I am most definitely guilty of doing too much for my little Beans, tasks they most certainly could do for themselves – like cooking, washing or slapping on their sunscreen. It comes from a place of love and desire to provide for them, along with let’s be honest, a wish to complete certain boring jobs quickly, but am I really doing them any favours by removing these mundane tasks from their plates? Is it not indeed just as important, if not more, that I help equip them with these life skills to both survive and thrive in the adult world, as it is to teach them the academics?
Lockdown provides the perfect opportunity to slow down and patiently show our little ones how to complete these vital tasks, from managing their own time, to budgeting, to lighting a fire, to planning and navigating a walk. Along with a commitment to include the Beans in as many of the adult undertakings as is feasible (and sensible), I’m also planning to use some of our home time to focus on a few of these life skills each week and deepen their abilities in these areas.
I started writing a post highlighting a list of ideas for key life skills to be developed, all of which are better taught from the home, on a more personal one-to-one basis. But, the post was 6,500 words long (I might have got a little carried away!), so I’ve broken it down into smaller sections, which I’ll put up over the next few days. This first post focuses on encouraging them to manage their own physical and mental health.
Just to be totally transparent though, the ability to patiently teach these sorts of skills is not high up on my own skill set – I’d feel much happier teaching them how to conjugate Spanish verbs or the component parts of an animal cell – but I’m trying my best!
Me: “Have you brushed your teeth today?”
Bean9: “Oh, my teeth (looks completely surprised), no, you didn’t ask me to.” (NB: I was out doing the shopping all morning).
Me: “Is it something you should do every morning?”
Me: “Do you understand why?”
Me (with a meaningful look): “So, should I have to remind you in order for it to happen?”
Bean9: “Oh, OK, I’ll go and brush them.” (walks off as if he’s doing me a big favour…).
Please tell me that I’m not the only one to have these conversations (on repeat) with my children! Or that in the past, other people’s children have turned up to a sports class with their best boots on. Or to a walk in the rain without a coat. Or cricket practice without a bat…
My children are dreamers – they’re very imaginative, play complex and original games and live in different worlds. I love this about them. I genuinely believe that in the long run, it will equip them with the skills to be creative thinkers, able to tackle whatever the world requires at that point in time (if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that you really can’t predict what the future will look like).
But there has to be a balance. Alongside the dreaming, they need to start taking more ownership and accountability for themselves too. And to help them, I need to back off and let them. Allow them to fail and suffer the consequences (as long as they’re not too bad!) in order to strengthen the learning opportunity.
Last week, I had one of those bad days – you know the ones, where all those little things add up and finally tip you over the edge! The result of this (once I’d calmed down) was sitting down with the Beans, asking them to take more responsibility for their own health and explaining why. This included getting dressed (in clothes appropriate to the weather – no more shorts on freezing days or jeans and jumpers on hot ones), brushing hair, making their own healthy breakfast and doing their teeth ready to start our working day at around 8am (they’re normally awake by 7am at the latest so this was a totally achievable task). It meant putting on their own sunscreen and wearing a hat in the sunshine (without being reminded a million times). It required them to remember to drink regularly, take their daily vitamin, not eat too much sugar, wash their hands at the right time, along with getting enough exercise and time outside in a day. Setting up healthy habits for a lifetime. And for me, it meant not interfering and reminding.
The explaining of why was far more important than the what. Talking about the implications of not doing some of the above on their short- and long-term health made all the difference. It changed the tasks from being something I have to do to please Mummy, to being something essential for my own benefit.
They understand the science behind it all – we’ve covered hygiene; the importance of a healthy balanced diet and what that looks like; why we need sufficient exercise and time outside soaking up those vitamin D rays, extensively in our biology lessons (if your children haven’t though, this would be an ideal time to teach them). They’re aware that I suffer with skin cancer issues because I didn’t always use sun cream as a child. They know, but sometimes they need a little reminder – a nudge in the right direction.
I’m pleased to report that it made a massive difference. Sunscreen was diligently applied. A hat was remembered most of the time. More time was spent in the garden. One of them remembered the vitamin and reminded the other. In the mornings, I gained some time for myself as they pottered around industriously readying themselves for the day. And they even enjoyed it.
