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Parenting Hacks: 12 Essential Tips for Parents of School-Age Children

Parenting Hacks: 12 Essential Tips for Parents of School-Age Children

Babies.

Toddlers.

Teenagers.

All of these age groups seem to have entire websites dedicated to the challenges of parenting.

But what about the group that’s missing?

The school age children.

Ah, you might say that is the easy age. but there is really no such thing as an “easy” stage of parenting. It’s just a new set of challenges, and rearing school age children has its own set of challenges. In fact, if you face the trials and tribulations well now, you may actually reduce the ones to come in the teen years, and parents can always use a break when they can get one.

1. Read Aloud Every Day

One of the absolute best things you can do for your child and his success in school is to read out loud together every day (or almost every day). There are a few great things about this.

The first is that reading together at bedtime helps transition a busy day full of activities and screen time into a quiet, peaceful time. The second is that by having your child read aloud to you, you can gauge his abilities, build up reading stamina, and enjoy an activity together.

When you take a turn reading to your child, you can help them with their comprehension when you stop and recap together or ask him to remind you what you read the day before. Finally, reading aloud together gives you a chance to introduce your child to new books and you can use that material as a jumping off point for the more in depth discussions that start happening at this age which aren’t always comfortable for parents or kids.

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2. Find Quiet Time Together

An added benefit of the reading together, especially at bedtime, is that you have a built-in quiet time together during the day with your child. The school years are busy years and we fall into routines where we talk to our kids and move from one place to another without every stopping to really have discussions about the things that are on our kids’ minds.

It’s not to say that you need to have a therapy time every afternoon or play Twenty Questions before bed, but taking a few minutes after reading stories to “check in” with your kid in the evening is an excellent way to be sure your child has a chance to talk and you take a turn to listen.

Other options for that quiet time may be a walk together in the evening or even driving from one event to another. If you’re taking your child home after a sporting or school event, for example, turn off the radio and take the longer route to get home. Sitting in the car is an excellent time to ask some questions and have a quality conversation with your child.

3. Model Reading and Writing

If you’re counting on the school to cover all the bases for your child in his reading and writing instruction, your child will be missing a critical part of instruction. Your child’s teacher is likely doing an excellent job teaching your child how to write and how to read.

Your job as a parent is twofold. First, you should be reinforcing what your child is doing at school. This lets your child show off his new abilities and gives you a chance to check his progress and assess his abilities. Second, your job as a parent is to show your child just how important that reading and writing stuff is.

How? By reading and writing yourself. Your child should see you reading. A lot. Your child should watch you write. This shows your child that reading and writing really is important – not just something he’s forced to do at school.

If you read for pleasure in front of your child, he’ll get the message loud and clear that reading is a good thing. Likewise you can show him the importance of writing as you send emails, write lists, write in a travel journal or update your summer diary together.

This is an excellent way to use those phones and tablets as well. There is no rule that writing has to be done with pen and paper, and reading doesn’t require paperbacks. Show your child how to read and write on his device, but keep an eye on him with software like OurPact parental control to be sure he’s following through on the expectations.

4. Explain Behaviors

    Your child has many pathways to learning. He can listen. He can write. He can read. He can touch. He can taste. He can experience. How many of those pathways are you using when you’re trying to get your child to learn and do something?

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    For example, if you are asking your child to put his dishes in the dishwasher, you can tell him to do it, but that may not be enough. Your child has heard you. But then show him how to load the dishwasher properly. Explain to him where the water comes from and why the bowls and plates need to face a certain way. Explain why the knives are pointed down and let him see you put your dishes in before he puts his own away.

    Granted he will probably need reminding well into his teens to take care of chores like loading the dishwasher, but if you think about explaining things and engaging as many learning pathways as possible with everything you consider important, your child will be much more likely to understand and follow your lead. Telling him once just isn’t enough for any lesson to really sink in, especially something he doesn’t understand.

    5. Set Realistic Limits

    Behavior. Punishments. This is the stickiest wicket of parenting because every child needs discipline and every child craves limits. Children generally want to please adults, and the best way to do this is by behaving appropriately. This means your child needs limits and rules, preferably before he crosses a line.

    That being said, if you’re going to make a rule in your house, be sure it is a realistic one and one you can enforce. For example, telling a child that he can’t stay up past 8pm on a weeknight is fine. It’s fine, that is, unless that same child has baseball practice until 8pm three nights a week. How is he going to bed by 8 if he’s not even home? By giving your child a rule he can’t follow, you’ve set the both of you up for failure and frustrating. Think through the rules and limits ahead of time to prevent this. This also gives you a chance to prioritize and choose your battles.

