If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do well matters very much.
—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Family has been everything to your child until now. But as she enters middle childhood, her identity also becomes tied to her roles as a student and as a member of a peer group. These new roles can add enormous pressure to her life. As a student, she’s expected to sit still, follow directions, and master academic skills. And socially, your child will seek acceptance among her peers—perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of her school years.
Your child’s omniscient new teacher may usurp your role as the answerer of all questions, but you still have the critical job of maintaining your child’s positive self-image. Spending time with your child by reading, talking, walking, and doing fun activities is the best way to accomplish this. No matter what happens while she’s away from you, your smiles, hugs, and praise tell her she’s special and loved.
The following activities promote family harmony and impart a sense of family history and tradition. They also help your child develop a positive self-image and affirm her identity as a loved and valued member of your family.
Ideally, a home is a place of harmony—but realistically, it’s often a place of discord. Children are naturally self-centered, which probably accounts for a lot of conflict, and sometimes the personalities of family members clash. In addition, the dynamics within a family change when a new baby is born, when children enter and leave various childhood stages, and when parents go through various changes and experience stress in their own lives.
Some people believe whining, bickering, and fighting are normal. I believe that while perfect family harmony is rare, there are many things parents can do to prevent discord:
• Parents can approach life positively and fight the temptation to view everything negatively.
• Parents can demonstrate the respect with which family members should treat each other.
• Parents can set a standard for behavior and enforce it with firm, consistent discipline.
• Parents can expect their children to help out around the home.
• Parents can accept their children for who they are rather than who they want their children to be.
Living together harmoniously doesn’t come naturally. It’s an ongoing process that takes a lot of work, but the effort is worth it. The following ideas will help you encourage your child, build her self-esteem, and establish order and peace in your home.
Apples of Gold
The biblical wise man Solomon wrote, “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
Gold construction paper
Cut apple shapes from the construction paper. Talk with your child about words that make you feel good. Write these words on the apples. Glue the apples onto the poster board. Hang your poster in a prominent place to remind your family to use encouraging words with each other.
What a Character!
Poster board or construction paper
Discuss the positive qualities of each member of your family. Write them all on a large sheet of poster board or use construction paper to make a miniature poster for each person. Display the poster(s) prominently to boost everyone’s self-esteem and to remind family members to think about each other positively.
Shoebox with lid
Paint, markers, stickers, and so on
Use a utility knife to cut a slot in the lid of the shoebox. Let your child decorate the box with paint, markers, stickers, and so on. Attach a pencil to the box with string and a bit of tape. Place a notepad next to the box.
Use the box to praise and encourage everyone in your family. When you see your child playing nicely, write it down and slip the note into your praise box. When your child is especially kind, respectful, or obedient, do the same. Explain to your child that parents need encouragement as much as kids do, and that she’s welcome to write positive comments about you to put into the praise box.
Open your praise box once a week or once every two weeks and take turns reading the notes in it. Afterward, celebrate your family by having a night of games or special snack together.
Love, Love, Love
The following ideas will help the members of your family communicate their love to each other.
• Ask your child why she loves a particular parent, sibling, grandparent, or friend. Alternatively, you might ask your child about the funniest thing that person ever did. You’re sure to get some priceless answers! Write down your child’s answers and have her decorate the note with crayons or markers. Sneak the love note into the appropriate person’s lunch the next day.
• Ask your child, “Who loves you?” and write down her answer. Keep asking her, “Who else loves you?” and write down each name she says. Read her the list when she’s finished. Title the list “Look Who Loves _____” and let her decorate it. Display the list on your refrigerator or in your child’s bedroom to remind her how much she’s loved.
• If you have access to a tape recorder, make an audiotape for your child to play before bed. Sing her favorite songs; tell her a story; talk about the things you enjoy doing together; tell her you love her and why you’re thankful for her. Your child will enjoy listening to it over and over again.
A busy home functions best if household chores are shared, and doing chores helps children learn responsibility, teamwork, and practical skills.
Sheet of poster board or paper
Divide a sheet of poster board or paper into eight rows. Divide the rows into columns, allowing one column for each child in your family plus one extra. Starting with the second row in the far left column, label each row for one day of the week. Starting with the second column in the top row, label each column with one child’s name.
