Monthly Archives: April 2016

Structured Flexibility: Not an Oxymoron for Your Summer Schedule


You have to understand, I grew up in Spain.  As I remember it (from the eyes of a child) the culture there is very laid back compared to the American rat-race, and the people are go-with-the-flow, enjoy life, sit at the table for 2 hours, kind of people. I loved it!  Then I married a man who for several years–before children and as we were starting our family–was a full-time youth pastor and a part-time athletic director, so we were out late at night several nights a week, but not necessarily the same nights every week.  On top of that I was a PRN nurse, which meant that my schedule was different every week.

All that adds up to not having a lot of structure in our schedule, which worked fine in those early years, but in my naiveté,  while pregnant with my 1st child, I remember thinking, “Well, this baby is just going to have to be FLEXIBLE.  I’m not going to be tied down to a schedule with him because if I allow that, I will never see my husband.”  And I continued on blithely ignorant that structure and flexibility are compatible, not opposed to each other.

Fortunately, during that same pregnancy, as I was reading up on being one of those perfect parents (yeah, right), one of the authors I was reading, explained that there is actually only true flexibility if there is an underlying structure.  Without the structure, it is not flexibility, but rather chaos.  Like a young tree, that has the ability to bend in the wind only because it has a structure that is rooted to the ground.

This basic principle has been invaluable to me over that years as I have set  (very) flexible structures in place for our family. These structures are ever-changing, extremely flexible,  and sometimes you might even call them “fluid.” Nevertheless when a child knows what to expect because there is structure in place, he will be happier and more secure, and your home will be more peaceful for it.  OK, at least less chaotic!

I have several different mini-structures in place such as chores, morning/nighttime routines and behavioral reward/penalty systems, but since summer is looming, that is where we are going to camp in this post.

How do you set up structure in the summer for your children?  Do you let them sleep in (I wish they would!), do you go, go, go all summer long, does all play-time have to be structured?  Is it possible to over-structure? It can be a little overwhelming to figure it out.

I have a personality that enjoys sitting down and organizing and figuring things out on paper.  As a result, my structures in the past have tended to be overly-complex with the result of not lasting very long because they are not sustainable. On the other hand, I have found that if I do a GENERAL structure and then plug-in specifics on a day-to-day basis, I am more likely to follow the schedule, and my boys are more able to understand it.  Simplifying also makes flexibility easier!

So how do you go about setting up a summer schedule?

1.Make a list of things you KNOW you want to include in your schedule:  chores, activities, routines, events, personal development.

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OK, I admit it, I’m a list person! But this will help guide you as you embark on getting that schedule written.

2. Choose your schedule style

  • Clock-ruled:  A few years ago, when all my boys were in the “young” stage of life, I had a general schedule that followed the clock.  For example 8-9 was breakfast, breakfast clean-up, morning grooming and bed-making.  9-10 was outside playtime, etc.  This style places the responsibility of keeping it squarely on your shoulders and is probably a great one to use with younger children.
  • Check-list: As my older boys moved on to a different life stage, I have moved to a check-list style schedule.  I don’t control whether my 11-year old eats breakfast as soon as he gets up or whether he waits 30 minutes, so trying to follow a clock would be frustrating.  Also, I don’t really care when he does his chores, as long as they get done.  The beauty of the check-list is that you are relinquishing the responsibility to your child.
  • Combination: This is where I settled last year.  I have a big general schedule for everyone, and then I have a specific check-list for my older boys.

3. Initially, make your schedule general enough to fit all your children, leaving the specifics for later.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 8.19.00 PMMake out a schedule that they ALL are going to share–breakfast, grooming, chores, activities, etc.  Start with a basic structure that you can then tailor to each child according to his age or capabilities.

