Balancing Authority and Fun in the Home

rachel guest post

By Rachel, A Mother Far from Home 

If you’re like me (and life probably runs easier for you if you are not) then you find yourself being a lot easier being the boss than you do the playmate or companion to your children. My husband is, in fact, quite the opposite. At times I’ve found myself jealous that he is so easily able to get down on his hands and knees and engage in such a direct way with them. Lately I’ve actively been trying to balance the two.

My mother is in the education system by profession and while at college her teachers gave advice that went something like this. “Be really strict until Christmas, then after the New Year you can have some fun with your students because they’ll be in the habit of good order.” While a home is not exactly like a classroom, per se, there are many parallels between the two and I believe that from infancy if you run your home with fair, loving and firm authority you’ll be able to have lots of fun with your children without everything getting out of control.

(1) Being in control doesn’t mean you’re controlling. A mom is in control of the schedule, the activities and what behaviors she will or won’t allow. But, just because you run an orderly home doesn’t mean that you are controlling in a way that doesn’t allow spontaneity and fun. There will be times during the day that are free and open to wherever your children’s imagination and inspiration lead you. During these times try to get down and dirty with them. Don’t sidewalk supervise, but join in. Dig in the sandpit with them. Get in on that board game. Put on a cape and be the bandit. It will be hard at first but silliness may be a good outlet for stress relief too!

(2) You can have fun and correct at the same time. Maybe you’re afraid that if you join in the fun then things will escalate out of control quickly and you’ll have to step out and referee. It is true that free play and run around fun can get rowdy, but I believe that if you are consistently kind and firm anyway, you can keep the chaos to a minimum. If your authority is not in question (and for your own sanity I hope it isn’t) then a kind but firm “no, don’t go over there, come back” won’t interrupt play for more than a few seconds. Redirect, distract and substitute and then carry on playing. It seems like it is fraternizing with the boss, however, we don’t have a lifelong nurturing relationship with our bosses like our children will have with us. It may take a while to find a balance but it can be struck.

(3) Find time for fun in the mundane. I know the dinner table is a great place to teach manners, order and obedience. However, I think it can also be a fun place. Why not sing a song together? As long food is not flying and forks are not being thrown on the floor what is the harm? Play games in the car and don’t make a bath in the evening an in and out affair. Use the times you are already in direct contact with your kids to make things fun. Liven them up. They will react to you so if they know you are willing to play but unwilling to let things escalate to disorder, they’ll follow your lead. I believe that our homes should be a balance of good order and great fun. And I don’t think you have to sacrifice one for the other.

Rachel blogs at A Mother Far from Home on motherhood, pregnancy, parenting, travel with small children and much more.

Make Time for Your Relationship


Based on the title of this post, you may be thinking that I’m going to talk about making time for your relationship with your spouse. I wholeheartedly believe you need to make time for your marriage, but that’s not what this post is about. Today, I’m talking about making time for your relationship with your child.

You may be asking yourself why you would need to make time for your child. You probably spend all day every day with them, if you’re a stay-at-home mom. Even if you work outside the home, you still have plenty of evening and weekend time together.

But you know how easily life gets in the way. We’re all so busy with school, work, life, and whatever other activity might be filling our thoughts and actions. When our kids are in school, we rarely have much time with our kids. By the time they get home from school, there’s not much free time between homework, dinner, bath/shower, and bed. Busy, busy, busy. Even if you are home with your kids all day, you may be present physically, but are you really there for your children mentally and emotionally? You may be thinking about the next meal, any nap problems you’re struggling with, or what you are doing to train the child in first-time obedience. Even when we’re at home, the busyness of life takes over.

So it’s important to take time for your relationship with your child. The interesting thing about this is that when we build a relationship with our children, we give them motivation to do the things we want or need them to do. Perhaps that nap problem you’re struggling with is really your child’s attempt to spend more time with you or to get more attention from you. And I speak from experience when I say that our children are much more likely to obey when we have a healthy, loving relationship with them.

I once heard of a story that told of a family who left a busy life in New York and traded it for a more peaceful existence. Their primary reason? They noticed their son had stopped trying to please them. For whatever reason, he had lost a connection with his parents and no longer felt the need to do as they asked. I don’t know about you, but this idea frightens me. Parenting is nothing without that innate desire in the child to please us. And if we don’t take the time to build or maintain a relationship with our children, they may lose that desire.