    6. Offer Praise, Limit Criticism

    Nobody likes to be criticized. Sometimes it can’t be helped in the learning process, but as often as you can focus on the things you can praise as a way to correct behaviors rather than criticizing those things you don’t like.

    What does this look like? It might be something as simple as praising your child when you see him holding a dirty shirt. Sure, he might have just taken it off and was about to drop it on the floor, but rather than shouting at him to “put that shirt in the hamper right now!” praise him instead for not dropping it on the floor. “I’m so glad you’re not going to drop that on the floor – thank you for putting in the hamper!”

    7. Always Be Consistent

    Just like the limits above, do your absolute best to be consistent at all times in all things. Does this sound daunting? Sure. But it’s actually easier than you might think. What wears us out as parents is making decisions all day long.

    Mom! Can I have this? Can I do that? Can I stay up later?

    Instead of making a decision about every little thing during the day, plan ahead and stick to the plan. Make bedtime the same time every night. Make the evening routines the same every night before bed. Put all electronics on the charger in the kitchen.

    These are not rules, per say, simply routines and consistencies in place that make your life a bit easier and give your family some structure they can understand as they go through the day.

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    8. Explain Expectations Ahead of Time

      This is a big trick that you’ll see elementary teachers use in the classroom. Assume that your children don’t know how to behave in a new situation. You’ll have to explain exactly what behaviors are appropriate and which are not.

      This is far better than doing what we accidentally do all of the time and fuss at our kids for not behaving the way we want them to… when we’ve never told them what to expect!

      Think about going on a family adventure to a carnival. What are the expectations you have for the carnival? Your child will need to stay with you. Or maybe hold your hand. Your child will need to wear comfortable shoes and carry his own bag – you’re not going to carry it for him. Your child will have a set number of tickets for fun and that’s all he has, so spend them wisely.

      Now think of the expectations you’d have if you went to a museum or to the theater. It’s a whole new adventure with a brand new set of expectations. Children are not mind readers, obviously, and they aren’t always very good at picking up on subtle clues. Just because everyone else is whispering doesn’t mean they will unless you tell them calmly (preferably ahead of time) that whispering is what everyone does in an art museum.

      9. Prepare Children for Transitions

      Another great teaching trick you can use at home is preparing your child for a transition. Think about a day in elementary school. Your child goes from his desk to the rug for circle time to stations to the library to the gym to lunch and back again. At school this process seems to go so smoothly for an experienced teacher.

      Yet when your child is at home and you tell him it’s time to go from one place to the other he throws a fit. Or refuses. Or begs and pleads. Or even runs the other direction. What those savvy elementary school teachers know that many parents do not is that you not only need to tell your child your expectations (how else would they know to walk in those nice quiet lines at school?) but also the teacher prepares the students for transition ahead of time.

      Children do not change gears instantly. They are usually pretty intent on doing what they are doing, especially if it is fun. When you tell them it’s time to go right now, it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid and your child reacts dramatically.

      Instead, give your child a head’s up along with some information about what’s coming next. This allows for processing time and eases the transition.

      This might sound like a notice to your child that he “only has five more minutes to play and then we need to head to the grocery store before heading home”. You might even give him a visual cue like, “When the clock says 3:45 we’re going to head to the store. That gives you five more minutes to play here before we leave”.

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      10. Judge The Action, Not The Child

      A practice we should all have is to never judge your child. Judge his actions. Telling your child he’s “a bad kid” or that he’s “a terrible reader” is going to destroy his confidence and give him some negative voices in his mind to overcome as he tries to grow up and be successful.

      Even if you are beyond frustrated with your child, don’t tell him he’s “bad.” Tell him instead that you are extremely disappointed in his “bad behavior.” You can fuss at him about the choices he is making because he can always make better choices. Fussing at him because he’s “an idiot” or “a rotten kid” isn’t going to help anything. It’s going to make your problems much worse down the road.

      11. Focus on Sleep Patterns

      If you could only fix one thing in your child’s life, fix his sleeping behaviors. Children in elementary school need up to twelve hours of sleep every night. At an absolute minimum your school age child should be getting nine or ten hours of sleep every night.

      This means putting your child to bed early enough that he can get all of the sleep he needs before it’s time to get up and prepare for school in the morning. This may mean cutting some of his evening activities or starting homework earlier in the day.

      It’s important to realize that your child needs about ten hours of sleep every night. That doesn’t mean he should be in bed for ten hours. He should be asleep for that long. That will probably mean starting showers even earlier and doing any reading earlier in the evening. Electronics should leave the bedroom early enough that your child can wind down and sleep. Screens actually make it harder to fall into a good sleep, so watching television or staring a phone can make sleeping harder, not easier. Getting enough sleep every night can fix a host of issues for your child. A lack of sleep has been linked to poor grades, poor attention spans, behavior issues and even poor eating habits.