Now assign chores. Use words for readers and pictures or symbols for nonreaders. Be specific about which chores to do on what days. For example, it’s not enough just to say “vacuum.” Make it clear that the living room is vacuumed on Monday, the playroom on Tuesday, and so on. Also, provide a list of job descriptions that tell exactly what each chore entails. (For example, washing dishes also includes wiping up the sink and putting the dishes away.)
We assign chores yearly because this helps our children gain proficiency with their chores; because then chores can be better assigned according to abilities; and because our children need less reminding when certain chores are always their responsibilities.
Rule of the Day
Peaceful homes are usually those in which children obey the rules of the home and respect their parents and each other. But most children don’t do this naturally. Teaching a child obedience and respect is an ongoing process—and one she’s more receptive to when her family knows how to laugh and have fun together. Telling jokes and doing fun family activities are good ways to share a few laughs and enjoy each other. So is having a “rule of the day.”
Establish a silly rule that your family must follow for a day. For example, can your family go a whole day without saying the word mom? Or how about making a rule that all meals must be eaten standing up? Try singing everything instead of speaking . . . or addressing family members by their full names . . . or wearing your clothes backward . . . or singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” before you sit anywhere . . . and watch the giggles flow!
You needn’t do this every day. Perhaps you’ll do it only on weekends, holidays, or when your family is stressed out. Have a special treat or family movie night at the end of every “rule” day.
Posting a list of acceptable and unacceptable behavior goes a long way toward establishing a peaceful home. It helps parents be consistent in discipline and helps children know exactly what is expected of them.
Gather everyone in your family and brainstorm a list of family rules. For example, your rules might include We speak quietly with each other, We put others first, We always tell the truth, and so on. Write the rules with a marker on poster board and let your child illustrate the poster.
Post your family rules in a prominent place and add to them as necessary. When your child’s behavior needs correcting, refer to the rules to reinforce that her behavior doesn’t meet your family’s standards and to help her understand that she’s responsible for her misbehavior—it really is against the rules; it’s not just that Mom or Dad is having a bad day. If you like, choose appropriate consequences for breaking each rule and write those down, too. This technique helps you apply discipline consistently and helps your child know what to expect when she does wrong.
Hearing stories of their births and babyhoods helps children feel special and loved, and it naturally builds their self-esteem. And as much as they enjoy hearing about themselves, children also love looking at photos and keepsakes from their parents’ childhoods and hearing stories about the “olden days.” Use the following activities to take a walk down memory lane with your child.
When You Were Born
Baby scrapbook and/or keepsakes
On a quiet afternoon or evening, cuddle up with your child to look at her baby scrapbook together. If you haven’t made a scrapbook, look through keepsakes like her hospital identification bracelet, her baby booties, and maybe even a prenatal ultrasound image. Talk about the day your child was born, the day she came home from the hospital, how and why you chose her name, and so on. You’ll probably enjoy telling these tales as much as your child will enjoy hearing them.
Family photo albums
Set aside a few hours one day to look through family photo albums with your child. You might look at photos of your wedding, of family vacations, of your child’s toddler years, or of friends and relatives your child hasn’t met. Looking at photos together and telling your child the “thousand words” behind each photo will help you give your child a sense of tradition and belonging.
The Olden Days
Most kids can’t imagine a world without them in it, and many think their parents were born old! Prove that you used to be a kid by sharing memories from your childhood.
Photos, scrapbooks, and/or keepsakes from your childhood
Set aside an afternoon or evening to look through your childhood photos, scrapbooks, and/or keepsakes with your child. Talk about what you were like as a child and describe your parents and siblings, the things your family did together, your friends, your school memories, and so on. My kids love to do this activity, and I love turning the clock back for a few hours. Remembering my childhood also helps me look at life from a child’s perspective.
Family Movie Night
If your family owns a video camera, you’ve probably got hours and hours of footage that you haven’t watched in a while. Snuggle under a blanket or lie on the floor and share a special snack as you turn back the clock and relive your early days as a family.
Personal Time Line
Scissors, tape, glue, and photos (optional)
A time line can be as short as one page or as long as a wall.
To make a short time line, draw a vertical line down the middle of a sheet of paper. Write your child’s birth date on the left side of the line at the top of the page. On the right side of the line, write the corresponding event. (“I was born!”) Add other important dates and events, such as when your child started to walk and talk, when siblings were born, when your child started preschool, when you took family trips, and so on, in chronological order.