This goes beyond simple nap struggles and obedience training. This strikes to the core of all that we aim to do with our children. We all hope that our children will grow up holding the same values that we hold ourselves. We all have high hopes for our children. We hope that they will grow to be adults guided by honesty, integrity, persistence, grace, love, and any other positive character trait you can think of. But if we have no relationship with our children, how far will we get with this?

As you think about making time for your relationship, think of it as another activity to schedule into your day. It can be something as simple as one-on-one reading time or a family game night. The only thing you must be sure of is to be present throughout the entire activity. Look in your child’s eyes. Live, love, and laugh together.

My husband and I read to our boys (separately) every night. And while I treasure this time with them, I’m often not giving them my full attention. We do it at the end of a long day when I’m often motivated to turn out the light and close the door.

We just had family game night again recently, and now that my boys are getting older, it was a lot of fun! Lucas struggled with losing, so we need to work on that. But all four of us were very engaged in the games and spending time together. The other benefit of family game night is that it allows me to give my husband a chance to make time for his relationship with the kids, something I’m not sure he’d do with much excitement otherwise. With a simple pronouncement by me that we’re having a family game night, he joins in and builds his relationship with our boys. So when you think about scheduling time for your relationship with your kids, see if there’s a way to schedule time for your husband and children to build their relationship. It’s always best to do this without being super obvious about it.

Let the idea of this post sit with you for a few days. Mull it over and give honest thought to how much time or work your relationship with your child might need. Have some impromptu one-on-one time in the morning, reading a book or playing a game, and see how it affects your day. See if your child acts more obediently or whether you have an easier day overall. You will have your proof that it works. Then you can schedule your daily reading time, weekly game night, or any other activity that helps to build your relationship.


Remember to Cherish


This beautiful post is written by my friend Charisa. A mom to two young girls, Charisa is great at balancing training and obedience with love and fun. This post is about stopping to smell the roses, even when we’re mired in kid world.

It’s 3:00 in the afternoon and my coffee is already wearing off. It’s too late to brew another cup, but I’m questioning what will hold me until bedtime. I start to ask myself why I didn’t set bedtime for 6:00 instead of 8:00 when they were littler. If I had then I would be two hours closer to putting these little bundles of energy to bed.

It’s now 4:00 and only one hour after I last checked the clock. How is it that I’m still so far away from bedtime and peace and quiet? It’s now 5:00 and finally I can start preparing for dinner. This will fill the time! Now we’ve finally hit 7:30, and it’s time for the bedtime routine. Rush, rush, rush, and get them into bed. Finally, it’s 8:00 and all’s well. The kids are in bed, and now I can have some peace and quiet.

If you’re like me, this can sometimes characterize your day. I so easily want to rush through those hard times in order to get to the easier times. But what gain is there in that? We have heard it said many times that the hard times make for sweeter good times. That is true of many things. For example, think of all that labor you went through. Those contractions, those moans and groans, and the waiting. Now remember that moment you saw that sweet little squished face for the first time. All legs, arms, fingers, and head squirming and screaming on your chest. The pain was worth it.

Now, fast forward with me to today. Your toddler is literally sitting on your foot all day. Arms and legs are wrapped around yours, and she won’t get off. Your preschooler is asking you a hundred questions or simply narrating your day. Your infant is in a growth spurt and wants to eat every hour. Pain? Well, maybe not pain, but definitely hard. Wiping spit, wiping bottoms, wiping noses, wiping counters, wiping slobber marks off the window…that is what my day can look like. When 3:00 or 4:00 rolls around, I’m beat.

I sincerely try to train my kids to be good adults. That’s my aim and goal. Sometimes in the work of training I forget to cherish. To be honest, sometimes in the midst of the work I even forget to train! I know it is important to teach my girls to obey right away. It’s so important to teach them that the way to play with the pink pen is to simply ask and not to do a half-nelson-choke-hold. These are all lessons that must happen. They often are addressed in the middle of life. “Momming” is hard. I know it is. I can check out sometimes or start looking at the clock (which immediately stops working) waiting for bedtime. My point is that there are many distractions from the joys of being a parent. The joy I have in being a mom can easily be smothered by the chaos of life.

A friend has shared with me many times “the days are long, but the years are short.” I share that with you, too. Kiss those sweet heads again, cherish those little bottoms on your feet, and listen to those flowing words from the mouth of your dear one.

Remember it is a privilege to be a part of those special little lives. Your work is hard. It is exhausting, but it does not last forever. The years fly by and we will be left with nothing but memories. No little girls begging for tickles. No little boys ready to tackle you. No little tea parties or games of Candyland.