      If you make a good night’s sleep a priority every night, you can set up all other routines and expectations that connect to bedtime easily as well.

      12. Plan for Future Concerns

        Think about what can do the most damage to your child when he’s a teen. Drugs, alcohol, poor driving, sleep deprivation, surly attitudes and more all haunt parents of younger children because we just don’t know what to expect, and there is no magical way to see into the future, but you can plan now for what you expect to happen in the future.

        For example, if your child takes his phone or tablet to bed every night to play a bit before going to sleep it may not be a big issue now. But it can be a huge issue very soon. Phones are one of the things that keep teens up during the night and interrupt that important sleep cycle. Even if it seems harsh now, consider a ban on phones from bedrooms after a certain time.

        Turn off all televisions and electronics at a set time of day. Set a curfew before your child needs one. Make reading a part of the daily routine. Start a routine now for chores and household duties. Elementary school children are a bit more malleable and certainly tend to be better natured about things than teenagers who are looking to be independent.

        Choose your battles now and fight them with an eight year old at the present time. Then, once the battle is won, you can simply continue the expectation for the next ten years under the guise of routine and “that’s how it’s always been around here!”

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        Published on April 3, 2020

        How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

        How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

        Now is a perfect time to work on making some memories with your closest family members. When situations call for social distancing outside of our home, we need to do the opposite within home.

        Now, more than ever, we need to engage with those living in our home. We may be together for a while, but look at it is way, it is a wonderful opportunity to create some good family memories and positive interactions together.

        Staying home can be isolating, especially when we hole ourselves up in different rooms than our other family members. Make an effort to spend quality time together. Sitting in the same room on different electronic devices is not quality family time. Put down the elections, join together in one room, and do activities together.

        Your family bonding becomes stronger when you spend time doing activities together. Below are 10 ideas you can do with your family and loved ones.

        1. Create Photo Albums

        If you are like most of the population, you probably have lots of photos and very few physical albums. My parents generation always had photo albums. I can go to my parents’ home in Florida and find at least 20 albums from the lives of my parents and my childhood that I can flip through and reminisce. Physical, tangible photo albums are always cherished.

        Look back at the past five years of your life. Were there meaningful trips that you took as a family or major life events such as a Baptism, marriage, or birth of a child that happened in the past few years? Do you have photos of the event stored somewhere digitally such as social media, on your phone, or on a computer? If you do and you want to savor those memories for years to come, then you may want to think about creating some photo albums.

        This is a great activity for family of all ages. You can approach the project in one of several ways. You can print the photos and put them in your own physical photo album (the kind our parents used and you can still buy), you can scrapbook, or you can create an online photo album.

        Whichever choice you make, the family can be involved in the process. I like the tangible photos and traditional albums or basic (no frills) scrap-booking, as do my kids. We have albums in all three formats. Whichever method you decide to do you can involve the whole family in the creation process.

        Scrap booking as a family can be fun too. It does not have to be over the top either. We do it with scrap booking paper (12 by 12 inches), photos, and bits of paper to write captions for the photos. The family uses photo safe glue to secure the photos to paper that each person selected and then we slide the pages into the clear page holders of the album. Albums are easy to create using this method and this method still allows for personalization of each page.

          To do a photo album project, I simply print out the photos that I want to use for the album. Many albums will ship printed photos directly to your home. For example, we did a National Park trip this past summer and visited seven of them in the United States over a three-week span.

          I printed all of the photos from the trip that I thought we could use for the album. Then I cut strips of colored paper. I use these strips to write a sentence of two. I usually put a strip with details on each page, but not every photo because that becomes more tedious.

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          Having everyone select and do a page or two and write the details about what the photos they selected makes it even more meaningful. For example, my son Charlie writing “This is Glacier National Park where we camped and Max got bit by gobs of ants at the dog run and we had to find a vet to help him” makes it memorable. His handwriting and the thing that captured his memory about that particular day are special. It adds his touch to the memories from the trip. Having every family member participate in putting the photos into the book and writing a few sentences for the photos that they are putting into the book helps to make it a shared family experience.

          It is also a wonderful time for revisiting the occasion that you are creating the album about. For example, doing an album as a family for a trip you all took together provides us with plenty to talk about as we go through the photos. My kids always get excited and say “look mom, remember when….” about a hundred times anytime we do an album together. The photo album activity is a bonding activity, as is the reminiscing over special time you spent together in the past.