To make a long time line, cut a length of paper from a large roll or tape several sheets of paper together. Draw a horizontal line across the middle of the banner. Write the dates and events of your child’s life from left to right. Glue on photos or let your child illustrate each event. Hang the time line in your child’s room and add to it occasionally.
Making a visual family tree that shows your extended family is a project your child will really enjoy.
Collect photos of the people you want to include in your family tree. Before you draw your tree on poster board, sketch it on scrap paper. Show your child and her siblings at the bottom of the tree and work your way up the branches to show her extended family.
Using your sketch as a guide, pencil your family tree on poster board, then draw over your pencil lines with markers. Glue each photo in its proper spot onto the tree and label it with the name and birth date of the person pictured. You might also note marriage and death dates if you like.
Post your family tree in a prominent place where the whole family can admire it.
Family Time Line
A family time line covers many years and many people, so consider making yours on a long banner or in book format.
To make a banner time line, cut a length of paper from a large roll or tape several sheets of paper together. Draw a horizontal line across the middle of the banner. At the left edge, record your first event. Write the date on one side of the line and describe the event on the other side. Add other events, such as births, deaths, marriages, and other important family milestones, in chronological order. Glue on photos or let your child illustrate each event.
To make a book time line, use plain white paper in a three-ring binder. Draw a horizontal line across the middle of each page. Decide on the period of time each page will cover and label the pages accordingly. Record events and illustrate them in the same way as the banner time line described above.
Don’t forget to update your time line as new events occur!
Imagine your child as a parent, twenty or thirty years from now. On her lap she holds your young grandchild. Together they’re looking at mementos from your child’s past—perhaps a scrapbook, report cards, class photos, and so on. The following activities will help your child create many treasures she can enjoy herself and share with her own family in the years to come.
Help your child make a memory box where she can store her special mementos and childhood treasures.
Cardboard box with lid
Magazines, photos, paint, markers, and/or stickers
Clear contact paper (optional)
Have your child decorate a cardboard box and its lid. She might want to glue magazine pictures or photos of herself onto the outside of the box, paint pictures on the box, or simply decorate it with markers and/or stickers. If you like, cover the box with clear contact paper.
Encourage your child to store photos, report cards, award certificates, and other mementos in her memory box. Looking through her box will be a great activity for your child when she’s sick, on rainy days, or when there’s just “nothing to do.”
Family Book of Records
This idea is adapted from 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do with Your Child by Steve and Ruth Bennett.
Markers or crayons
Label the dividers with categories like Academic Achievements, Athletics, Family Games, Food, Random Acts of Kindness, and so on. Place the dividers and a supply of paper into the binder.
Now you’re ready to record your family’s day-to-day records. For example, what’s the longest Monopoly game you’ve ever played? Who read the most books last month? Who has eaten the most lima beans in one sitting? Who did something unusually kind for someone else? For younger family members, record how many blocks they can stack, how many times they can jump on one foot, and so on. For each record, be sure to describe the feat, the record, the record holder, and the date.
If you have more than one child and don’t want your kids competing against each other, keep a separate book of records for each child and encourage your kids to beat their own records, not those of others. And to ensure that everyone has her moment of glory, let each record stand for at least twenty-four hours before it can be challenged.
A Day in the Life of . . .
When I was growing up, the high price of photography meant photo taking was reserved for special occasions. Now, however, cameras are readily available and fairly inexpensive. Encourage your child to be a photographer now and then, recording people, places, things, and events that are meaningful to her.
Digital camera or camera with film
Let your child use your camera or buy your child an inexpensive camera of her own. (Even disposable cameras take fairly good pictures.) Encourage her to take photos of subjects that interest her, whether they’re people, pets, or your weed-filled garden. Remind her to pay attention to the background of the photo, to keep her fingers away from the lens, and to hold the camera steady when squeezing the shutter release. Encourage her to view subjects from different angles and distances.
Your child can use her photos to illustrate a story or mount them in a small scrapbook as a photo diary. She can make photo books with various themes—perhaps nature, animals, or people in your neighborhood. She can combine photography with other hobbies by taking photos of things like her rock collection or her efforts at gardening or cooking. She can use photos to create place mats, greeting cards, or bookmarks.
Make memory books with your child based on various subjects or events in her life—soccer, birthday parties, your vacation at the ocean, her visit to her grandparents’ house, and so on. (Memory books also make great gifts.)