I look at my youngest daughter’s face and I’m blown away. She has grown so much in these last 3 years. My (almost) 5-year-old is getting more mature and more complex every day. I miss how she used to say “watabellabella” instead of “watermelon.”  She is half my size now and I can barely carry her anymore. She fills my lap to overflowing.

Sometimes in order to cherish the time with my girls, I need to strategize. I make a point to write down all the cute things they say. I’m on the lookout for sayings. I find that if I make a goal of writing down one or two things a day, I hear more of them. As I hear more of them, I relish them. I become more in-tune with them. I also make a point to hug and kiss them every time I’m next to them. It’s just what I do. Another thing I like to do is jump in and play with them throughout the day for bits of time. I’ll turn up the radio and dance with them in the living room, or I’ll sit on the floor next to them and ask questions. Just little things, but they all help me to take time and enjoy my girls. What sorts of things do you do to help you to stop and smell the stinky feet?

The training is important. Dinner on the table is important, and so is clean laundry. But of utmost importance are those children! They will not keep. They will grow even if you don’t remember that they will. They are a one-way busy street that can never be traveled again.

So kiss those sweet heads. Give extra hugs. Play one last game. Remember to cherish them.

The Morning Rush


Do you have kids in school? If so, you know all about the morning rush. For many, it’s the most dreaded time of day. Honestly, the morning rush was a factor in my decision to homeschool my boys. When William was in preschool, I deliberately chose to send him to the afternoon session to avoid the morning rush. And then he started full-day kindergarten. So we had a full two years to figure out our morning routine, and I can honestly say we never fell into a good groove.

If I had it to do all over again, here’s what I would do:

Get up and get showered before the kids wake up

This is a tough one since I’m such a night owl and really value my sleep. And waking up in the dark is always difficult. But what’s 30 minutes if it makes for a smooth morning? My shower is the thing that makes me feel like I can face the world. If it’s a cup of coffee or just some peace and quiet with your morning paper, take that time for yourself before the kids get up.

Figure out what wakes your child up

Our kids are like us in many ways. If we need a shower, a cup of coffee, or some alone-time with the newspaper to face the day, our kids likely need their own version of a wake-up activity. Allow your child to do whatever it is that he needs to face the day. Lucas always needs his morning snuggles. William likes to play with Legos or draw. It’s no fun if every morning is rush, rush, rush. Allow them some downtime before you walk out the door.

Get ready the night before

My kids always showered at night, and I usually packed lunches the night before, but I’m sure there’s more I could have done to get ready for the morning rush. I could have laid out their clothes, put their shoes (and socks!) by the door, had extra toothbrushes in the downstairs bathroom, made sure their coats were accessible, and made sure their backpacks were packed and by the door.

Make sure everybody gets enough sleep

Kids in elementary school should get about 10-12 hours of sleep, on average. That means, if you’re up at 6:00am, your child should be in bed no later than 8:00pm. Little kids tend to wake up early, so if you’re having to drag them out of bed, it’s likely they’re not getting enough sleep.

Make a chart

Most kids are visual. You can give them tasks orally until you’re blue in the face, and it still doesn’t get done. But if you give them a visual chart, they’ll be more likely to get all of their morning tasks done…and done quickly. I’ve used task cards for bedtime. I lay them out and they can follow them in whatever order they like. Then as they finish each one, they turn the card over. A checklist works just as well. Here’s a link to some free printable chore cards. For durability, take the file to your local office supply store to have them printed on cardstock and laminated.

Give them motivation

Let’s face it, when kids don’t want to go to school and don’t want to leave the warm, cozy house, it can be difficult to get them moving. The more they dislike school, the harder your mornings will be. There may not be much you can change about school, but you can motivate him to get moving. Put marbles in a jar for every task completed quickly, and go out for ice cream when the jar is full. Or give a penny or two for every task done. Stickers can also work well. It all depends on what excites and motivates your child. We’ve been doing pennies for school tasks, and we all love it! They are motivated to do their work, and it’s a lesson in itself since they have to count their money and understand what they can buy with it. One thing a wise teacher friend told me is that it’s important to switch up your reward system regularly. They always get stale, and a new system will create excitement.

