How rushed are we making our children? It is harder to connect with each other when going at great speed. Think of the day as a series of in and out breaths. We fill our days with activities; some of these are classed as breathing-in activities, involving slowing-down periods, being peaceful. Children need time to connect and re-centre during the day.
Stop the glorification of busy (Anon)
The universe has rhythms. Day and night, the seasons of the year, and high and low tides are examples of the perfectly balanced rhythms of our planet. We have rhythms inside us: our heartbeat, our breathing and our walking pace.
Positive family rhythms provide a foundation of stability, trust, love and connection. Daily family rhythms help keep life in balance, and make ordinary family moments ‘extraordinary!’
I heard parenting author Steve Biddulph talking about The Complete Secrets of Happy Children, and a comment he made then has stayed with me: “75 per cent of discipline and behavioural problems are caused by the hurry that parents are in.”
How rushed are we, and how rushed are we making our children? Faster is not necessarily better! It is harder to connect with each other when going at great speed. It’s good to slow down, look into our children’s eyes, observe what is happening around us and smell the roses. And let our children smell them too!
Let’s take a deep breath…
Think of the day as a series of in and out breaths. We fill our days with activities; some of these are classed as breathing-in activities, involving slowing-down periods, being peaceful. Children need time to connect and re-centre during the day. This might be done with a meal or snack, indoor imaginative play, quietly helping with chores, a rest time in a comfortable area, stories on the couch or big bed, a cuddle on the knee with songs, or a shared peaceful bath and a lovely bedtime rhythm. Breathing-out activities are more active: outings, social gatherings, big and noisy play, outside play, perhaps more structured activities inside and outside the home.
Adults also benefit greatly from periods of breathing in. We too easily forget to rest ourselves. Adults have been known to throw tantrums, too, from being too busy (I know!). Being a constantly busy parent has consequences in family life. When I make unwise parenting choices, I am usually stressed about something else or rushed.
At the end of each day, reflect, ‘Did we breathe in today?’ Can we keep life in balance, to allow our children to be balanced?
Let us look at an ordinary day and see what moments parents can make extraordinary for their children. Even if we are ‘time poor’, most of the suggestions below take half a minute or so, and hold priceless gifts for children, gifts of connection, communication and creativity in daily life. They also hold the key to fewer struggles of wills, and maximise positive behaviours during meals, rest and bedtimes.
How are we to ‘meet’ children each day? Step into their shoes, and imagine how you would like to be greeted! Like the rising of the sun, create emotional warmth and bonding to start the day together. This is a time of butterfly kisses (tickling with your eye lashes on a soft cheek), cuddles, stories and a chat. The day may get busier, and we may not see much of each other, but we have already experienced a moment of connection.
The mealtime table is a special place in our homes: a place to enjoy food, yes, but also a place where the family can bond. During a meal, sit with your child and play a ‘Thank you’ game: ‘Thank you to the farmer who grew the wheat that made the bread that I am eating’; ‘Thank you to the cow that gave the milk that made the cheese’; ‘Thank you to the clouds and showers that watered the fruit that I am eating’. This not only tells children where their food comes from (Jamie Oliver would be happy!), it helps them feel part of the larger community and brings gratitude and respect back to the dinner table – qualities we lose in a fast-paced life.
At the evening meal, sit together as a family whenever you can. This helps to build your ‘tribe’. The family dinner table is truly a time of communication, as well as nourishment. Each family member takes it in turns to say what their favourite part of the day was, and to share daily news, however simple, with each other. Children as young as two can have a turn. My husband is an accountant – he might say that he got a new client. The news doesn’t have to be exciting! Be a role model of communication for children to follow: ‘Now, let me see what my favourite part was of the day? What shall I share with you today?’
If directly asked about their day, children may be reluctant to share. However, if adults naturally act as role models, sharing their days first as a game, children are more likely to take their turn. If not, there is always another dinnertime.
