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2016 2015

Acts of service -The Riempie Chair

There’s a hole in my bucket
Who  is in the back seat?

Kind words accomplish much

Many hands make light work

Teachers Comments
The Great Garage event


Quality time: filling spaces
Makes good business sense
Lets get reading


All about me – gifts
The Card

The Quiet Rhythms of Life
Genuine love in Me-Culture



Love and Discipline in a nutshell

Incremental Increases

Quality Time with Dad

Loving our girls in a princess culture

Help! I have a Quality Time child!

Is it true that Love Languages doesn’t work in every situation?

Playing Board Games together

Leaders lead with love
We’re a team
Moving wallpaper
Priceless Gift
The Love Invitation
Dealing with sarcasm and cutting words
Communicating Loud and Clear
The simple things in life
Fostering sibiling affection
These acts of service you should NOT be doing…!
First Things first



Gift Giving
With Mum and Dad

Grocery shopping
For the under sixes
Car Time
Loving Touch
Holidays again!
In the garden
1. Back to school

2. Settling in to Playgroup
Using physical touch
Packing for holiday
Vegetable gardening
Clothing messages
Giving words
The value of recycling

The diningroom table

Bedtime stories
Baking together
Celebrating a milestone birthday

Choosing gifts according to love languages

Acts of service -The Riempie Chair

My children are now in Grade 6 and Grade 4 and I am so enjoying being able to teach them all sorts of different things. Recently I decided it was time to re-riempie a chair that was looking quite dilapidated, and I found a company in Pretoria that will post a riempie kit to you so you can do the job yourself. There are helpful tutorials online, and my son and I spent a couple of hours learning the art of riempie-ing a chair! It really was quite satisfying and turned out to both manageable and enjoyable.

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There’s a hole in my bucket 

Question: is it possible to give love to a child and its never enough? No matter how many cuddles, how much time, how much love and they still seem to show signs of clinging and an empty love tank?

Yes this is possible in certain specific situations where something else is happening.

1. The child is needing love from one parent who is absent too much. They seem to cling to the available parent who may love them but it never seems to be sufficient.

2. The child has experienced something that undermines his/her security for example they were involved in a hijacking, house robbery or similar trauma, or a parent or close family member died.

3. The parents are going through a divorce or separation and the child has lost the parent who left and possibly also “lost” the remaining parent who could now be less emotionally available, having to shoulder all the responsibilities of working, running a home and parenting.

4. The child is battling to process how they feel about a specific situation for instance worrying about school performance, feeling pressurised by an overly busy extra mural programme, negotiating difficulties in friendships or worrying about a pending move to another city or country.

To support a child in any of the above situations, emotional processing needs to take place. Parents can make sure they help a child to identify and talk through their emotions (calmly and don’t overdo it) or get help from a professional who specialises in counselling children. 

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Who  is in the back seat?

We  have all heard the saying “taking the back seat”, referring to someone or  something that takes a lesser priority. I have to constantly evaluate whether my  priority relationships and involvements are “taking a front seat”  or whether they have been relegated to the back seat.

Priority  is determined by three things: where I spend my time, where I spend my money and resources, and  where I put my effort, thought and interest. Priorities are quickly revealed when we have  to make a choice between two things. My children will soon work out from my actions what the priority is and thus they will either learn to make this their  priority or they will reject my value system outright.

Is  my main attention on work, money, expensive car and expensive house? Then they  will learn that material things are of greatest importance. Or is my main  attention on family and interpersonal, face-to-face relationships? Then  they will learn to value people and relationships. Is my main attention on  myself and my comfort, my holidays and my recreation? Then they will learn to be  self-absorbed and attention-seeking. Or is my main attention on God and serving  others out of gratitude for what He has done for me? Then they will learn to be  other-focussed and giving. Is my main attention on social networking,  status and popularity? Then they will learn that self should be elevated  above all others. Or is my concern with loving my family and caring for others?  Then they will learn how to move away from self-centredness to otherness. 