Decide what matters most

Make sure you prioritize your morning activities. If you’re spending 30 minutes making sure your daughter’s hair is perfect but not giving your son his necessary morning snuggles, your priorities are a little off. Nobody’s going to notice if the ponytail is a little off center or if the socks don’t match. But your child will notice if you don’t feed his love language in some way every morning.

Vow not to nag

Nagging, yelling, screaming, and threatening have no place in the morning routine. And trust me, I know how easy it is to nag and yell. I have realized, however, that I can simply choose not to nag and yell. And guess what, it works! Attitude is a choice. You can choose to yell and have grumpy kids as a result. Or you can choose to be happy and have a happy start to your day. It makes a huge difference for everyone. You know the old saying, “Happy wife, happy life.” Well, I think this applies to our kids, too. “Happy mom, happy kids!”

Take a mental health day

If you’re having one of those mornings where it’s cold and blustery outside, and nobody wants to leave the house, take a mental health day! Let the kids stay home from school. Get a fire going in the fireplace, read your favorite books, crawl back into bed, eat soup on TV trays, put some cookies in the oven. Do your favorite things, and cherish that time with the kids. You can always email the teacher and ask her to send in whatever work needs to be completed.

How are your mornings? Do you have any tricks that have saved your sanity?

Create a reading haven


Last week, I offered tips on how to raise a voracious reader. One of my tips was to surround yourselves with books and to create several reading spots in the home. To start, keep a basket of books by the child’s bed, in the bathroom and in the car. Keep a bag of books (or a Kindle) by the door to grab on your way to the park or beach this summer. Make note of the books that your child likes to read many times over and keep those in the same basket or bag. But beyond those select few, swap books out regularly for variety.

And when you think about creating a reading haven in your home, think about more than just books. Create a nook (or two) where your child will want to retreat to for some reading time. Create a cozy space with a comfortable chair and good lighting (table lamps, not harsh overhead lights). Thanks to the amazing Pinterest, I’ll share a few fantastic reading havens other people have created in their own homes. Click on the images to see more ideas.

Reading Tents

Don’t these look so cozy?

I want this one!
















































Kids will be much more inclined to read books when they can see them. Create bookshelves that display the cover of books, not just their spines.































Creative Spaces

Do you live in a small home or apartment? Get creative with your space. Turn a closet into a reading nook, hang some bookshelves on a door, or as with the tent above, create a collapsible nook that you can put up and tear down as needed.

Yes, this (below) is a closet!













These shelves (below) were created with Ikea spice racks, so you can imagine how narrow they are. They’re just wide enough to hold spice jars, or a few books!














Get creative with the lighting in your reading nooks.

Click on the image below for instructions on how to create this Pottery Barn-inspired paper lantern.























A chandelier? Why not?











Outdoor Reading Nooks

Don’t forget outside! Whether you throw a blanket on the grass or create a separate reading nook, some of the best reading is done outdoors.











Want something simple? Throw a sheet over a rope for an outdoor reading tent like this one:
























And if this (below) doesn’t provide inspiration, I don’t know what will? Isn’t this amazing?!













Do you have a reading haven in your home? If so, share pictures!

What I’m Reading: “Bringing Up Bebe,” Alone Time

There are so many commonalities between Ezzo parenting and French parenting. Bringing Up Bebe discusses the need for children to have alone time. The Ezzos suggest that we have a daily structured alone time in the form of room time. The benefits to the child are plentiful.

Off the top of my head, I can think of several benefits of alone time. The child:

  • Learns to play independently and doesn’t rely on a parent or sibling to show him how to play. The intellectual and academic benefits of this are far-reaching.
  • Gets some quiet time, well beyond the age when naps are outgrown.
  • Learns to be happy being alone. I know of some adults who find it difficult to be alone. I can’t imagine not having my alone time!
  • Sleeps and self-soothes better. The baby who is never alone will wake up and cry if he realizes he’s in his bed alone.
  • Learns important focus and concentration skills, playing contentedly without distractions.
  • Is secure in his own skin, comfortable in the quiet with nothing but his thoughts and a few toys to occupy himself.

French parents and psychologists agree with the benefits of alone time:

“A psychologist quoted in Maman! magazine says that babies who learn to play by themselves during the day–even in the first few months–are less worried when they’re put into their beds alone at night. De Leersnyder writes that even babies need some privacy. ‘The little baby learns in his cradle that he can be alone from time to time, without being hungry, without being thirsty, without sleeping, just being calmly awake. At a very young age, he needs alone time, and he needs, to go to sleep and wake up without being immediately watched by his mother,'” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 53-54).

