Quiet time

Once, most human beings lived in villages and on farms, and the atmosphere was quiet, reflective, with plenty of time for solitude and exposure to nature. When it was dark, they slept. Music and sound were made naturally or there was quiet. As parents, we certainly appreciate this idea, but children need it, too (although they may not realise it). Explain to your child that this is their quiet time. The length can vary from two to 15 minutes, depending on the age of the child. Explain that it is not a punishment and they will soon start to enjoy it. They are not to play, talk or walk around. A child can sit somewhere pleasant — on a bed looking out to the garden, on a couch by the window, on a chair in a sunny spot.

Instruct them in how to notice all of their sensations — for example, what can they feel touching pillows, a chair, clothes? What can they smell? Or taste in their mouth? Can they hear any sounds, like birds, the wind, traffic, breathing? What sensations can they feel on the inside of their body? Have them look at their surroundings, then pick something to study in detail. They can then close their eyes and imagine seeing inside their body, hearing, tasting and smelling, inside as well as outside.

The first few times, take the child through all of these steps and soon they will be able to do them without help. This can be done routinely once or twice a day, or if the child needs to be settled down during a busy day. It becomes a lifelong skill which is useful to children when they are upset for some reason, such as starting school, visiting the dentist or dealing with teasing. you’ve chosen tasks which are simple and no big deal, and that’s the way you want your child to treat them. This is the time for learning to follow reasonable instructions, without hassling, feeling bad, arguing or whingeing. There are times when jobs can be negotiated or changed because a child has objections.

For example, Steve needed our four-and-a-half-year-old’s help to turn open a valve on our diesel water pump, while he cranked it to start. It was a hot day and the youngster refused to come and do it. Steve was about to give him a blast and order him to do it, but instead he softened and asked: ‘Why not?’ The little boy explained very clearly that the diesel fumes were smelly and he didn’t like them. He and Steve waited at a distance for five minutes for the fumes to clear, then started the engine without a hitch. They came home holding hands, looking like proud and successful men.

Teaching children about getting the job done brings up all kinds of important lessons, such as:

– Holding a person to their word.

– Trust.

– Responsibility.

– Honesty.

– Being prompt.

– Remembering.

– Caring about others as well as yourself.

Be relaxed and happy as these questions start to surface. As you supervise your smart three- or four-year-old in their tasks, remember that these issues need to be talked out and learned as they are getting older and ready for school. Help them to think it through by giving them practical examples. For instance, a four-year-old who says: ‘I’ve forgotten to feed the cat’ needs to think through why we bother to feed cats. A creative mother we know, when it came to tea time, dished up food for everyone except the child and said: ‘Oh, I’ve forgotten about you, I’ll feed you tomorrow’ (just like the cat had to wait). She smiled knowingly, then gave the child some tea.

Here are some possible jobs for three- to four-year olds:

– Set the table. Count how many people, place-mats and pieces of cutlery are required, in the right places on the table. We used a game: knife rhymes with right, and right is the hand you write with (luckily, we’re all right handers).

– After the evening meal, scrape scraps into compost bin, put their own plate and cutlery on the bench. Wipe placemats with a cloth. Put them in the cupboard.

– Replace the toilet rolls.

– Feed the cat or dog with food from a cup (later learning to open the can as well).

Sometimes parents designate a particular day of the week — usually Saturday or Sunday — as their children’s regular jobs day. Others give each child one job per day. Routine daily self-help chores can include:

– Taking off pyjamas and putting them in the right place.

– Getting dressed.

– Doing up buttons and zips.

– Hair and teeth brushing.

These are general ideas only and need to be varied with your child’s age and capabilities. Each child is different and there are no comparisons. You will be sensitive to your child’s own timing. When they are ready to try something new, there should be no pressure or need to hurry them. They don’t have to grow up too fast.

By the age of about four or five, it’s good for your child to learn about money. Some parents start to give pocket money for doing jobs for the family; others give it as a right. You might try a combination and find out how you and your child feel about it — a basic wage, plus bonuses. Young children don’t need, and shouldn’t have, a lot of money to spend. They need to develop a sense of value which comes partly from shortages. A small amount is an interest, and encourages counting, figuring out what they most want, waiting and saving, and understanding why parents go to work. Responsibility — taking it slowly Be careful not to burden children with responsibilities. Err on the side of simplicity when assigning tasks or asking for their help, as you can always build up to more complex jobs. It’s asking for disappointment all round to give kids responsibilities which include precious, expensive or breakable objects. They just don’t have the necessary co-ordination yet.

It is also important that youngsters should never be made responsible for other children. You could ask a five-year-old to play with a one-year-old while you go to the kitchen to wash up, as you would have a clear idea of the five-year-old’s usual actions towards the baby, and the baby’s likely activities, as well as the safety of the room in which you have left them. And you are likely to be within earshot. But know that it is the risk you take.