Somewhere in the neighborhood of six or seven our kids start losing all of that adorable “cuteness” and turn into ordinary kids. It is no longer cute if they bring in mud or talk disrespectfully. It’s just annoying. But, on a very bright side, they can now take their own showers and we get a full night’s sleep.
This was my favorite time of parenting. While I have loved each and every stage for different reasons, I would have to chalk this one up as my favorite so far. I homeschooled all of my kids through all (or most) of their elementary years and we had such a great time! We played games and read books and did projects. I scolded and cajoled. And sometimes I yelled. But we still had fun, despite the frustrating moments. Camping together as a family at this stage was especially rewarding. There would be loads of excitement about even the smallest activity. Few demands and lots of joy. It was a simple time.
But, while this is such a fun and less demanding stage (if you’ve done your work during the toddler stage, that is…), we can’t let down our guards. For now is the time to get them ready for those chaotic teen years just around the corner. And, by the way, if you haven’t done your homework in the toddler years, it’s not too late. Now is the time…before it is too late.
I am not sure we specifically planned them, but we did seven things during these years that I can see now prepared our family for the teen years. While there are some things I would change if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change these seven things–
1. We taught them God’s Word. I had a formal Bible time each morning in our home school and Eric had devotions and prayer time with them at bedtime each day. We wanted to foster a love in their hearts for God and to know and love His Word. We wanted them to know that their spiritual lives were important to us.
2. We talked about important topics in front of them. We talked about problems and struggles and biblical solutions. We spent dinner times and travel time and bedtimes talking about just about everything. Campfires were especially wonderful for this. Nothing was off-limits because we wanted them to know that we were here to answer their questions. If we didn’t have the answer we would hunt it down. We used God’s Word as our guide and our foundation. I believe this is how we developed the biblical world view that they each continue to hold to this day.
3. We laughed and played a lot. While we enjoyed many serious discussions, we also had lots of fun. I hope that our kids knew that we enjoyed being with them and that we valued them as an integral part of this family.
4. This was the stage where we started to require chores. We laugh now about my many efforts to organize this. Oh, the charts and graphs and beads and coins that went into trying to systematize chores! But I never gave up. I think it is so important that our kids start giving back to the family at this stage. It helps them understand the balance of work and play and also makes them feel like they are an important part of the family. And have them work alongside you while you fix the car or bake a cake, teaching them what you know. After all, your kids will work for the rest of their lives in one capacity or another. Now is the time to teach them a good work ethic and the skills they need to live a happy, productive life.
5. We spent some one-on-one time with each child. At this stage it is so much easier just to do things in a group. And that is important. But it’s also important to spend time alone with each child, getting to know them personally. And, while I know some families who set up special “dates” and outings, we accomplished this a bit more simply by letting the children take turns staying up later (they just loved watching their siblings go to bed while they snuggled on the sofa to read a story with mom!) or taking only one child to the grocery store. Even if you don’t have time to plan something, you can work one-on-one time into your schedule.
6. We tried not to overschedule. This is the time of life where we start feeling pressure to get our kids involved in sports and dance and music lessons and math club. And these are not bad things. But be sure to leave some time for them to be bored. For that is how they develop problem-solving skills and their creative side. If every moment is scheduled, they become dependent on their schedulers and list-makers, instead of learning to think for themselves. Our kids need some downtime. In our family we accomplished this by keeping activities to only one or two at a time (i.e. music lessons and soccer). We also had a daily quiet time in our homeschool where each child would spend an hour or so in their rooms, reading or playing quietly (which also functioned as my sanity keeper in the midst of those crazy years!)
7. And–maybe the most important thing at this stage– we listened. Most kids in this stage talk and talk. And talk. And then talk some more. My mom gave me some really good advice about this, which I’ve shared here on the blog before: “Listen now so they will talk to you later.” Oh, such wisdom. Now is the time to develop the good communication you will need as you head into the teen years. I have found her words to be true.
If you find yourself in this stage of parenting right now, I hope these seven things will help you as you prepare your kids to become teens and adults. These years will too soon be over, so try to appreciate each moment you have with these young treasures. I still feel an ache in my heart when I talk to kids sometimes, knowing that that part of my life is over.
And always keep in mind that the work you put into them now will reap immeasurable rewards later. Keep up the good work, my friend!