Such alone time is reportedly very important to French parents. The author discusses one mom’s story:

“Martine also teaches her kids a related skill: learning to play by themselves. ‘The most important thing is that he learns to be happy by himself,’ she says of her son Auguste…. It’s a skill that French mothers explicitly try to cultivate in their kids more than American mothers do. In another study, of college-educated mothers in the United States and France, the American moms said that encouraging one’s child to play alone was of average importance. But the French moms said it was very important,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 65-66).

French parents and the Ezzos are alike in their description of “helicopter parents.”

“Walter Mischel says the worst-case scenario is for a kid from eighteen to twenty-four months of age is, ‘the child is busy and the child is happy, and the mother comes along with a fork full of spinach. The mothers who really foul it up are the ones who are coming in when the child is busy and doesn’t want or need them, and are not there when the child is eager to have them. So becoming alert to that is absolutely critical,” (Bringing Up Bebe, p. 66).

So whether you leave a child alone during free play or schedule room time every day (or both!), make sure your child has enough time to simply play and to play by himself. Make alone time a priority!

Tuesday Triumphs: Sibling love

I love how much my boys love each other! They have their squabbles (what siblings don’t), but they play so well together and usually turn to each other when they’re looking for company. One day, when I was researching school options for William, I asked him about homeschooling and how he would feel about not seeing friends every day. He said Lucas would be his friend. So sweet.

I can think of so many more examples that demonstrate my kids’ love for each other. But in the spirit of this Tuesday Triumph, I’ll keep it to this week. A few days ago, Lucas was in my room with me, and William called his name from downstairs. What was Lucas’ response? He didn’t ignore him. He didn’t say “what?” He didn’t start going downstairs. He said, “yes, William?” He’s got the “yes, mommy” thing down pat and is now using it with his brother.

Of course, the parent in me is a little worried that it might elevate William to the level of a parent, which he would be more than happy about. We have the “third parent” syndrome already. But I’ve decided to let it go. I don’t want to discourage Lucas from saying “yes, mommy” and he knows that when he says it, he gets a positive reaction.

And just this morning, I saw more evidence of brotherly love. Most mornings, when Lucas wakes up, he says, “mommy, mommy, mommy” over and over until somebody gets him out of his crib. (Yes, he’s still in his crib and loves it.) Well, this morning, I heard him on the monitor and instead of calling for me, he said, “William, William, William.”

This brought a mixture of joy and sadness to my heart. The joy comes from the strength of their bond. The sadness is from the fact that my babies are growing up so much that they don’t need me as much as they used to. Lucas is a mama’s boy to the core, and even he is starting to show signs of independence.

My boys are each other’s best friends, and they would regularly choose to play with each other over any other friend. And despite their extreme differences (two different sets of genes there), they play so well. They are three years apart and they do play differently, but that doesn’t stop them from playing together. Lucas looks up to William. And William takes care of Lucas.

I haven’t seen a relationship like theirs in many kids or adults. But I can compare their bond to my relationship with my sister. My sister and I are very different and always have been, but we are very close. I can’t say there has ever been a time when we haven’t gotten along. Even through high school when most annoying little sisters (like me) are cast aside, my friendship with my sister was stronger than ever.

I can only hope that my boys are this close when they get older. If what I see today is any indication, I don’t have anything to worry about. :)

Couch time

In my last post, I discussed the marriage priority and how the Ezzos implore us to put our marriages first—for the sake of our children. By maintaining a loving, healthy marriage, we create a sense of security and stability for our children. Here I will discuss one practical method for building a happy marriage: couch time.

Couch time is a very simple idea. You and your spouse take 10-15 minutes at the end of your day (or whenever really) to sit down and just talk. Don’t watch TV. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t think about the day ahead. Just sit and talk to your spouse.

The rules
There is only one rule when it comes to couch time. It can take place at any time of day. It can be on the couch, at the dinner table after everyone is done, or even standing in the kitchen. The only rule about couch time is that you must do it while your child is awake and in the same room. The whole point of couch time is to show your child that you and your spouse make time for yourselves and that your marriage takes priority. Explain to your child that this is a special time for you two and that he must not interrupt you. Find an activity to keep your child occupied so you’re not constantly turning away from your spouse to tend to your child. (This is where having a blanket-trained toddler can really help.) Keep a special basket of toys just for couch time. Start small (just a few minutes a day) and work up from there. Throughout your day, make a mental list of things you might want to discuss with your spouse during couch time. Make a mental note of cute things your child did or how you were able to get through to him on an important moral lesson.