Start with morning routine:  Do you have a time you want them to be up by?  Or a time they may not get up until?  Because some of my boys tend to get up at the crack of dawn, we have fairly strict rules about what they are allowed to do before 8am.  Last summer they had to stay in their rooms.  This summer, by their own choice, they have all moved into one room together, so I will be sending them into the playroom so the other boys can continue to sleep.  And if that gets too loud, I will assign them different rooms they can go to be alone until 8am.  Other morning routine stuff would include breakfast & clean-up, grooming, making beds, maybe morning chore time, outside playtime, etc.

Continue with the middle-of-the-day structure:  From mid-morning to late afternoon is usually the time in my schedule that has the most variety.  This is where I plug in the activities: Make something Mondays, Activity and Picnic on Tuesdays–usually a park or the pool, etc.  Again, I keep it general enough on the actual schedule so I can use that same schedule week after week throughout the summer, but then each week, I look at my initial planning list, and pick something from that list to do on each particular day.  I still have a child that needs a nap in the afternoons, so I plan quiet activities for my boys during that time.  That is when they do their reading, Rosetta Stone, writing, quiet toy-time, etc.  Usually I schedule more outside time during dinner-prep.

End with the evening routine:  Pre-dinner, Dinner and clean-up, family time, bedtime routines.

Somewhere in that structure, please be sure to structure in what we call “free play.” That is play time that is non-screen related and is not dependent on your planning or participation.  Being able to self-entertain and socialize with peers is crucial in the proper development of a child.

4. If your children are old enough, give them a tailored schedule.Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 8.30.07 PM

Last year, I had a binder for the boys.  At the front was the general schedule that had the times on it.  Then they each had their own tab with their personal check-list schedule that they were responsible to keep and check off.  This tailored one got printed out each week so they could continue to use it as a check-list.

I had one that was old enough to keep a schedule, but was having a little difficulty reading, so I made one up with pictures for him.  I’m happy to report that this summer we will be able to use words!

5. Sit down with your child and go through the schedule, laying out the expectations.

Believe it or not, most children will be EXCITED to have a schedule to follow.  The downside is that they can become the schedule police!  So in this initial conversation, be sure to include that this schedule is not set in stone, it is flexible, and that some things may change.

6. Offer them a reward for fulfilling responsibilities.

Last summer I did an all or nothing approach for each day–if they accomplished the ENTIRE days’ worth of check-list, they could get a quarter per day.  If they did it every day for the entire week, I threw in a bonus quarter to make it $2 for the week.  It’s the best money I spent all summer!  My house stayed fairly tidy, I got to sleep in a little, I didn’t have to hound my boys to read, or write or get their chores done, and they loved making money for stuff they were expected to do anyway.  It was a win-win.  Find the currency that speaks to your child.  Let them earn a toy over the course of a week, promise them a trip to the dollar store, if that is what they like to do.  Offer them a meal of their choice or a restaurant outing.  My suggestion is that you make it small enough to be sustainable, and if it is a bigger reward, make them earn it over a longer period of time.

7. Remember that the best kind of structure offers flexibility

If your child has had a few late nights in a row, and one day you can’t start your morning routine until 9 (gasp), understand that that is OK.  Keep in mind that rainy days will affect your outside events, and that is OK.  Note that a friend may call up wanting to get the kids together and the only day that works for her is not your scheduled “friend day” and that is OK.  Some days you may decide that enough is enough and today needs to be a stay-at-home, extra-movie, scrap-the-schedule lazy day, and that is OK.  Especially if this is your first time to make a schedule, you may get 3 weeks into the summer and realize that you have to toss it and start again, and THAT IS OK.

Get a structure in place, try to be strict about keeping it at the beginning just to get it established, and then be flexible so you can fit it into your family’s life. The point isn’t to be structured or to be super-mom.  The point is to make your life easier, their lives more secure and your home a happier place to be.  The point is to get beyond surviving the summer to enjoying your children throughout the summer.

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Let Them Wait: 5 phrases that are OK to use (and your child will survive!)

Wow, it is good to be back in front of my computer!  It’s been a bit busy lately–good busy, but busy!  Spring break gave me a taste for how soon summer is going to be upon us, so let me go ahead and give a plug for my NEXT blog–structuring your summer so your kids and you can survive and even enjoy it!