We  live in a culture of self – my comfort, my time, my dreams, my future, my  success, my convenience, my image, my following, my money, my happiness, my  fun, my brief moment of fame. In the end the most important priorities of all  have to take a back seat while I put myself firmly in the front seat. The  cost of this was aptly summed up in the movie “Nothing for Mahala”  where Hendrik says of his daughter  that he was never there for her  when she was growing up and always away on business, and now she has no time for him in his old age. Erik Erikson’s “Psychosocial developmental stages” indicate self-absorption as a failure of the adult developmental stage as opposed to generativity which is a success of the adult developmental stage.

What  are your observable priorities? God-Family-Work-Me? Me-Work-Family-God? Work-Me-Family-God? Make sure the most important priorities of all  – loving God and  loving my family – are in the correct place. 

Kind words accomplish much

We all like to be spoken to with a kind and respectful tone of voice!

Once way to express words of affirmation love to children is to speak to them in a kind and respectful way when giving instructions, being my moral courtesy towards my child. A firm, clear yet kind tone combines love and discipline and expects a response that says “yes mommy”, being the child’s  moral obligation towards me (see “On becoming Childwise; Parent-wise Solutions; 1999; page 125 for the difference between a moral obligation and a moral courtesy).

Screaming, shouting or using manipulators (fear, obligation or guilt – See “Emotional Blackmail” by Susan Forward; Quill/Harper Collins; 1997) results in the use of manipulation and disrespect and probably more screaming in return!   Even if I am following through with a consequence my tone can be kind and firm rather than destructive, thus modelling the kind of controlled behaviour I am cultivating in my child.

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Teacher comments

As an English teacher of Grade 5 and 6 for a number of years, I can recall how time consuming it was to mark sets of books (4 sets per grade) – which was because I made the effort to write a comment on virtually every piece of work. As a parent I can see even more the value of written comments on children’s work – they convey interest and passion, are personal, and show depth of marking. Thank you to the superb teachers who take the time to do this! You connect closely with your learners and inspire them to work harder for you!

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Many hands make light work

All moms of primary school children will know the “tired mommy” feeling that goes with managing school, lunches, homework, extra murals, exams, speeches, tests, sport, projects, driving up and down and a hundred other things that go with having children of this age. Whilst I have always involved  my children in helping with chores in the home, I have been delighted to see how independent they have now become.

At age 10 and 8, I have started giving them more complex tasks to complete on their own – iron your uniform, mix up the softener concentrate, hang out the washing, weed a patch of garden, plant Namaqualand daisy seeds for winter, bake biscuits, rake up the leaves, make a salad, unpack and pack the dishwasher and even cook simple meals. Its the only way for me to cope – we work as a team! And age-appropriately it gives a sense of purpose and fulfillment for children to accomplish real tasks.

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The great garage event  

During the last week of the holidays my husband went away to a two day conference and I decided to tackle painting the garage with the children and my gardener. It hadn’t been painted for 10 years and in some parts, hadn’t been cleaned for the same period! It was a secret that dad didn’t know about, and my intention was to keep two growing children constructively occupied in the last week of the holidays.

Doing a secret job for dad ended up being quite an amazing incentive! The children constantly spoke about how surprised he was going to be (which he was), and they worked far harder than I had anticipated! After a good 9 hour day Tuesday they continued on Wednesday until dad returned at 2-30pm. The excitement of being allowed to use the PAINT ROLLER was so great that they willingly unpacked, cleaned and repacked all the paraphernalia that we have collected! 

Children in the 6-11year developmental stage thrive on work (surprisingly) and find satisfaction in doing real things. I found my son of 10 years very eager to learn to master the paint roller and once he had it, he happily painted most of the walls with mom giving a final once over to cover the last bits. My daughter found the roller difficult but she happily outlined edges, cleaned brushes and helped with polyfilla.

If you prepare yourself for all the chatting that goes with working with children, and you are ready for doing things a little slower and less perfectly, the reward of the love experienced while serving together can make for long-lasting family memories!

