Later We Are Going To…
Adults like to have a plan for what is coming next in their day. Children are no different. When they know what’s happening later, it can help them balance their emotions and better handle the transition between activities.
I get so many phone calls from clients about challenges in parenting, especially parenting more than one child. Some are adjusting to life with a new baby, some are solo parenting while their partner works out of the country half the time, others are commuting long hours to the suburbs because they can’t afford housing in the city. Most just ask how they can connect with their children and provide them with greater continuity during these changing times. How can they forecast the days events for their children in order to foster smooth transitions and resilience throughout the day? Teaching the child to see the rhythm of the day and week can help.
He crossed off today on the big calendar she had drawn, each square filled with a cartoon picture of a plane, mummy’s face, trees, beach, a house, another plane on the last square. He pointed to mum’s cartoon face -
“Later, we are going to FaceTime mummy.”
He jumped into the daytime reality of wrangling a toddler and a preschooler, shopping for groceries, outdoor playtime, then lunch and naps, and more outside playtime before dinner, bath and bed. That night, after the kids were asleep, he looked at the dishes piled beside the sink. Maybe he needed to work out a better schedule for the day. He had chosen to be the at-home parent, but it was hard when they cried for mum when she was away at a conference. Perhaps, he thought, she had drawn the calendar for him, more than for the kids.
He posted to Facebook that he just wanted to find balance and avoid chaos this week while he was solo parenting.
Today, parents face the near impossible task of following evidence-based parenting, reading Gordon Neufeld and Jennifer Kolari when they can, navigating each day consistently, while trying to focus on connection, setting realistic expectations, calmly setting limits, giving 5-minute warnings, singing transition songs, and avoiding screen time and treats. Perhaps they need to remember the “good enough parent” rule of not feeling guilty when things don’t go exactly as planned. You can only do your best.
Then how do you stay connected with your children, so you all have the resilience to deal with any big feelings that come up, when moving from one activity to the next?
I always keep in mind the advice of a mum of five — “Run them outside for four hours a day and they won’t be any problem.” But, now I’d add, “Give them a forecast of the day — tell them about it in advance, so they know what’s coming next.”
In addition to outdoor play, think about adding the ritual of briefing and de-briefing. At any age, you can forecast the rhythm and flow of the day. Talk about what happened earlier. What is happening now. What will happen next. I have always done this with my doula clients as they navigate the unknown world of birth, and it also works well to bring continuity to the unpredictable world of young children. It helps them to anticipate the day.
He draws inspiration from the hand-drawn calendar his partner drew for the children. He has an idea. Just as the calendar provides a framework for the children’s week while their mum is away, his words will form the framework for the day. When they tumble into bed in the morning, he can forecast the day for them. They don’t need a better, more rigid schedule, they need a better rhythm to calm their emotions and stay balanced as the day unfolds.
“First, we will go eat breakfast, then we will all get dressed. Later, we are going to hunt for slugs in the forest. Maybe we can find some gnomes.”
“We are stopping to pick up groceries and things for a picnic lunch. You can help put everything in the cart. Later we are going to look for crabs at the beach.”
“What else do you think you can do at the beach?”
Children often have their best days when they are connected to nature, when they are in the forest or at the beach or kicking a soccer ball. No clocks. No rigid schedule. Just a focus on independent self-led play. Many children cope best with this kind of slow and quiet day, and don’t cope well in large crowds or surrounded by loud noises. Their resilience might wear thin after a busy day, and they might melt down easily. Providing consistent forecasting can really help these children.
As he carries his daughter on his shoulders and holds his son’s hand, they list off all the things they could do at the forest or the beach as they finish the boring but necessary errands first. The children are engaged in the flow of the day. They start to think about time and how the things they do are connected. They settle into the walk.
At his daughter’s nap time, while his son is building Lego in the next room, the dad lists all the things that they did that morning, and tells her that he will be there when she wakes up. The boy talks about what he thinks mum is doing right now. The ritual telling of today’s past, present, and future helps them to connect and relax.
“Later we will look at a map to see where mum is.” They feel the safety of rhythm and ritual. Later, they can talk about how they felt about each part of the day, and what could make each transition easier. They will point to the calendar and talk about how many sleeps until mum comes home.
Meals, preschool, and bed time are anchor points of the day. “Later we are going to…” brings predictability to the day. There doesn’t need to be rigid schedule. The day can have a flexible and natural rhythm. The day’s activities can take each person’s needs into consideration. If one child is especially tired or not feeling well, then the day’s activities can be adjusted. It just works.
The next morning, he touches the last square on the hand-drawn calendar, as the children eat breakfast. He checks to see if they are listening -
“Later we are going to sit on the roof of the car and watch mum’s plane land. Then, later, mum and I will sit in the car seats, and you can both drive us home.”
The kids laugh!
So, why don’t you add forecasting, briefing and debriefing to your parenting toolbox! Then, if you are facing unpredictable days because of a new baby coming home, or a parent needing to travel for work, or illness in the family, or long work days, “Later we are going to…” might just help your family return to a balanced daily rhythm.