Get out of the house on time even with young children

How to get out of the house on time even with small children
I’m not a morning person.
Before kids, I would wake up at the earliest 8am in order to get to work by 9. Now that I have a kid, waking up at 6:30am every day hasn’t exactly been one of the perks of motherhood, and this is only worsened when we have to leave the house by a certain time.

These past few months, our toddler hasn’t been too difficult about leaving the house, give or take a few trying episodes. Whether we drop him off before work or attend an event or play date, he has been obliging when it comes to leaving the house. We’ve relied on several tricks to ease the morning madness and actually get out on time in the morning:

  • Get enough sleep in the evenings. Funny how morning madness can easily be avoided by simply getting enough sleep the previous night. I notice that I’m crankier in the mornings when I stayed up a bit later than usual. I find it difficult to wake up on time and therefore feel rushed the rest of the morning. To avoid all that, I make sure to sleep by 10:30 at the latest so that I won’t hate my alarm clock at 6:30 the next morning.
  • Similarly, allow plenty of time for everyone to wake up and play or get ready. Even though we don’t have to leave the house until 8:20, we wake our toddler at 7am so that he feels he has enough play time in the morning before having to leave. He’s a bit of a homebody and could easily stay home all day if he had a choice, so there’s nothing worse than prying him away from a brief play time to leave.
  • If possible, pick a good time to leave, such as after a snack. On days when we don’t have to drop him off at my aunt’s, I tend to go with the flow and run our errands when I find a good opportunity to do so. This is usually after he’s had plenty of play time, a ton to eat and a clean diaper. He’s more willing to leave when the environment and situation are conducive for him.
  • Eat breakfast, preferably together. I can’t imagine rushing out of the house on an empty stomach, so every day we all have something to eat. We also eat together as often as we can so that the day starts off positively.
  • Wake up earlier than the kids. Like I said, I’m not a morning person, but even I can’t help but heed this advice. Sure, we’ve gotten away with waking up when we hear our little guy babbling (or crying) in his room, but to avoid feeling rushed, we wake up 30 minutes before we plan to rouse our two-year-old.
  • Allow your kids a special toy or item to take with them out of the house. For my toddler, this is often any toy he’s currently into: Legos, crayons, even acorns and nuts. He’ll then have something from home to take while he’s away.
  • Give enough of a head’s up. We let our toddler know when we’re about to leave and say, “In twenty minutes, we’re going to…” and continue doing this at certain intervals, “In ten minutes, we’re going to…”
  • Keep optional outings to a minimum. To keep him from feeling overwhelmed, we usually keep our outings to two per day.
  • Break it down step-by-step. I notice that my toddler has an easier time transitioning when I give the exact next step instead of simply saying where we’re going. For instance, I’ll say, “Let’s put on your shoes,” instead of “Let’s go to the park.” After putting on his shoes, I’ll say, “Now let’s go to the elevator,” and so forth.

What are the worst days and times for you and your kids to leave the house? What factors make leaving the house more difficult? Easier?

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10 chores your toddler can do

9 chores your toddler can do
I’ll admit: I need to constantly remind myself to include my toddler in daily chores. As much of a fan that I am of kids participating in household duties, sometimes I forget that my toddler would probably benefit from helping me wash the dishes or worse, just do it myself for time’s sake. Because while wiping the dining table takes me all of 15 seconds, including a toddler can easily take 15 minutes. And what mom has 15 minutes to spare?

Still, I do my best to make sure that my two-year-old continues to do his chores. After all, one big goal for parenting is to raise future adults. And most adults will need to learn how to do chores and look after themselves. So, while helping a child water the plants even though they’re really not doing much other than holding the handle of the watering can seems silly, doing so ingrains in their head early habits of self-sufficiency and pride.

Chores are also another way for kids to feel proud of their accomplishments. Okay, so placing their bib and utensils on the dining table may not seem like much fun compared to painting and crafting, but chores still offer kids a chance to complete a task on their own. And if they’re still young enough, chores can even be just as fun as any other play activity (hey, they don’t know any better, right?).