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Quality time: filling spaces

When I taught Grade 5/6 English 1996 – 2002, I used TV as one of my English themes. Part of the syllabus included how to complete and fill in forms, so I surveyed my pupils on their TV viewing habits. I was astounded to find children then who were watching 4 – 6 hours of TV a day!! I wonder if I were to complete the same survey today how many hours the average child is spending glued to a screen of one sort or another!

Once introduced to a screen, a child will always want to fill their time with screen activities. TV or games, my experience observing children and teens is that they are unlikely to be using their screens for anything educational and mostly using them for entertainment.

As a parent you have two allies when it comes to reducing screen usage to a preferred minimum of an hour or less per day:

1. Love – filling time with love and constructive activities involves directing a child towards other things when they think their only option is a screen.Love activities (quality time and acts of service) help children to see other possibilities – playing outside, making a kite, playing a board game, having their own patch of garden to cultivate, caring for pets, playing sport or other extra murals, learning to cook or do things around the home, learning to play a musical instrument, reading a book and so much more. Obviously this will only flourish with the presence and involvement of a parent!

2. Discipline – setting boundaries around screens with a consequence in order to keep screens in their proper place. Examples could be:

First homework and chores then watch something

First play outside then watch something

You can only have a certain amount of screen time per day in the week and then a different amount over the weekend. If you abuse it you lose it!

Parents keep clear boundaries around their own screens, not allowing screens to dominate conversation time, meal times or family time.

There are countless exciting things for children to be involved in and learn as we share our lives with them! Filling spaces with interesting life experiences, activities and conversations will fill their lives with love and good memories and help to keep screens in their proper place.

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Makes good business sense

I recently had dinner with a friend of mine visiting from the UK. She is a metallurgical engineer managing a team of 12 staff. We were discussing high stress jobs and the effect these have on people and their families. In August 2013, a 21 year old German intern working for Merrill Lynch in the UK died of what is suspected to have been stress – working punishingly long days in a very competitive environment.

The result of the shock that this has caused in corporate UK has been a re-think on working hours and the expectation that employees should be available 24/7. She says that many companies now shut down their emails systems at a certain time at night and lock office blocks to prevent people from staying at work.

Malcolm MacDonald (BCom, CA (SA), ACIMA), GM of Finance at IDC from 1981 – 1996, Executive Director of finance at Arcelor Mittal 1997 – 2004 and current board member of Gijima Group and Astral foods and until recently, of Arcelor Mittall is a personal friend of ours. He had this to say about his work boundaries when he addressed a group in September 2013: he would be home for supper every night and not available for any work engagements on Wednesday or Friday evenings. He is married to Kathy and has 4 adult children, and he always place high priority on their wellbeing and his involvement in their lives with obvious benefit to each one of them.

Is your company “human friendly” – health friendly and family friendly?Are you expecting others to be available 24/7, extending their work stress to family and private time, or are you encouraging them to lead fulfilling personal lives, investing in their marriages and the well-being of their children? Are you showing this by your own example and do YOU take a break? Makes good business sense for people to come to work fresh and ready for the day, and it makes good family sense to be involved with our children’s lives for the short time they are young.

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Lets get reading

As a passionate English teacher I have a strong belief in the importance of reading for every child’s all-round educational success. But finding time for reading can be tricky with many forms of entertainment  vying for our attention! Parents of younger children can set the tone for years to come by giving consideration to these important points:

Learning to read starts at birth (National Reading Strategy SA)

Reading involves surrounding our children with books and learning from books from a very young age

Physical books on shelves send a message that says “reading is fun, reading is a valuable and worthwhile activity”

Books in a library give opportunities to browse and be inspired outside of your frame of reference and intention

Faced with a choice

In my educational experience, children and teens who do not feel confident in reading will try to avoid it as much as possible and only do the minimum when forced to do so (eg for an exam). As a result they slow their own reading development and lose confidence further. When faced with a choice they will tend to gravitate towards easy options of passive entertainment (watching a movie), gaming,  “surface feeding” information off the internet (a term coined by Popular Mechanics) or “second hand learning” through the thoughts of other people. They will not willingly become “first hand learners” and access information at a deep and meaningful level, a skill necessary for successful tertiary education.