By fostering this daily rhythm of chatting at the dinner table (with the TV kept off and all mobile devices away!) in the vital years, it continues naturally for life. Yes, perhaps we will have teenagers who communicate with more than a grunt! If one parent works late, the at-home parent can sit with the children during their meal and have a light snack, trusting that the family will eat together at the weekend.
To turn rest time into a happy ritual, maybe have a special sleeping bag just for napping in during the day, a rest-time candle, or a child’s sofa where you curl up to have a story with the soft toys? A magical den made by throwing a large bed sheet over the kitchen table, and putting cushions and books underneath, cocoons a child for a while. Go in too, and read stories together. Is the weather sunny? Lie together and read under a tree, or watch the leaves dance and find pictures in clouds.
Adults tell me that this message is for them as well: remembering to have a daily rest has enhanced their lives and moods too!
Begin the bedtime rhythm each evening in a creative way: young children enjoy getting a ride to the bathroom standing on a parent’s feet (facing the parent and holding onto their legs) or a gentle plane trip on Daddy’s shoulders. I have even seen a saddle for dads! ‘The horse needs to go to the stable!’
Once in the bathroom, teeth brushing can be made inspiring by playing a little imaginative game. I have not yet known a child who does not like ‘teethy tales’. All children are basically egocentric; they like to hear about themselves. So tell a tale about the daily adventures of each tooth as it is cleaned! ‘This tooth ate cornflakes for breakfast, this tooth played with toy cars…, this tooth loved to eat cheese on toast for lunch, this tooth smiled at Nannie’. This little game makes teeth cleaning fun, and recounting the special parts of the day is a lovely way for children to finish their activities and wind down for bed. If a child has been at kindergarten or nursery, their daily events can be guessed.
Getting from the bathroom to the bedroom can be made fun with a piggyback ride, or marching like the Grand Old Duke of York. Make it enjoyable, but not too stimulating!
Once in bed, there are many creative ideas to help your young ones move to dreamland. Say ‘goodnight’ to three things in the room, followed by a lullaby with nice words, and a soft touch. Sing, stroke and slow down. Dads, Elvis Presley is fine – any tune, as long as it’s slow and loving. Bedtimes can become a big gift of love for children.
My daughter when younger was always quite restless going to bed, and she would get up with any excuse. But she tended to settle much more easily when she had a ride on Daddy’s shoulders to the bathroom, teethy tales, her special bedtime poem and a lullaby while her hair was stroked. One night, when I was in a rush – yes, a hurried life! – I skipped all of her rhythm and just said, ‘Go to sleep – it’s late!’ There was a little voice, ‘Mum, have you not worked out that when you sing to me and stroke my hair, I have sweeter dreams?’ The wisdom of a six year old!
For many years I used a soft simple tune to sing about those people that love my daughter – including our animals – while stroking her hair and face. What is given to children, they tend to give back out to the world. I once found my daughter in our lounge and she had wrapped our dog in a blanket. She was stroking his head lovingly while sweetly singing the lullaby to him, remembering to mention all the neighbourhood dogs who loved him! The look on the dog’s face was one of pure bliss!
Once when I was teaching a class of seven-year-olds, we had been reading a book about whales. During question and comment time, a child piped up, ‘Did you know that young whales really need their parents’ attention? If they don’t get attention, they will lie on a parent’s blow hole so the parent can’t breathe!’ Wow, what a story!
I reflect that our own children stop us – in other ways! – because they, like young whales, need connection and attention. With a steady daily rhythm, for morning greetings, meals, rest and bedtime (with time for imaginative play, connection to love ones), we can ensure that the attention they need is built in. They do not have to sit on our blow hole and demand it!
Lou Harvey-Zahra is a primary, special needs and Rudolf Steiner teacher, parent and author. Her new book Happy Child, Happy Home: Conscious Parenting and Creative Discipline (Floris Books) is available now. See Lou’s website www.skiptomylouparenting.com for workshops across the country.
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