Not only does doing chores early on prepare them for adulthood and give them reason to feel proud, but taking part in running the household gives kids the feeling of being part of a community and contributing to its well-being. If mom and dad are the only ones doing chores, kids may lose out on a chance to feel like they can take part in family duties and share a common bond.

In my quest to involve my son in daily chores, I’ve listed below a few of the ones that he and other young children can easily do:

1. Water the plants
Like I mentioned, this chore involves my toddler holding the handle of a watering can as I tip it into the plants. He’ll also water the vegetables we’re growing outside since he likes to see the water sprinkling from the can.

2. Cook in the kitchen
When we make a salad, I pre-chop the ingredients—green onions, for instance—and have my toddler scoop them into a big salad bowl with his hands. LO also helped me bake chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, stirring the batter and tipping the measuring spoons and cups into the bowl. Warning: baking and cooking with a toddler can be seriously messy, so just prepare yourself for when he swings flour and batter all over the floor and repeat to yourself: “This is a learning experience… This is a learning experience…”

3. Set the table
My toddler likes to put his bib, napkin and utensils on the table.

4. Sweep the floor
Here’s where I need to purchase a child-size broom for the little guy. For now, he loves helping hold the broom as I sweep the floor. I also read a great tip from How To Raise An Amazing Child the Montessori Way: using colored duct tape that can be easily removed, make a square on the floor and have your child sweep all the dirt into that square. That way, they’re not just sweeping to sweep but are actually trying to move the dirt to one area. The tape helps them identify where exactly on the floor their spot is located.

5. Get the mail
My toddler likes to go through the mail box as I hand him the ones that can be tossed or recycled. I then hand him some of the envelopes that I plan to keep as he carries them into the house.

6. Put toys away
What better way to transition to bedtime than to encourage putting toys away? At this age, putting toys back into their tubs and boxes can be a game in itself, so take advantage!

7. Dust with a rag
Recently my husband had LO clean every table in the house as part of their “game.” My husband would spray the table and LO would quickly wipe with a rag. Oh, the bonding…

8. Place clothes in the hamper and help with laundry
When my toddler changes in his room, we have him put his clothes into the hamper so that he knows where his dirty clothes go. When we do laundry (again, another one that I really should include him on, but man, not having your own washer and dryer seriously puts a damper on this), I hand wet clothes to LO as he puts them into the dryer.

9. Change bedsheets
When I tell my toddler it’s time to change his bedsheets, he gets a kick out of removing all the blankets and pillows and toys from his bed so that I can remove the sheets and pillowcase. Similar to number 8, he also likes to put the dirty sheets into the hamper.

10. Wash the dishes
My toddler’s height now enables him to stand on a little step and help wash and dry his dishes.

Some pointers to remember as your kids do their chores:

  • Make it fun! I don’t know the last time spraying and dusting was so much fun, but apparently my husband and LO have made such a game out of it that he actually enjoys cleaning. When we clean up his toys, we also count the pieces we put in, or try to shoot them into the bucket, or collect all the green ones first, then the red next, and so forth.
  • Let your child do the chores his own way. Sure, you could probably do a better job of dusting, and your kid may have even missed a spot here and there, but the point is for them to participate and have a positive attitude towards cleaning. If you need to, follow up with an extra wipe, but allow your child to clean his way (this applies to husbands too).
  • Praise as he goes along. I try to give more descriptive praise than evaluative. What’s the difference? Descriptive is recounting what he’s doing with no judgment: “Wow, you’re putting the toys away all by yourself!” Evaluative is placing an opinion—even positive ones—on the task: “Wow, you’re doing a good job putting the toys away all by yourself!” With less emphasis on extrinsic rewards such as evaluative praise, he’ll hopefully learn to feel pride in doing the job itself, regardless of whether anyone was there to praise them or not.

Even though doing their chores for them is so much faster and probably better done, including kids in chores sets them up for a positive experience with cleanliness, responsibility, and pride at a job well done.

What chores do your kids participate in around the house? Do they consider chores an enjoyable activity?