          2. Indoor Camping with Sheet Forts

          What kid doesn’t love a good sheet fort? Sheet forts are the kind of memories that make a childhood great. If your kids don’t have any sheet fort memories, then now is the time to start making them!

          All you need are some sheets. The bigger, the better. Flat and fitted work just fine. Fitted sheets can be helpful to secure under legs of tables since they have elastic corners and are gathered. We like to use tables, chairs, and sometimes couch cushions too. You create a space using the furniture and then cover the furniture with sheets. You are essentially making indoor tents.

          My kids like to play inside their forts for hours once they are created. I help with the creation, to ensure that things don’t fall over and hurt anyone, but once that is done, I let them play. They will take books, little action figures, and their stuffed animals into their fort to play. Feel free to climb into their fort with them too! They will think you are the best parent ever!

            3. Bake or Cook Together

            Staying at home is a great opportunity to cook or bake together as a family. If you have special recipes that you would like to teach your children, now is a great time to do that.

            If you have grandma’s apple pie recipe that has been passed down for generations, it would be a nice time to make it with your children. You can use the time to talk about your grandparents, the heritage of your family, and perhaps the meaning of the recipe to you.

            After you make the special dessert or dish with your children, it will then have special meaning to them too. They will be able to recall the time that they made that special concoction with you and the memories you made from that day.

            Here’re also some ideas for you: 15 Easy Recipes for Kids That Don’t Require an Oven

            4. Play Board Games Together

            I come from a family that plays games together. Even as adults, we love to play Boggle, Scrabble, Rummikub, and a variety of card games.

            My kids have caught the game bug too. When we go camping or are home over the weekend, we will play Uno, Connect Four, Dominoes, and Memory. These board and card games are inexpensive and provide hours of entertainment. It is also a great way to bond as a family and create memories.

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            Some of my favorite memories from childhood are sitting at the kitchen table playing games with my siblings and parents.

            For very young children, you can start with games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. From there, you can move onto slightly more challenging games for their minds such as Uno, Monopoly Junior, Memory, War (basic card game), and Connect Four.

            My kids started playing Candy Land at the ages of three and four. From there, they have been hooked on family game time ever since. They ask often to play together and now is a great time to teach them to play even more games. The entertainment, laughs, and memories are priceless!

            5. Put on a Show or Play

            Family talent shows, putting on a play, and putting on a musical show do not require an audience. Your family can do the show and record on your phone or other electronic device. It doesn’t need an audience other than you all to make it memorable. It is the experience of collaborating, planning, and executing the show together that make it special.

            My kids began making their own hat creations out of our various art supplies. I have been helping them in the process. We have art class daily as part of our new home school curriculum (I am one of those moms who never wanted to home school, yet I am doing it because our schools are closed indefinitely).

            Art class daily has become hat making time. Once they have made enough hats for a fashion show, I said we would put on a show and record it. It has spurred on their motivation to create elaborate works of art. They are excited about each hat and the show that is to come to fruition.

            You can find free plays and scripts on Free Drama. You can act them out as a family and record just for fun. You can also use a script from the website to create a puppet show. Each family member can then play multiple roles and it opens the door to more characters.

            If you don’t have puppets, then make some! You probably have a basket of mismatched socks like we do. It is a great way to use them at this point. Go to Pinterest for ideas on how to make sock puppets. Creating the puppets together is also a great bonding activity. Once you have your characters made, then you can act it out.

            Don’t forget to video it, because I can guarantee that your kids are going to be interested in seeing their own performance. Such a great way to make family memories and it doesn’t cost much, if anything at all!

            6. Reading Aloud

            Reading a book aloud is a great way to create some bonding time and memories. It is a much better alternative than everyone isolating themselves doing their own activities. Being pulled into the same imaginative world through a book creates a shared experiences.

            I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea to my mom when we were on a car trip when I was a kid. I recall talking about the premise of the book and our opinions about it. It obviously left an impression on me, as I remember this over 25 years later.

            I have read aloud books to my kids too. The first chapter book we read aloud together was Charlotte’s Web. After we read the book together, we then watched the movie. It is sweet how my kids will still point on the book or movie if we see it somewhere in public. They will say “remember when we read the book together and watched the movie?” They say it with such sweetness and innocent pleasure, it is a good reminder that the simple things in life are sometimes the best.

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            Some other good books that we have read aloud together that my kids personally enjoyed were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Secret Garden, and Little Women. I know several friends that have read the Harry Potter series with their children who are slightly older than my six and eight year old children.

            Medium shares a list of 20 great books to read aloud with your kids. Their list is helpful because it has descriptions along with recommended ages for each book.

