Thursday, 24 November 2011

How to Organise the Un-organisable Child

My middle son, Max, actually does live on another planet. If you asked him about it, he would go into great detail about the culture, language, food and inhabitants of planet Flot. At 7 years old, he sometimes comes back to earth with a bump but usually his brain is on a far higher plane than whether he has remembered to put his jumper on the right way round or not. Not that we are supposed to compare our children, but he has come as somewhat of a shock to me having had Toby, my eldest son, who loves order and relishes activities such as classifying books. Toby's bedroom would pass the extreme regulations of a yelling Sergeant Major, Max's bedroom is an array of clutter.

And so before I can train him to do his own washing or cook the tea, I have to begin to teach him about order and organisation. Leaving home and fending for himself feels like a distant, almost impossible dream. However, slowly but surely we are getting there. I have had many failures so far in teaching him to be organised. Not only is he in a dream world, he is also very stubborn. The two qualities do not help each other out at all. Below I will outline some of my failures and some of my successes and if you have a delicious daydreamer of a child like mine, you can either try out some of the tips yourself or simply know that you are not alone in your frustrations.

Getting Dressed
Although at 7, Max is perfectly capable of dressing himself (and miraculously manages to at weekends), on a bleary eyed school morning this is a difficult task. I have long given up expecting him to find his own clothes from his drawers. Instead, we get his clothes out for the next day the night before and in the morning I pass them to him piece by piece until he has them all on. Sometimes I wonder if he really should have been born into a different era and have his own personal Valet, but I carry on with my task because it gets us out of the door in time for school.

Remembering to Bring Everything Home From School
I have finally had some success with this recently. I set him a challenge (he relishes a challenge) and he exceeded my expectations. After spending the first 2 months of last term sending him back into the classroom to collect his reading book, coat, lunch, letters etc etc, I told him that if he remembered everything every day for a week I would let him stay up later on Friday night. He managed to remember, and even though the challenge has passed, he is still mostly managing to remember.

Remembering to Change His Reading Book
This, along with remembering to give letters to the teacher, hand in homework and anything else he has to do in school without me, has been a tricky one. If I am not there to remind him, he has to do it all himself. I have started to remind him several times on the way to school and not only say it myself, but ask him to repeat what I have said. Here is a typical conversation we might have:

Me: "Max, you've got 2 things to remember today, do you think you can do it?"
Max: "Of course! What are they?"
Me: "You need to change your reading book and you need to give the slip about the trip to the teacher."
Max: "Ok."
Me: "So, what do you need to do?"
Max "I need to change my reading book and I need to give the slip about the trip to the teacher."

This has varying results depending on his mood, but I have found it to be the most helpful so far.

Jobs Around the House
I have to admit that I have avoided these until recently. The battle was just far too great. Unfortunately Toby (rightly) complained that he had loads of jobs and Max didn't have any so I was caught out. We sat all three boys down and had a 'family talk' about all the jobs that need doing in our house, and how mostly I do them all. We talked about working together as a team to get those things done and then we discussed appropriate jobs for each child. We discussed the consequences of not doing those jobs and amazingly, they all seemed to be quite happy to help. Obviously each child is different, but these are the jobs Max is expected to do:
Put his clothes away in his drawers after they have been washed (often they are found scrumpled up into a drawer or he steps on them blindly on his way to bed).
Take it in turns (with Toby) to clear the table and load the dishwasher after tea.
After school, empty his lunchbox and put it by the sink.
Put his dirty washing in the washing basket.
Tidy and hoover his bedroom (ha ha ha ha, need I say more?!)
Mostly, he does them. Often, he needs a gentle reminder. Sometimes, he doesn't do them at all.

More than anything else, the most important factor in teaching him to be more organised has been to praise his efforts, even when they haven't been quite up to my standards. Instead of laughing at his lovely little ways of keeping his head high up in the clouds (although it is something that I love about him very much), I have begun to tell him that he is becoming an organised person. I have praised him for remembering to clean his teeth without being asked. I have told him what a great job he has done of emptying his lunch box every day of the week. I have celebrated with him when he has looked which way round his trousers go on instead of just pulling them on whichever way they arrive in his hand. I have given him a new label of 'organised' and he has risen to it. He has even, dare I say it, enjoyed his organisation on occasion.

