BY JULIE GARSTECKI, SUPERVISOR AT SUNY FREDONIA
There are things they don’t teach you in child birthing classes: How to have a complete thought, the added time and effort it takes to leave the house, how to clean the house, make a meal, or eat a meal while it was still hot. Creating independent children takes a combination of effort (teaching and practicing the routines) and strategy (reorganizing the pantry), but it is possible to do this with even very young children. After following some of these tips you might just find yourself arriving somewhere on time, or better yet, finishing your coffee before it gets cold.
Snacks: Instead of the constant barrage of “Mom, can I have a…”, make it easy on yourself. Place a basket of child friendly snacks they can grab without your help. When I buy peanuts, pretzels, or crackers, I prebag them into toddler friendly amounts. These, along with granola bars, go into our snack basket placed on the bottom shelf in the pantry. Hidden completely out of view are the treats, which has completely ruled out “But can I just have one gummy?” and similar preconflict questions. I cleared out the bottom bin of our refrigerator and placed yogurt, string cheese, and snack sized bags of carrots, celery and small apples. The only question I have to answer is “Can I have a snack?” They know what they are allowed to have and where to retrieve it.
Coats and shoes: I bought adhesive hooks and placed them at the appropriate height by our door, and I have a canvas box color coded for each child. In the winter these boxes hold hats, mittens, and scarves. In the summer they contain sun hats, sun glasses, and sun block. Any “car toys” also go into these boxes. When it’s time to go somewhere, they gather whatever they need with no help from me. If any of these items are left on counters, they get tossed into the appropriate box and the kids know where to find it.
Cleaning up Toys: When our house was for sale, I needed to clean quickly for open houses and showings. To make this easier, I bought plastic tubs with lids. I wrote and printed pictures of which toys belonged in which tub. Even now when we entertain, I can stack them in a closet. You will need to practice sorting and cleaning with your children a few times, but eventually they will understand how the system works.
Helping prepare dinner: My children love to be mommy helpers, and at first this made a lot more work for me! We discovered jobs they can do easily. I replaced glass measuring cups with plastic ones, bought child friendly knives, and cleared a cabinet space for all of their cooking supplies. It is their job to wash lettuce and make salads. They get their own drinks now that
cups have been placed at their level. They help set the table and know they are responsible for returning their plates to the sink. I know longer have to make up jobs for them, and dinner seems to be more of a family event. Fingers crossed, this continues through adulthood.
Saturday morning sleep in: My oldest is a rooster. The minute the sun pops up, so does he. In the summer, sun and son rise at 5:30 A.M.. He enjoys Pop Tarts and sugar cereals, which I’m not a fan of. To create a win-win, I now leave trial size packages of sugar cereal next to a bowl in an easy to reach spot on Friday nights. When he gets up Saturday morning, he earns the cereal as long as he doesn’t wake me up first. Once I had to put the cereal back in the pantry, but only once.
So there you have it! Start by rearranging a few things to make it more “child friendly,” take a week to teach these strategies and have the kids practice, and in time you’ll find yourself actually finishing that load of laundry, being punctual again, or eating dinner at a reasonable time with the help of your kids!
Julia lives in Bemus Point with her husband and two children. She is grateful for the team of therapists who worked with her son, who sometimes talks too much now!