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In praise of the family dinner

In praise of the family dinner
How often do you eat together as a family?
For those of us with young ones, eating with our kids is most likely a necessity rather than an ideal. After all, babies and toddlers still require a bit of supervision while eating, never mind that they still can’t fetch their own food from the fridge or serve themselves from the stove top. But the more my toddler has improved his self-feeding skills, the more I find myself stepping away to wash the dishes, or sneaking a peek on my iPhone.

It’s times like these that I remind myself to be fully present, particularly at the dining table. Even before we had kids, my husband and I decided that family dinners need to be a priority in our home. Neither of us grew up with an established dining routine—I remember eating with my family earlier on, but as we grew into middle and high school, we often had the TV on, or one sibling would be in another room doing homework, or each family member would grab his or her own food at different times of the night. I wanted something different with my husband and toddler, and so far, eating together as a family—with attention completely on one another—has garnered so many benefits for my toddler, including:

  • Improved vocabulary and social skills. By eating in the presence of adults, kids are able to eavesdrop on words and conversations they otherwise aren’t likely to hear. Because of topics my husband and I discuss with one another, our toddler has picked up a few “real life” words he wouldn’t normally find in children’s books. He is exposed to the art of conversation as well: turn-taking when talking with others, eye contact, and asking and answering questions.
  • A healthy relationship to eating and food. We take our time when we eat and appreciate the different tastes our dinners offer us (as well as the effort made in preparing them). Hopefully our toddler will grow up learning that food is delicious and enjoyable and not something to be denied, hoarded or gobbled up.
  • A chance to build a stronger family unit. Because dinner happens at the end of the day, we often discuss what took place while we were at work or while my toddler was at my aunt’s. We’re able to unwind from stress, laugh about funny episodes at work, and ask our toddler how his day was going. Some of our best memories happen at the dinner table and it’s no coincidence that a ton of videos I take of my toddler took place during dinner time.

With time as a premium, whipping up a dinner and getting everyone to sit at the table takes a bit of effort in our busy lives. And with a husband who works the most irregular 9-to-5 hours ever, many dinners often consist of just me and the little guy. Still, as much as we can, we try to eat together without disrupting LO’s routine, and always make sure that he has company for every snack and meal. How exactly do we make this happen? Below are several ideas we’ve implemented to spend quality time together around the dinner table:

  • Prepare quick and easy meals. Long gone are the days we cook lasagna and home-made gnocchi—now we are all about recipes that can be cooked in an hour or less.
  • Cook the night before. Leftovers can pale in comparison to freshly cooked, but you can save a ton of time by cooking the previous night. Unless both my husband and I are home, I usually reserve cooking for after our little guy is down for the night and reheat the next evening.
  • Take your time and talk. Isn’t it crazy that for working parents, we often see our coworkers more than our own families? For me, breakfasts and dinners tend to be the times of the day where all three of us are together, so we use those moments to talk and laugh.

We may not always be able to eat together, and sometimes I’ll slip and sneak a peek on my computer during dinnertime while my toddler isn’t looking (shame on me!). But I’ll always be a fan of the family dinner and all of its far-reaching benefits.

How often do you eat together as a family? Are mealtimes a pleasant experience, chaotic or a bit of both? What can you do to make dinner time a regular occurrence in your home?

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How to get your chores done in double the time

Want to know how to get a chore done in double the time it normally takes you? Just ask your two-year-old for help!

We haven’t set up a chore list for our toddler yet and instead assign him tasks as the opportunity presents itself. These are the chores that he has done on a semi-regular basis:

  • He puts his clothes in his hamper.
  • He places his utensils on the dining table.
  • When we do laundry, he helps put clothes into the washer and dryer. When we’re folding the clothes, he throws the dryer sheets into the trash can.
  • Similarly, when he finds mess around the house or even leaves at the park, he throws it into the trash can.
  • When he spills something on the table, I give him a rag to wipe up his mess.
  • He helps put away his little knick-knack toys like links, Legos and crayons.

All that sounds fair and good, but usually the chore takes a long time because of my two-year-old’s “help.” For instance, when he’s helping fold laundry, he goes through the unfolded clothes in the hamper and tosses them into the air. Once the hamper is emptied, he gathers clothes from the floor and dumps them back in. And sometimes he ends up grabbing clothes that are already folded, making an even bigger mess. And the cute-but-maybe-not fact is that he genuinely thinks he’s helping!