Developing the brain

In-depth reading of a wide variety of literature sources is an excellent means by which the brain is developed. Reading supports linguistic developmnent, vocabulary development and a wider general knowledge. It forms a basis for conversations which in turn help to develop thinking skills and logic. A child with a reading background is accustomed toactive learning and thinking whereas a child with a passive entertainment background is unaccustomed to having to think for himself. 

Finding the love

Perhaps the most wonderful advantage to reading with children is the love factor! Love always makes learning easier, and reading with a parent is a special time of quality time love as well as learning. A positive experience of reading in the family makes learning to read less daunting in Grade 1.

Switch off the screens!

AT HOME: As far back as 1996 – 2002 I surveyed my Grade 5 and 6 learners each year to find out how much TV they watched on a daily basis. The hours were frightening even then, and with the addition of phones, ipads, laptops and games, screen time can easily go up beyond what is helpful for a child. Screens need to have specific times and should be fitted in after all the imporant things have happened like homework, reading, chores, conversations, outside sports and play. 

AT SCHOOL: With the addition of screens in many classrooms at primary school, it becomes easier for teachers to use movies as a means to fill time or babysit a class. When one adds together school screen time, aftercare screen time, family screen time and personal screen time, we will probably find that reading has been pushed out in favour of passive entertainment. Schools need to be a place where a love of books is demonstrated both in the library and in every classroom.

Active screen learning and small children

With the advent of tablets, one can find age-appropriate interactive learning apps for reading and other educational development for children of all ages. The rule of thumb here is this: young children learn concretely and three dimensionally, and need to experience the world with all its imperfections and variables. Screen games will reduce the variables and produce a too- perfect learning experience. Make sure that for any the time your child may spend using a screen, he/she does not neglect outside play, messy play, construction, reading and free play.

Read to believe

If one researches the origins of many famous educational insitutions world wide, you will discover quite frequently a faith-based beginning. Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and Princeton all have their origins in Christan faith. Reading plays a vital role in developing intelligent adults who can read, research in depth and have an intellectual faith in God that enjoys debate and discussion.

Lets get reading!

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All about me – Gifts

I took my children to the shops recently to do a “recce” for Christmas gift ideas. It was quite an enlightening exercise, looking at the Christmas gifts overflowing the shelves! I was particularly intrigued by the girls’ gifts, and most especially one set of 7 watches for your young daughter so she can have a different high-fashion watch to match her outfit every day of the week! Many girls’ gifts work to cultivate shallow expectations about fashion, clothes, beauty, perfection and décor. A wise parent will have to be quite selective in this me-focussed environment, to choose gifts that do not cultivate rampant entitlement and self-absorption. In the end we chose a lovely concertina folder with different kinds of writing paper for writing cards and letters to other people and storing precious cards and letters. My daughter has started writing cards for people in our church who are sick, and so this builds on a caring quality developing in her life.

 Erik Erikson on self-absorption: a bit of educational theory for those who are interested!

Erik Erikson (developmental psychologist 1950s) described eight psychosocial developmental stages for humans. The early adult developmental stage (18 – 40 years) is called “intimacy versus isolation” as adults form long term relationships, get married, have children and raise their children. Self absorbed children, in my observation, are likely to become self-absorbed teens, who will probably become self-absorbed adults and battle to have intimate relationships because of their constant focus on themselves and their own needs. It is interesting to note that the mature adult developmental stage (40 – 65 years) is reflected as “generativity versus self-absorption” (generativity being the ability to work hard for others such as your family, children and society and put your own needs second). The following stage (65 years and older) is “integrity versus despair” where one looks back at your life and sees meaning and purpose or regret and despair.

