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Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Von Trapp Family Tips

Tidbits and helpful hints for large families - By Guest Blogger Wendy Piazza

You could say that having a large family is “in my blood.” I am one of five children with 9 grandchildren on my parent’s side (and another on the way), and my dad is the oldest of ten. I have about thirty first cousins on that side and my “mama” and “papa” have over 20 great-grandchildren. Growing up it always felt relatively normal to be in the middle of commotion and chaos, but having a big family can be very rewarding as well. It all depends on how you view it; the joys far outweigh the headaches!

My husband and I now have four children of our own, and we have found (with help) lots of tricks over the past seven years that have really helped us to manage a growing family. I hope that a few of these ideas can help you as well.

Generally helpful tips:

When things get very loud, use a non-verbal signal to quiet things down.
I use a signal like turning off the lights or clapping a rhythm so everyone else can join in. When the kids hear or see this, it is a ‘code’ for them to quiet down so you I have their attention without yelling over them. (This was great when I was teaching 30 kids, and it still works!)

Make a checklist of things for each child to get done in a day.
Practicing piano, individual reading time, puzzles, chores, math drills, game time, computer time, etc... I make a checklist of activities and the amount of time they should spend on each, and the kids check them off as they go. The last item will be a fun, reward-type activity like video games (which also has a time attached to it). This is very helpful for us during the weekends or summer months when there is less structure. The kids love checking things off a list and know they’ve accomplished something. At the end of the day I feel great seeing everyone’s lists, knowing that I didn’t forget certain things I wanted them to do.

Play games to keep peace at the dinner table.
We often use a conversation starter game to keep a discussion going while we eat. When the kids are all involved in answering questions and giving their opinions on certain topics they are more well behaved.

Try using puppets for teaching and discipline.
When the kids clam up about something, I often pull out a puppet, or even my own hand (named “Hand”) and strike up a conversation with them. It’s like a third, very uninvolved, party. This worked very well with the kids until about age four or five. My kids were very eager to share a feeling, talk about why they got into trouble, or discuss the importance of chores with this little friend.

Use countdowns for transition time.
I realized that it just didn’t seem fair for the kids not to know when we were going to end an activity and then expect them to drop what they are doing right away. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “five minutes until we leave!” I use this trick for everything: countdown to snack time, while at the park, before a nap, computer time, etc... I use it on anything that needs a time limit. It gives the children a way to know when to wrap it up, and I believe it makes them feel more respected.

Let them be bored; they learn to be creative.
If my kids tell me they are bored, then I will either put them to work, if they would like, or they go to time-out while they think of something to do. While sitting in time-out they will usually come up with something pretty fast. This tip really cuts back on the whining and forces them to use creativity in solving their boredom.

If there is too much to clean then it’s time to give things away.
When the kids complain that their rooms are too messy to clean, I tell them it is time for a run to Goodwill. Most of the time they decide that they can handle it, but on a couple of occasions they did decide to give things away. The simpler I can keep the house the less overwhelming it is for all of us. Similarly, I like to “spring clean” more than once a year. Keeping it as simple as I can keeps me sane.

Picking on each other leads to serving one another.
When the kids would just pick on each other, I had a hard time thinking of a good consequence that would be related. After having thought a lot about it, I devised a plan that has worked out well for us. Anytime someone is being unloving to a sibling (in word or deed) they will be warned, and if the behavior persists they will spend the next day or so serving that person. They are to bring that child’s meals to the table and clean their spot afterwards. They will get a drink when the child is thirsty and help that person with any chores for the day, etc... This way they are showing that sibling through their actions that they do, in fact, love them. Of course this punishment is also accompanied by a nice little chat with mommy.

If they won’t stay seated, tie them down at the dinner table!
Most of the time my kids are not trying to get up every 30 seconds, but they just keep “forgetting” to stay in their seats. I tie a cute little ribbon around them connecting them to the chair. The ribbon is a gentle reminder to stay seated during mealtimes.

Nobody is perfect... at cleaning.
When the kids help to clean, I thank them for their help and know that it is merely practice. Their efforts mean more than the actual cleanliness of the room. The idea is that it will pay off later.

See things through their eyes.
I try to think about things from my child’s perspective. Often, I take time to put my children’s emotions into words for them so they feel understood. Even if the answer is still “no,” they hopefully feel my compassion and can learn to respect the response, knowing that I heard their concerns. I try daily to take time to smell the roses with them; a caterpillar can be really cool up close!

Most important: be more patient than you expect your children to be.
I try to set the example. Actions do speak louder than words. I try really hard think about what I am going to say before I say it (especially in a heated chaotic moment.) Many times this will help to defuse frustration before it comes to life through my words. A favorite quote of mine by Frank Outlaw sits in my desk. It reads, “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

Money and time saving tips:

If you have boys, think about cutting their hair yourself.
Thankfully, I have three boys and a husband who don’t mind home-made haircuts. The clippers are relatively inexpensive and simple to use. I know I’m saving money and can spend a little more on a cut for myself. My daughter will go with me every other time to get hers done too... it makes for a great mommy-daughter date!

Lowes Foods To Go!
I only use this service when I have a big run and too little time or too many children to bring. It is $6.00 and no tipping is accepted! Order on-line and then you have a personal shopper get all the items on your list. You drive to the store and pick up curb-side! And the apples they picked are the ones I would have picked myself. I was definitely impressed with the service.

Simplify the schedule without giving anything up.
The kids used to have weekly extra-curricular activities, until it just became too busy. Now, if possible, I schedule activities like piano and riding lessons every other week for 1 hour at a time, instead of 30 minutes every week. They still get the same amount of lesson time, only less transitioning. Definitely a WIN - WIN!

My Favorite: Partial House Cleaning Service.
I don’t have as much trouble keeping up with the main floor, but the upstairs seems to get neglected. I pay a fraction for a cleaning service to come and clean only the bedrooms and upstairs bathrooms top to bottom every other week.

Thank you, Wendy, for all your Smarty Tips! Large Family, or not, I think you have some wonderful suggestions for all of us!


Barb F said...

"Let them be bored" - terrific advice. I think my most memorable days growing up were the days that starting out as "so boring"!

Kelly C said...

Love it, Wendy! You always have great ideas :D

Anonymous said...

You sound like a great mom! Thank you for all of these suggestions.

Patrick M said...

Nice suggestions, and very creative!

Stephanie B said...

I liked reading how you looked at things through the eyes of a child. I bet that helps get the positive results you wanted as well as keep tears away. Keep writing!

Mother said...

I wish I could have read your blog when I was raising you...
Love, Mother

Gerald M said...

Very good, Wendy. But, then I wouldn't have expected anything less.

Anonymous said...

Great suggestions Wendy!
Ed & Betty

Charles M said...

Wendy, Wendy, Wendy,
I am so proud of, and happy for, you. You are such a great mom!! I am still saddened by the fact that so many students won't have the opportunity to benefit from all that love, respect and compassion from the wonderful teacher that you were to so many students. They won't even know what they missed...but your kids are definitely the lucky ones!! You're still tops in my book! Love you...Uncle Charles

Katie M said...

Wendy, I kept meaning to comment on what a great post this is - and how it applies even to the smallest of families. I loved hearing about your big family. I come from a small one, but my husband is the youngest of 10. His dad was the oldest of 9, and his dad's sister has 9 children. And, my children have 23 first cousins. It's great!

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