I’m sure this won’t be the last time they need that little nudge, but when it’s required, I must remember to repeat the above rather than shouting out instructions (thereby taking the ownership away from them) and just feeling cross when they fail to remember to do the basics.
Alongside these more preventative health measures, taking time to teach your child how to manage accidents – what to do if someone is bleeding, burns themselves, is choking, sprains or breaks a bone – is well worth the time investment. Talk about the steps to take in each scenario (without making it too scary) and ask them to act it out with their teddies/toys.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that our mental health is just is critical as our physical well-being. Teaching your little ones this at an early age is a vital life skill, and this time, where we forced to be away from our network of friends and extended family, is the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Leading by example is key here. And, because let’s face it we’re all going to make mistakes, acknowledging our errors, say in how we dealt with a certain situation, is just as important. It’s wonderful for children to know that adults are fallible too. It makes them much more comfortable in making mistakes themselves, which in turn helps their learning process.
I’ve found that talking about how it’s a tough situation for all and admitting that everyone has bad days, has opened up my children in acknowledging when they are finding things unexplainably difficult. Recognising and discussing these emotions with a loved one is part of the healing process and another healthy habit to establish.
On the flip side, I’ve also been careful to both see and regularly point out the positives of the current scenario with the Beans – the opportunity to get even closer as a family, the gift of time to slow down and reflect on what is important in our lives, the increased kindness of strangers, and the bravery of many individuals in the face of adversity.
In terms of the current pandemic situation, I think it’s important for them to know the basics (aside from our explanations, they also read The Week Junior, which has age-appropriate accounts), and we share positive updates with them, but I’ve tried not to discuss any of the more negative aspects or my own anxieties/difficulty with ambiguity in front of them. This, I save for MrJ, out of ear shot of little listeners!
Modelling self-care techniques is the ideal way to teach your children. What small child doesn’t want to emulate their parents? I appreciate this might change as they get older, but they will still be learning from you even if they don’t acknowledge the benefit at this point in time!
For us, self-care looks like:
- daily prayer together – I’ve just bought this gorgeous book of devotionals on a recommendation (Jesus Calling by Sarah Young), which we’ll start reading together
- saying one thing we’re all grateful for each day
- running – I’ve only recently discovered the meditative, calming benefits of running in nature and, keen to share this with my kids, we take them out running with us. One day a week, I run a 5k with Bean9, followed by a 2k with Bean10. Two days later, MrJ takes them both out for a 2k run
- staying connected with friends – virtual face to face chats and game playing with friends (it’s amazing how many board games can be played over Zoom!); quizzes with friends and sports teams; weekly family facetime catch ups; online book clubs, virtual singing and acting lessons
- reading together and individually – there is literally nothing more therapeutic than a good book! We’ve just finished the new Mysterious Benedict Society book (The Riddle of Ages), which was just brilliant!
- hugging – the powers of which are not to be underestimated!
- eating lunch and dinner together and sharing stories/memories
- watching movies together – a highlight of their week is the free Andrew Lloyd Webber show on a Friday night, along with popcorn and snuggles
- walking or biking daily
- playing board games
- baking cakes
- gardening (more on these last two in the next post)
- balancing alone time (essential for the introverts) with time playing together (essential for the extroverts)
- pilates – I’m hypermobile, so I’ve signed up to the Zebra Club (£13.99/month), which is a fantastic online resource aimed at teaching hypermobile individuals how to do pilates without injuring themselves and to strengthen their core muscles, thus preventing future injuries. There is also an excellent set of classes on mindfulness and managing stress, along with a kids-focused session which we do together. And, if Bean10 has trouble sleeping, she likes to do one of the sleep/fatigue sessions with me. It’s been a huge help for all of us; I literally relax at the sound of the instructor’s voice, and I’d highly recommend.
- getting outside into the healing powers of nature
- sleep – ensuring we all get enough makes everyone happy 😊
Focusing on these skills over the past few weeks has been hugely beneficial for everyone in our little family – it has certainly been worth the time investment.
Tomorrow’s post will be about cooking, baking and growing food; lighting fires; and budgeting and money management.