Whilst Erikson described these stages he did not explain their development or interpret them deeply. I believe that the bottom line is this: human beings are LESS happy in life when self absorbed and MORE happy and fulfilled when considering and meeting the needs of others. If you have spent your whole life thinking only about making yourself happy, you will have no reason or purpose for living in your mature years.

 Reference: Macleod, SA, (2008). Erik Erickson, Psychosocial Stages/ Simply Psychology. Retrieved fromhttp://www.simplypsychology/Erik-Erikson.html

The Bible on self-absorption

The Bible is clear on our motivation for living: that we live to serve and love others and not ourselves but we only understand this once we understand that Jesus lived to serve and love us through his death.

Ephesians 5:1 Since you are God’s dear children, you must try to be like Him. v2 Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave His life for us as a sweet smelling offering and sacrifice that pleases God.

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The card

After the ISASA conference in Pietermaritzburg in August, I was delighted to receive a handwritten thank you card from one of the organisers. I was most touched by the gesture and reflected on how the time and effort spent in handwriting a letter or card and posting it can speak words more deeply than a quick sms or email. One of the activities I want to do with my children in the long December holidays is help them write and send off letters or cards (hand decorated of course) to their grandparents who live elsewhere in South Africa. Snail mail may be slow, but its still fun for children to send and receive letters in the post!

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The Quiet rhythms of life

When I think back on my own childhood, to the age where my children are now, certain comforting constants come to mind.

Lying in bed and hearing the clink of the milkman delivering the milk at 5am!

Climbing the trees and fences around our garden;

Coming home from school to find that mom had bought De Bakery pies as a special lunch treat!

Mashing the potatoes for supper or lunch;

Hearing my mom watering the garden early in the morning after which she would wake us up with her cold hands on our tummies!!

Running to play in the park over the road;

Having tea on the front verandah in the afternoon;

Hearing my dad’s car turn the corner in the late afternoon on his way home from school – mom always said if he was late he would arrive just as she was dishing up supper! He always did!

Dad reading the newspaper on the floor of the lounge in the afternoon;

Mom having a Sunday afternoon nap while dad built models with us;

Playing Scrabble, Monopoly, Mastermind and Checkers together

The smell of baking, and licking the bowl and the beater when mom baked biscuits.

For children, its those little constants that count; the small, almost imperceptible rhythms of life that make for deep secure roots.

A precious friend of mine responded to my “Less is More” article with the following:

I remember my mom BEING there – sitting in the lounge knitting…….so relaxed and unstressed! She was always able to fetch me from school………there were the odd occasions when she worked full day and then I went to an old lady in our church and my dad fetched me at 5. Those afternoons went on FOREVER!

What small memories do you cherish from your childhood days? Uncluttered by multiple screens, I had the privilege of experiencing so many imperceptible rhythms of life. Have you made a space of peace and quiet for your children to experience the same?

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Genuine love in a me-culture

In a recent Love Languages talk, the topic of flattery was raised, particularly with regards to talent competitions and how many people audition believing they are brilliant because their friends told them they were brilliant, when in fact they are embarrassingly awful! 

Ross Campbell in his book “How to really love your child” (Life Journey Publishers; 2003) outlines the difference between healthy love and possessive love, an important distinction to make in a society that tends towards indulgence and child-centredness. In our efforts to be the best mothers, the most loving, we need to guard against crossing that line into possessive love. Ross Campbell describes possessive love as “a tendency of parents to encourage a child to be too dependent on them.” (page 70). Flattery, indulgence, over-protection, “helicoptering” and other forms of cocooning can make a child too dependent on a parent to create a “happiness space” from within which they are only able to function.