Must we really do couch time?
Yes! You may be thinking that you spend plenty of time talking to your spouse and that maybe your child is so young (or old) that he won’t really get any benefit from seeing the two of you talk. But really, if you are going to have any success with your parenting, you must put first things first. Couch time is so important that it’s discussed early on in Childwise (page 40). And putting your marriage first is principle #1 in a long list of principles.

“Does your child exhibit behavior problems, moral disruptions, impulsive behavior, talking back, sleep problems or just outright defiance? Before you do anything else, before you pick up another book, listen to another tape, attend another parenting conference, call your therapist or get on the Internet—simply practice ‘couch time’ for a week…. You will be amazed at how this one little exercise can bring peace to a home and emotional confidence to children,” (On Becoming Childwise, page 40).

In the Mom’s Notes presentations, Carla Link will often take questions from the audience about particular behavior problems parents might be experiencing. One of her first questions of them is whether they are doing couch time. The answer is typically no. She then goes on to say that the simple act of adding couch time to your day will greatly improve your child’s behaviors. Having someone tell you to sit on the couch with your spouse may not seem like it will help you teach your preschooler to share his toys. But it is step #1 in getting our children to behave. It’s so simple yet so effective!

And on top of the benefits your child receives, couch time will improve your marriage! “One other thing about couch time: it’s not only for your children’s benefit…. For some couples, this time together might be as new for them as it is for their children. You never know, you might just rediscover your best friend,” (On Becoming Childwise, page 40).

The next time you hug your spouse, take a peek at your child’s face. He will be staring at you with a glimmer of happiness in his eye. Once you see that, you will be motivated to do couch time every day.

Testimonials for couch time
In the sidebars of Growing Kids God’s Way, there are several testimonials from children whose parents practiced couch time:

“There is something wonderful about growing up in a home where your parents are truly in love with each other. They laugh together, play together, pray together and parent together. As siblings, we have a ‘best friend’ relationship with each other. We learned that from watching Mom and Dad.” –Aimee, age 14

“When my parents had couch time consistently, my siblings and I were more obedient and there was harmony in the family. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, sitting on the couch talking to each other every night, but makes a big difference in the home.” –Justin, age 17

“When my sister Emily and I were young, we loved it when Mom and Dad had couch time. I couldn’t have explained why back then. There was just something right about it, comforting and secure. We contrived all sorts of things to make them comfortable like getting them tea when they sat down. Now we realize that ‘couch time’ was for us as much as it was for them.” –Aubrey, age 16

“Out of all the wonderful things my parents implemented into our family life, couch time is the one I most want to have in my own family when I get married. Growing up, I felt more secure knowing that my parents were taking the time to communicate and verify that they were a united team. This is how I know that my parents love our family and they loved each other.” –Sarah, age 22

“My parents have shown me how very important having dates and couch time on a regular basis is for a good marriage relationship. When they spend time with each other, it shows us that they love each other.” –Rebecca, age 14

Cultivate a loving relationship with your child

Yes, it’s a given that you love your child. But do you maintain a loving relationship on a daily basis? Is your relationship with your child characterized by love and fun or is it all discipline, frustration and loneliness? Do you take the time to have fun with your child or are you constantly trying to “fix” him?

I bring this up for a couple reasons. The first is that there is the perception among the anti-Ezzo community that we Ezzo parents don’t truly feel connected with our children. We let them cry. We make them play in their rooms. We don’t put them in the center of the family. We discipline them. We are not their peers. All of these things are true, but they don’t mean that we don’t love our children or have a loving relationship with them.

I do believe, however, that it can be too easy to fall into a parent-child relationship that lacks fun and affection. Here are some clues that you might need to reevaluate your relationship with your child:

  • On a daily basis, you worry that you aren’t doing things right or following the books as closely as you should.
  • You tend to be legalistic in your parenting.
  • You are on a constant mission to fix your child’s problems.
  • You don’t laugh at least once a day.
  • Your child seems stressed out and angry.
  • You don’t hug or snuggle with your child at least once a day.
  • You expect your child to misbehave.
  • You feel like all you do all day is discipline your child.
  • You feel like your child is trying to frustrate and anger you.