For several months now, this post has been percolating in my brain as I see other parents (and myself, I admit it) falling into a very bad habit . . .

Scenario 1:

You are at a playdate with your child/children.  Your friend and her child have also shown up, and you are having your first adult conversation of the week.  Just stop.  Picture it.  Can you feel your shoulders relaxing, just thinking of how nice that feeling is?  A CONVERSATION.  You know, back and forth, give and take about an INTERESTING TOPIC, like how your youngest is potty trained for day-time, but hasn’t mastered the night-time yet, birth stories, whether you’re going back to work or not after your youngest gets into school.  The topic is irrelevant.  It’s all good, because it’s with another ADULT.

Suddenly, your 4 year old, runs up and mid-your-friend’s-sentence shouts, “Mom, I’m thirsty!”

You now have two choices:  a. get up, go find his water bottle and give him his drink immediately, so you can get back to your conversation ASAP, or b. stop the conversation, look at your child, and say, “Johnny, you are interrupting.  You will need to wait a minute.”

Which one is the option that is, ultimately, in the best interest of peace, harmony, and the future of your child?  Is it a big deal that we allow our children to interrupt for any whim and allow their demands to control our schedules, conversations, and our very lives?  Is it OK to “make them wait?”

Before I go on, let me give you another scenario.

Scenario 2:

You are standing at a booth at a home improvement center, speaking with a sales person.  Your 3-year old, who has been gorging on candy from every booth you’ve passed thus far, is standing next to you frenetically yanking on your clothes to get your attention.  Do you ignore him, hold up your finger in the pre-agreed-upon signal to “wait” or do you think that he may be choking on a piece of candy and needs your help?

Scenario 2 happened to me with my oldest child when he was 3.  SCARY moments until I was able to dislodge the candy using the Heimlich maneuver on him! So before I go into why you should “make them wait,” let me clarify that there are always exceptions, and part of parenting is looking at each individual instance and deciding the BEST way to handle it.  If your child who is potty training interrupts because he needs to “go pee,” then that is a good time to allow an interruption.  It goes without saying that danger and serious injury qualify as OK times to be interrupted as well.

HOWEVER, if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit the the VAST majority of interruptions from our children, do not fall into the category of emergencies–except in their minds, of course.

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Three reasons we should make them wait:

 1. Waiting is a LIFE SKILL–What other scenario in life are they EVER going to be in that does not include waiting?

Standing in the bathroom line at preschool, waiting in the school lunch line or for their turn at the swing at recess.  Waiting to open their gifts on Christmas morning. Sitting in a doctor’s/dentist’s WAITING room, waiting in line at every. single. amusement park in the world. Waiting ’til they turn 16 to get their driver’s license then waiting for that light to turn green.  Waiting at work until it’s their turn for lunch break, waiting for payday, waiting for that promotion, waiting in the cash register line at the grocery store (it doesn’t just happen at Walmart!), waiting while that baby lives inside her body for 9 months before getting to see him in person. . .

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Accurate or not, I found this interesting statement here–“The average person throughout their lifetime spends five years waiting in lines and queues where roughly six months of that is waiting at traffic lights.”

Have you every seen a person have a nasty meltdown in a doctor’s office,  or in the grocery store line?  That’s a person who never learned the life skill of waiting.

Wait, wait, wait.  It’s what we do. It’s what we need to prepare our children to do.  It’s part of being a good parent.

2.    Ultimately, making them wait SAVES TIME & ENERGY, and makes for more PEACE and HARMONY

I know that in the moment, when we allow those interruptions, it feels like the simplest thing to do.  Sometimes, we can take care of whatever the interruption involves without even breaking the conversation!  But what are we communicating and what are we creating when we allow those interruptions to go unchallenged?  We communicate that everybody else’s life is subservient to their wants.  They are more important than anyone else, and their demands take precedence over anyone else’s needs or comfort.  And this communication, then creates a “brat.”  Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a more diplomatic word.  After you have allowed a few of those interruptions, when you do ask them to wait, they look at you like you have lost. your. mind.  And they will not meekly submit to your request.  They will simply reiterate their “need,” because, after all, what could be more important than meeting their demand?