Several sheets of construction paper
Markers or gel pens
Collect all the keepsakes you want to include in the book: photos, scraps of gift-wrap, ticket stubs, brochures, programs, and so on. Decide what your memory book will look like. Perhaps you want to make a heart-shaped one or a soccer ball–shaped one or a square one. Cut paper to the size and shape you want, punch holes in it, and tie the pages together with ribbon. Glue the keepsakes onto each page and use markers or gel pens to add names, dates, and comments. For bulky items, attach a small envelope or a construction paper pocket.
Pens and markers
Computer and printer (optional)
Create a family newspaper to report on happenings in your home, record opinions on current events, and showcase hobbies, interests, and achievements. Encourage each family member to contribute to the newspaper. Younger children can dictate stories and draw pictures, while older children can write or type their own pieces. Here are some topics children may enjoy:
arrival of a new pet
interview with parents or grandparents
survey on favorite foods, toys, hobbies books, movies
opinions on cooking, family rules, chores
Assemble your newspaper on a computer or by cutting and gluing articles to sheets of paper. Circulate your newspaper by posting it on your refrigerator or by sending copies to relatives and family friends. Be sure to make enough copies so that each child can save one for posterity.
Help your child create a time capsule to be opened next year—or ten years from now.
Current photo of your child
Current photo of your family
Other meaningful keepsakes
Tape or ribbon
Help your child prepare information to put into her time capsule by asking her questions (and writing down her responses if necessary). You might ask about favorite foods, songs, activities, friends, and so on. Ask your child what she looks forward to in the coming years and what she expects life to be like next year or when she’s a teenager or an adult. When everything is written down, place the paper in a small shoebox along with a current photo of your child, a current photo of your family, and other meaningful keepsakes. Place the lid on the shoebox and write your child’s name on it, the date on which the time capsule is being closed, and the date on which it’s to be opened. Secure the time capsule with tape or ribbon and keep it in a safe place until it’s time to open it.
Video Time Capsule
Ask your child questions on camera, such as who her friends are, what she likes to do and eat, and so on. She may also enjoy just chatting about herself and her day-to-day life. Record your child’s world: her friends, home, school, church, sports activities, and so on. Label the finished recording with your child’s name, the current date, and the date it’s to be viewed. Keep it in a safe place until it’s time to watch it. If you have more than one child, make a different recording for each child. If you like, add a new segment every year so that in the future, you’ll be able to watch your child grow up on her video time capsule.
Diary or notebook
Suggest to your child that she begin the habit of writing in a journal. She needn’t do it every day; once or twice a week is fine, too. Encourage her to describe her thoughts and feelings as well as events. She’ll find that a journal is a great way to remember her past and see how far she’s come.
Book of Me
Markers, stickers, rubber stamps, and so on
Help your child make a book about herself and her life. Choose photos to include and look through old magazines for pictures and words that help portray who she is. Glue the photos and cutouts onto construction paper. Add text that tells about your child. Your child can decorate the pages with drawings, stickers, rubber stamps, and so on. Make a title page that includes the name of your child and the date. When the book is complete, assemble the pages, punch holes in them, and tie them together with ribbon.
If you like, make a bound book for your child by following the directions.
Heavy matte board
Markers, stickers, rubber stamps, and so on
Clear acrylic spray (optional)
Help your child make a collage about herself and her life. Choose photos to include and look through old magazines for pictures and words that help portray who she is. Glue the photos and cutouts onto a sheet of heavy matte board. Your child can add drawings, stickers, rubber stamps, and so on to the collage. When the collage is complete, preserve it with clear acrylic spray if you like. Ask your child about the pictures and words she’s used.
Book of Lists
Books of lists are popular with children. My kids enjoy The Best Ever Kids’ Book of Lists by Eugenie Allen, which lists things like the natural wonders of the world, the scariest people ever, and the grossest vegetables. Your child may enjoy making her own book of lists.
Pen or markers
Old magazines (optional)
Help your child make a book of lists about herself, her life, or anything else that interests her. She might want to list food she likes and dislikes, friends, favorite books, music, movies, TV shows, sports she plays or would like to play, pets she owns or would like to own, and so on. Your child can illustrate her book or, if she likes, include pictures from old magazines.
When the book is complete, assemble the pages, punch holes in them, and tie them together with ribbon. If you like, make a bound book for your child by following the directions.