Not only is this unhealthy for you and your child, but a relationship like this can actually cause all the behavior problems you are trying to fix. Imagine it from your child’s perspective. He is the student and you are the teacher. He is constantly getting bad grades, never gets a pat on the back, and doesn’t even get to relax after a long day at school. Your child wants to please you, but if you require too much of him and don’t give him love and affection, he will stop wanting to please you. I know of a couple who completely changed their lives for this reason. They were living a fast-paced life in New York City and gave up everything to live in a small, rural town. They had one reason for doing so: their son had stopped trying to please them. You lose this and you lose everything.

On a more positive note, bringing more fun and affection into your relationship with your child can not only lower your blood pressure and improve your disposition, but it will improve your child’s behaviors. If you think that you tend to be legalistic in your parenting, try easing up for a few days and see if things change. Follow your child’s lead for a little while and see where it takes you. If his behaviors get worse, you can quickly go back to your old ways. But I highly suspect his behaviors will improve and you will be no worse off for experimenting with it.

Here are some ideas to bring some fun and love into your relationship with your child:

  • Go out for ice cream and order the same thing he orders. Who knows, maybe choco-peppermint bubblegum ice cream really is good.
  • Go for a walk and follow him. Allow him to stop at every twig and rock. Try to see the fascination that he sees. Allow him to stop and sit on the sidewalk just to watch the cars go by. (My son actually does this.)
  • Go out for a one-on-one “date” with your child.
  • Tickle, hug, wrestle or snuggle with your child every day.
  • Make chocolate chip, smiley face pancakes.
  • Trace patterns on your child’s bare back with your fingers and have him guess what it is.
  • Go to the park and play like a child. Swing on the swings. Go down the slide (head first!). Go on the teeter-totter with him. Play tag.
  • Sit and watch your child play. Don’t think about the million things you need to do. Just sit and watch.
  • Get messy with your child. Jump in puddles. Play in the mud. Dig in the dirt.
  • Play dress-up and act out funny characters. Play the “what animal am I?” game by making animal sounds and acting like your favorite animal.
  • Order happy meals for both of you.
  • Play hooky on a school day and eat donuts for breakfast.
  • Get creative with your activities. Go to the pet store just to look at all the animals. Go to the home improvement store to sit on the “tractors”. Fill a bucket with water and use paintbrushes to “paint” the house. Feed the pigeons.
  • Use your imagination. Make “soup” with a little water and leaves. Turn a stick into a magic wand. Throw out your arms and fly like an airplane.
  • Go camping in the backyard, marshmallows and all.
  • Dance in the living room.
  • Get silly!

These are the experiences that childhood memories are made of and that will make your child feel loved. So be sure to fill your lives with them!

Create your schedule

In my last post, I discussed the many benefits of structuring your day. Here I will walk you through the steps of creating a schedule to establish peace and harmony in your home.

Look at my schedule
The following explanation will make more sense if you look at my schedule first. Got it? Now, back to reading.

Start with a blank document
Find a quiet time and sit down in front of the computer. Create a table in Word or Excel. If you’re comfortable with Word, use this document that I have created for you. (I use Excel, but WordPress wouldn’t let me upload a spreadsheet, so this should do.) If you’re using Excel or a piece of paper and pen, make three columns, one for the times of day, one for your child and one for you. Having a column for yourself is key to making your schedule work for you and keeping you on task. Add another column for any additional kids.

On the far left, write down the times of the day in 15-minute increments starting with the time you wake up and ending with the time you go to bed. Take heart, not every minute of your day will be scheduled, but starting with 15-minute increments will make it easier to create your schedule. If there is an activity that lasts an hour, for example, you can delete three of those 15-minute rows.

When filling in your schedule, you won’t go row by row. You will go activity by activity. Fill in your schedule in the following order.

Fixed activities
Start with any activities that have a fixed time, like school. Include the times your child starts school and the time he gets home.

Waking and sleeping
Your fixed activities might affect the time you need to wake up. So fill in the time you and your child wake up. Whether you need to be up at a certain time or not, waking up at the same time every day is key to making your schedule work. Be realistic. If you’re not a morning person, don’t set your wake-up time to 6:00 am. Wake your child at the same time every day if his wake time is inconsistent. Now fill in times for naps and bed. Allow your child enough time to get a full night’s sleep (9-12 hours depending on age). Make yourself go to bed at the same time, too. Again, keep these consistent.

Self care
Allow enough time in your day to shower and get your child bathed and dressed. You can either create separate rows for these activities, or just include them in your wake up time.