That said, the extra time is well worth it—he’s eager to help, and I want to embrace his willingness. Encouraging him to contribute to household chores includes many benefits that he’ll garner:

Pride and self-esteem
After LO finishes a chore, he loudly exclaims, “You did it!” or “Thank you so much!” He’s clearly happy about his growing independence as well as pride in completing a task.

Valuing a tidy home
When we stress the importance of regularly cleaning our home, LO learns that a clean and tidy home is something worth maintaining while a messy one just won’t do.

Getting used to cleaning and helping
I don’t want to have to nag LO to clean or help others, so I want to start drilling it in his head about what we expect. Less stress for everyone in the long run.

Feeling part of “Team Family”
Chores are yet another way we can build family cohesion because every member contributes.

This little guy is going to be a future adult
My parenting philosophy stems from one general idea: that our job is to help LO grow into an adult. Preferably one that also knows how to fold laundry.

What other benefits can children get by doing chores? What other chores can two-year-olds participate in?

Running a household on lists

I love lists. Our household runs on list and would be in disarray if there were no organization to our errands, thoughts and to-dos. My husband and I have always relied on lists even before parenthood, but with LO in the picture, staying orderly becomes even more of a necessity. So without further ado, below is a list… of our lists.

Chore list
We used to have weekly chore lists, but the time crunch has forced us to complete our chores monthly instead. We alternate on chores so that the next month, whatever chores my husband did, I’ll now do, and vice versa. This way, we know the place is getting cleaned and it’s evenly divided (no complaining that someone did more than the other!).

Front door check list
I can’t even remember the number of times we’ve left the house in the morning only to realize that we’ve forgotten something. Now, we have a checklist posted at the front door so that we remember to bring what we need, including our cell phones, lunches, LO’s library books, his clothes, work files, etc.

Weekly recipe list
I make a list of five recipes that we cook per week, plus one veggie side for LO. I find recipes online and bookmark them on my browser according to categories. So I’ve gone through my “budget recipes,” my “vegetarian recipes,” and am finishing up my “seasonal recipes.”

Weekly grocery and market list
Along those lines, every Saturday night I take those six recipes and write down a grocery and market list for all the ingredients we need to buy come Sunday. I fold a cardstock paper in half vertically, and on the left side I jot down the items that we can get at the farmers market, and on the right side, the items we need to buy at the grocery. The weekly usuals include: milk, fruits, sweet potatoes, frozen veggies, bread, oatmeal and yogurt.

To-do list
This is a list I keep on my iPhone for short-term to-dos, such as “Print out chore list” or “Return shoes.”

2012 fun things to do list
There’s always that weekend where we have nothing to do and we’re beating our brains to find something. So we compiled a list of fun things we can do. What makes the list? Anytime we have a conversation that starts off with, “We should go/do/see…” we write it down. This includes: ride the boat bus, eat at pastrami restaurant, go to a baseball game, etc.

Library lists
I have a loooooong list of children’s books that I check out for LO on a weekly basis. Every Monday, I go to the library to return the books I borrowed as well as pick up the stack of books that I placed a hold on and are now ready. Then I search and place holds on six more children’s books that same day, and the cycle continues. I also have a book list on Amazon that I check out at the library (currently reading Katherine; very good so far!). My husband does the same. We also have lists of movies and CDs we borrow from the library.

Errands lists
My husband writes up a list of errands we have to do on a certain day, just so he can cross it off. For instance, he’ll just grab some scrap paper and write “Bed Bath and Beyond for towels, Old Navy for LO’s clothes, Buy sandwiches at deli…” And as we go through our day getting things done, we can see what we’ve accomplished.

Crossing it off
Having a visual of what we need or want to do helps to de-clutter my brain. Something about writing it down somewhere makes it feel like I’m relieving my brain of overload so that it doesn’t have to contain everything. So far, this system has worked really well for us!

What kinds of lists do you use in your home?