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On the flip side, imagine that you have trained your child to wait.  You haven’t allowed unreasonable interruptions, you’ve come up with a signal that allows the child to communicate that he needs you without actually having to interrupt (when I’m consistent, ours put their hand on my arm and leave it their until I acknowledge them–my older boys are a lot better at this than my younger ones, a sure sign that I’ve let it slide a little with them!).  Imagine the peace and harmony that comes with getting to talk to one person at a time, rather than trying to keep the conversational ball rolling while holding a conversation with Johnny too.  Conversation with others becomes more enjoyable (finishing a thought is a wonderful thing!), you have fewer frustrations throughout your day if you don’t have to constantly stop to fulfill a demand on the spot, and (a side benefit that we are discovering) dinner table conversation as a family actually becomes enjoyable when they wait their turn to speak! Another benefit is a decrease in whining–one of the major  frustrations for parents!  When a child can’t complain at the very moment he wants to, when he is made to wait before he can verbalize his issue, he has a moment to step back from the emotion of the moment and actually think things through.  Instead of a whiny, “I’m hungry!” you tend to get a question, “Mom, when is lunch?”  Wow, what a difference that makes in a day!

3. Waiting is a Gospel practice

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Just read Hebrews 11–all the Old Testament people that lived their life in faith, waiting for the promise of God.  They didn’t get to see the fulfillment of the promise in this life, which means they waited a long time.  In Romans 8,  and really, throughout his writings, Paul talks about waiting for our coming redemption.  If we are teaching true Gospel to our children, we are teaching them that the Gospel DOES fix all things, but not NOW.  Justification and forgiveness of sins happens now, but sanctification is a process, and sin-free living is something we are waiting for.  Perfection and freedom from life’s difficulties don’t happen now, they are simply a side-benefit to living with God in eternity, but we have to wait for them in faith and confident hope.  If you have not raised your child with the expectation of waiting, they will have a larger struggle understanding why they have to wait for God to bring justice, health, prosperity, success, etc.  They will expect it as their due in this life, NOW.

So here are 5 phrases that we can use with our children to help them develop the life skill of waiting!  Get in front of the mirror and practice saying these phrases, and make it your goal to use at least one of these phrases in the next 24 hours! If you have never used these with them, be prepared for shock and push-back, but keep their best interest in mind, and (knowing they will survive) stand your ground–in the most loving, gracious way possible, of course!

  1. “You are interrupting”–a pretty obvious one, but if you have spoken with your child ahead of time, this phrase can become a simple attention-getting warning.
  2. “Just a minute”–a good one to use with your preschooler who is calling you to wipe his little butt.  He will survive sitting on that toilet while you finish that blog post thought!
  3. “Not right now”–When you don’t want to say a straight-up “no” but it’s not a “yes” yet either.
  4. “We will see”–you don’t owe your child an immediate commitment for every request they make.  I find that I say “no” more if I don’t have a chance to think it through a little, so this phrase has actually worked in my kids’ favor!
  5. “I don’t know”–once again, children like to get a split-second decision and commitment/promise from you, but they can survive waiting to hear the decision until after you have thought it through, talked to your spouse, etc.

One final bonus tip: Pre-arrange a body/hand signal with your children, and you won’t always even have to use one of those phrases.  My signal with my boys is a finger pointing upward.  It tells them that I’m aware they want to talk to me, but that they are interrupting in an unacceptable manner.  If they have done the right thing by putting their hand on my arm rather than interrupting, I try to either make eye-contact and smile at them or place my hand on their shoulder to let them know that I am aware they are waiting on me and that I will talk with them in “just a minute.”

Do you have any signals or phrases that you use with your children to help them learn the important life-skill of waiting?