            If you can’t get out of the house to go to the library, you should look into the digital software that your library utilizes. Visit your local library’s website to find out what apps you will need for you to borrow from their digital library.

            Our library offers a multitude of free e-book downloads. You borrow the materials much like you would a physical book. Usually, the downloads can be kept for 2-3 weeks at a time, depending on your library rules. They also have audible books available for download from many libraries as well. For example, our local library subscribes to Cloud Library. To use it, I simply downloaded the app and entered my library card information requested from the app. I was instantly given access to thousands of audible books free!

            7. Plant a Garden

            This tip only applies if you have a yard, however there are options for creating patio gardens and indoor gardens too. Planting a garden and teaching your child how to tend to vegetables is a wonderful bonding opportunity. You are teaching them real life skills, you will have real food to eat from your own garden, and you are creating memories that will last a lifetime.

            If you ask a person if they had a garden when they were a kid, everyone knows the answer. It is not something you have to think to hard about. Why? Because gardening is an experience. Why not experience it with your family too?

            If you don’t know much about gardening, then you can learn with your child as you go through the process. Here is an article from Bonnie Plants on how to plant a garden.

            If you don’t want to leave your home, then you can order gardening supplies online like I did. Lowe’s dropped off our raised garden bed kit on my doorstep and I ordered a variety of seeds from Amazon. Just look online at the garden stores that are closest to you and see what they ship to doorstep if you don’t want to leave the house.

            8. Host Your Own Family Party

            Just because you are home and can’t have a big party with lots of friends doesn’t mean you can’t still have a party. A party with your family is fun if you decide to make it fun.

            Pick a theme to really make it an event. An 80’s themed dance party is sure to get the whole family laughing and smiling. Pull out your best 80’s looking clothing, rat your hair to get that special 80’s look, put on some 1980’s tunes, and teach your kids some dance moves from the 80’s.

            Having a dance party doesn’t require many people. A party of two is still a party! Make some memories and perhaps show your kids what things were like when you were a kid. They will certainly remember an 80’s themed dance party for many years to come.

            Weekends spent at home don’t mean that they can’t be fun. Make the weekend special even if you have to be home. For example, Friday can be family movie night or family game night. Then Saturday night can be your 80’s dance party. Let your creativity go to work and if you need a few ideas check out this blog article that has 32 Party Theme Ideas .

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            9. Learn an Instrument Together

            No time better than the present to start learning to play that instrument you have always wanted to play.

            Have you always wanted to play the guitar? Then, look online for a basic learning guitar that isn’t expensive, yet has good reviews. We did that for my daughter and purchased a decent quality ukulele from Amazon that was intended for beginners while still having a quality sound (it wasn’t some trinket from a tourist destination that wouldn’t hold a tune.)

            We found lessons online from an instructor who would conduct lessons one on one using Skype. Many instructors use this technology or other free software that allows quality video communications from their home to yours.

            The website we happened to use to find an instructor was TakeLessons.com. You can find instructors that will teach anything from drums to cello to saxophone. Prices vary too. You pick your instructor from their pool of instructors available. This website is basically a service that connects people with talent (some with really good music education too) who can teach to students who are looking to learn.

            Learning to play an instrument together and you are creating memories together! You are also learning a new skill that you can enjoy for years to come. Playing music together is good for the mind and soul!

            The TakeLessons.com website also has language lessons. You can learn a new language as a family. All from the comfort of your own home. I am sure there are many different website that offer lessons on learning another language. Do your research and compare prices before committing to anything.

            10. Plan Future Travels

            While you are learning a new language you can begin planning future vacations. You can do a family meeting and discuss where you would like to go and why.

            It would be even better to have each child research where they would like to take a trip. Each child and/or family member can present a pitch on why your family should travel to that location in the future. They can use their research to tell about the area such as its historical value, recreational features, and the learning experiences that can be had from such travels.

            This doesn’t mean you need to book any travels. It more about learning and finding hope in the future. If we can’t plan for the future, then there is no hope. Make mental plans now, as a family, for what you want to do and where you want to travel someday.

            Make Memories Today!

            There is no time better than the present to start making memories together and bonding as a family. In these times when many people are having to stay home for extended periods of time, it is a great opportunity to bond and connect as a family.

            You have a captive audience with your children at home. Don’t miss out on this time by holing up in separate rooms doing your own activities. Make it a point to chose group activities and engage your family during this time at home.

            Every day alive is a blessing. Every day having your family is blessing. Don’t take your blessings for granted. Love on them and create great memories in spite of the circumstances.

            Featured photo credit: Marisa Howenstine via unsplash.com

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