Meals and snacks
Next, fill in meals and snacks. Be realistic about the amount of time it actually takes you to eat. If you need to feed a baby, don’t schedule your own lunch at the same time. Also think about the 10-15 minutes it takes to make breakfast and lunch. Create a separate row (30-60 minutes) for cooking dinner.

Independent play
Independent play is key to creating quiet time for you and your child. Older toddlers and preschoolers will have roomtime and quiet sit time. Babies and younger toddlers will have playpen time and blanket time. Use these activities to your advantage. Make them happen when you need a shower, time alone on the computer, or if you want to make dinner without a toddler hanging on your legs. (I’ll write separate posts for independent play soon.)

Enrichment activities
This is where your proactive parenting comes into play. Fill in times to read to your child, teach him ABCs and 123s, music play and other enrichment activities. Schedule some one-on-one time for each child. And allow for some scheduled sibling playtime. Without a schedule it’s unlikely you would have enough time to fit all this in. Don’t let your child miss out on these activities.

Fill in when you and your child will do your various chores. You may have your child clean up after every play activity or schedule just one or two clean up times. Think about scheduling clean up time before TV time as an incentive to get it done.

Free play and TV time
Schedule time for free play and TV time. Without a schedule, your entire day might be filled with these two activities. Make them planned events in your day. Keep TV time to 30-60 minutes and plan it for when you need it most. For free play, encourage your child to play on his own.

Whether you work out at home before your child wakes up, take him to the gym or go for a walk with the stroller, include exercise in your day.

Mommy time
In your column, be sure to include activities simply for your own pleasure. Whether you enjoy reading, talking to friends on the phone, scrapbooking, blogging or any other activity, be sure to schedule at least 30 minutes. If you can allow more time, then great! Your child will benefit when he sees that you take some time for yourself every day and that you don’t spend all day every day catering to his desires.

Couch time
Schedule some time to connect with your spouse when he gets home from work. Couch time is a technique the Ezzos recommend to enrich your marriage and to show your child that your marriage is secure and that it comes first above all else.

Your schedule should now be complete. Delete any blank rows. Read through it to be sure that it will all actually work for you and your child. Make any adjustments.

Let your schedule serve you
For the first two or three days, do your best to stick to your schedule as it is. But have your schedule and a pen nearby to jot down any changes you’ll need to make. Make sure your schedule serves you, not the other way around. Don’t become a slave to it. And don’t follow it because I’m telling you to. Follow it because it will make your life so much more fulfilling. You’ll start seeing the benefits in just a day or two.

Schedule variations
You’ll notice at the bottom of my schedule, I included an alternate activity for when the weather is nice. When it’s nice, I’d much rather get my exercise by walking with the kids in the stroller and going to the park than going to the gym. This is also the time that I use for occasional activities like running errands and scheduling play dates. Also, if William went to preschool on just Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would have a variation for that. Think through any similar variations you’ll want to make.

Lazy days and weekends
I’ll be the first to admit that we don’t follow our complete schedule every day. Sometimes, we’re just feeling a little lazy. Weekends are also invariably a little lazy. But you don’t want to toss your schedule out the window entirely. Meals and naps still need to happen at the same time or you’ll all pay for it. Either create a new schedule for lazy days or bold the items in your daily schedule that you’ll stick with on your lazy days or weekends. Here is my lazy day schedule. (You’ll see that I’m not much of a morning person, but the rest of our day is pretty much the same.) My only caution is to not fall into making every day a lazy day. Encourage yourself to do all you can with your days.

Free play activities
At the bottom of your schedule, jot down ideas for your child’s free play. It will be nice to have them in a handy place so you can get your child started on one when he comes to you for entertainment. Play with him for 5 minutes to get him started and encourage him to finish on his own.

Post your schedule
Print out your schedule and post it in the kitchen. The refrigerator is a great place, or tape it to the wall or a cabinet. Make it visible. Think about printing a second copy for your bathroom or other spot in the house. Show it to babysitters when they come.

Make your schedule a living document
Allow yourself to change your schedule whenever you need to. Revise it when your child drops a nap, when school is out for the summer, etc.

It will all be worth it
If this all seems like a lot of work to you, go back to my post on structuring your day to remind yourself of the benefits. Remember that not only will it reduce the opportunities for your child to misbehave, but it will also allow you and your child to have quiet time and quality time. Your child will have a greater respect for authority and improved focus and concentration skills. And you can be more proactive with your parenting and more easily accept new members to the family. Trust me, it will all be worth it.