to this problem. As a parent, you can be preparing dinner (or any meal) while your children select a card to discuss and color--if you have more than one child, you can easily make copies of the cards so everyone is working on the same prompt, or you can give everyone a different topic for a longer conversation.

The prompts are designed to spark conversation by being silly, serious, funny and thought provoking. Ideally, let your children think out loud and ask open ended questions to get them to explore the topics and their answers further.

For example, if your child selects a card that says, "If you could have any pet in the world what would you choose?" the conversation might go something like this:

Child:  Zebra.
You: Wow! A Zebra? Why did you choose that? 
Child: Because they are cool and striped! 
You: What else makes them unique? Do you know if they would be a good pet? 
Child: They have look like horses kind of but, they aren't horses and I think that they are calm and nice. I bet I could keep a zebra in my bedroom. It could sleep with me and our dog can sleep on the floor. 
You:  Let's remember to look up more information on zebras next time we are at the library. Do you know if they like living in hot or cold weather? 
Child: I don't know, but if my zebra sleeps in my bed it won't matter. Can we feed our zebra cake? 
You: I don't know if zebras like cake, but we can find out. What would you name your zebra? 
Child: Um, Bob! 

And, you keep the conversation going with everyone present taking a turn answering the prompt and discussing their answers.

These cards can be used while you are prepping a meal or a snack, folding laundry,  or pretty much anytime. The important thing is that parents are using them while actively engaging their children in the conversation. Of course, ideally, it would be great to carve out time (like at a meal) where you can sit down with your children and have distraction free, focused time together to build bonds and memories.

These cards may also be used for a variety of ages. For pre-readers, parents can read the prompt aloud and the child can draw their answer on the cards or color in the pictures while talking about the prompt. For children who are writing they can write and draw their answers or any combination of both. But, don't forget to use these for your tweens and teens too! You may be surprised how much fun they will have. Sometimes moments of being silly bring out the best in all of us and you may be surprised how much your older children love to chat with you, even if they don't always at like it! 

Conversation starters for families and educators
We also all have those days where we are feeling uninspired, not very talkative, and just don’t even know where to start when engaging our kids. We've all been-there-done-that, right? These can be used with minimal effort on your part and still provide quality time with your kids. 

And, if you have an older child and have something pressing or serious that you need to discuss, but you aren't ready to just dive into the conversation, you might use these as a way to at least start talking so that you can transition to the important topic later in the conversation. And, in our technology driven world, these are also a good way to get the flow of conversation started and build conversation skills with your child--skills they can use as they get older and start making their own way in the world.

But, these aren't ONLY for parents and families. Other ideas for using these conversation cards include: 

  • Kids can use them with their friends as a way to get to know each other better. They could be a fun party activity. 
  • Teachers and day care providers can use these as ice breakers or a group activity for the first day of school.
  • Mental health professionals and other healthcare providers can use the cards to introduce their younger patients to talking in the therapeutic setting.
  • Adults can even use the cards at staff trainings or retreats to break the ice and get to know each other better. 

Immediately, your conversation starter cards are available through our brand new Etsy shop HERE.

In the near future, you will also be able to find us at Teachers Pay Teachers, or simply follow us here or on Facebook for regular updates!

Once you start using your cards, be sure to share your experience with us. Come back and post a comment, drop us a note on Facebook, or share on social media with the hashtag #mom2momed. We'd love to see your child's artwork and hear about how you utilized these cards throughout your day. 

Do you have any unique ways that you engage your children in conversation? If you were to use these cards when do you think they would be most useful? Dinner time or another time? Please share your answers in the comments. We look forward to hearing from you!