So, don't despair. If your child is otherworldly (and you will know what I mean if they are), there is hope. Even if our children will always remain half on our planet and half off, we can still train them to be practical and to organise themselves. I hope.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Loving your Daughters-in-Law (before you've even met them)

I have 3 boys. No girls, just boys. My home is littered with plastic soldiers, drumkits, lego and dinosaurs. We have no Disney Princess dvd's but a plethora of Star Wars, X Men, Peter Pan and (my personal favourite) Inspector Gadget. Camo clothes cover my radiators and (the perfect phrase coined by the mother in Outnumbered) a wee tsunami covers my bathroom floor. We don't eat pretty pink cupcakes, but pies, meat and hearty stews are the fare in our family. We 'ooh' and 'aah' at the cars on Top Gear, but Strictly Come Dancing cannot be tolerated. Burps and worse are part of our mealtime conversations and armpit farts (and even knee, elbow and other body part farts) have to be limited to only a few minutes per day or nothing else would be accomplished.

But one day, my time will come and I will (hopefully) have some daughters-in-law. Ever one to imagine the future, I look forward to the day that I will not be the only girl in the house. Sometimes, desperately clawing onto my female identity, I feel like an honorary boy. I also look forward to presenting my boys to the world, ready for their lives without the supervision of a mother (no 'Young, Dumb and Living off Mum' in our family). Unfortunately they will not wake up suddenly willing and able to look after themselves and others. There is no point waiting for them to be ready - all they time they are being served by a loving Mother who will pick up their dirty pants from the floor, they will not be ready. No, they need training.

And this is where I have my daughers-in-law in mind. I married a man who could cook, clean and iron. (I can barely bring myself to admit that actually he is better than me at it). When I hear other women moaning about their husbands, I am extremely grateful to my mother-in-law for teaching him those basic skills. It has meant that we have shared the load and when I have had small babies, or been ill, he has been able to keep the house running smoothly.

To get myself off to a head start with the relationship with my daughters-in-law, I need to get training my boys. It occurred to me that if they can use all their new fangled electronic devices, then why can they not work the washing machine? If they can organise themselves at school (ok, not all of them can - some of them need training in that too, and I have one of those!), why can they not organise themselves at home? If they can follow a timetable, why can they not follow a recipe? If they love working as a team to accomplish a goal, why not train them to work as a family team to achieve a house than runs well?

Training them to cook, clean and do their washing teaches them so much more than just how to do the job. It teaches them about teamwork; it teaches them about discipline and getting on with the job even when you don't feel like it; it helps them to appreciate what others do for them; it gives them organisational skills and teaches them responsibility; it teaches them about consequences (yes, really, if Toby forgets to wash his school uniform, I will not be doing it for him).

The temptation is to do it all ourselves because it is just so much quicker, easier and avoids the inevitable battle. And oh, how I know that tempation - especially with one certain, eccentric, highly disorganised middle son. We must look ahead though. If we always give in to this temptation (and sometimes I certainly do!) we will produce sons who not only do not know how to do anything for themselves, but expect others to do it for them. Instead of offering to make a cup of tea, they will plonk themselves on the sofa and holler for you to make one for them. Dirty pants and socks will litter the floor because you have always picked them up and washed them. We will produce heart-warming meals that they will gulp down and rush off to their next important activity, leaving the table cluttered with dishes for us to clear. We will not be giving away our sons as men in marriage, ready to cherish, protect and love their wives, we will be passing on children for someone else to look after.

We need to love our future daughter-in-laws by training our boys. You never know, my training might work and one day my bathroom floor might be dry.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Upside Down World

In our blame-ridden, compensation-driven culture, it is hard to teach our children (and even ourselves) to take responsibility for their own actions. This week our family have been thinking about this very wise saying:

"Do for other people the same things you want them to do for you."

It is, of course, more fun if you say it in a Yoda voice but the original version was by Jesus.

So often we are all too quick to point out other people's faults. "He hit me first!", is the usual cry in my house. Always willing to overlook our own part in the proceedings, we concentrate on what others are doing. We pick at their misconduct and sometimes even exploit it for our own good. This saying, however, turns all of that upside down.

First and foremost, our responsiblity is to ensure we are living right, whether that is starting a fight (and oh, how many of those are started in my house each day) or ensuring we are showing kindness to those who we might not feel naturally inclined to show kindness to. It should be our concern how we are behaving. Instead of poking our nose into other people's business, we might do better if we took a good long sniff of ourselves, and then be prepared to make the changes necessary.

If we all lived by this saying, just this saying, our world would be turned upside down too. Kindness, generosity and love might actually prevail over selfishness and pride. No longer would there be silly health and safety laws about children not being allowed to jump in leaves or skid on the ice in the school playground (just in case parents take court action). Poverty would be eased as riches were shared around. My boys might actually go one whole day without fighting (a major feat).

Is this possible in our egocentric culture? Can we really take responsibilty for ourselves? Or has our culture just gone too far away from this now?