Healthy love helps a child to become more independent and mature, responsible and self-reliant. Healthy love makes a distinction between me as parent and you as child, my emotions and your emotions. Healthy love sees you as a growing independent individual who is developing a sense of self identity, and that you are not a robotic outcome to my parenting input. Healthy love loves unconditionally and disciplines firmly (Harvard University Preschool Study). Healthy love sets boundaries and patiently teaches you to respect these boundaries and the authority figures who put them in place. Healthy love disciplines age-appropriately starting with firm leadership under the age of 7 and sound, clear moral teaching. Healthy love teaches you that there are others in the world and life is not just about making yourself happy. Healthy love shows you that you can cope even if everything is not perfectly aligned for your immediate happiness and gratification. Healthy love doesn’t blame everybody else when you are unhappy – healthy love gives you strategies for coping in a tough world. Healthy love doesn’t give in to immediate short-term happiness goals but sees the bigger picture. Healthy love is strong enough to withstand the onslaught of a me-centred media culture telling your child they are the centre of it all, they deserve it all, they must have it all, they must feel good, they must succeed and they must have it NOW. And healthy love finds ways to mitigate against self-centredness by encouraging children to get involved with you in caring for the less fortunate and serving others around you. Visit a charity, give clothes to an orphanage, join outreaches in underprivileged areas close to your home, and support charities through your church. Dependent children expect the world to wait on them hand and foot!  Children experiencing healthy love should be growing in their ability to help others, work together and serve selflessly.

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Love and Discipline in a nutshell

Dan Allender, in his course “How children raise parents: the art of listening to your family” (2011, Brilliance Corp) presents a delightful table illustrating in a nutshell, the interplay between love and discipline.

I have a few comments on the table regarding love and discipline:

  • Yes/Yes: Indulgent parents often fall into the helicopter trap.. loving but also giving in to the child’s every whim, structuring their whole lives to facilitate their happiness. Perhaps these parents want to be friends with their child, or to be liked and appreciated! However, the children become spoilt, manipulative, entitled and disrespectful. They can’t delay their impulses, and are addicted to having their own way all the time.They remain emotionally immature and selfish.

  • No/No: This is a child who is conditionally loved and not accepted and valued for who he/she is. Rules are paramount, and this child is only loved when they please their parents or when they are “good”. The child will either become a robot, obeying all rules blindly, or will rebel, digging in their heels and rejecting all authority figures.

  • No/Yes: a child who is not loved but it allowed to have his/her own way all the time will be detached from their parents and is likely to display aggression, disrespectful behaviour and no emotional closeness to their parents. They will also be emotionally immature, but with added anger, aggression and unresolved rejection pain. They would be likely to connect emotionally and inappropriately to others in their peer group where they find acceptance.

  • Yes/No: Children who are loved (they feel unconditionally loved) but are not allowed to have their own way. They are guided, trained, instructed and taught about a considerate, mature way to behave, and grow to be emotionally, morally and cognitively mature. They have a deep sense of love, value and security within their family, and can form close emotional bonds with family members. They are responsive to authority and are a “…joy to be with and a blessing to those around them.” (On becoming Childwise, Gary Ezzo, 1999, Parent-wise solutions, page 31-32)

A combination of sufficient love with thorough, intentional, positive discipline training is the wisest approach and supported by numerous studies and reputable parenting specialists! Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about love in the Five Love Languages course, or Discipline for under fours in the Loving Discipline course.

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Incremental increases: helping children become involved in acts of service in manageable steps

Small children love to help their parents with many different things, and allowing them to help is excellent exposure to different skills, tasks and concepts. It also teaches many moral values. However as they grow older, it is important to help them transition into becoming involved with and ultimately responsible for more complex tasks. Attaining this goal is a process that takes much time (think months and years) and requires some planning and thought on the part of the parent. A helpful way to view this process is to add incremental increases over time:

For example table chores (ages are guidelines only and will vary from family to family. Starting late is perfectly fine!!)

· From 1 year onwards a child should be able to help lay the table on an ad hoc basis, and take his or her own plate to the kitchen after every meal.

· From 3 years onwards, the child can help to lay the table on an ad hoc basis, take his own plate every meal, and help to clear the table on an ad hoc basis.

· Somewhere in later preschool or early primary school (I started when my first child was 6 years and my second 4 years) you can introduce a simple daily chore routine that involves one child laying the table and one child clearing, and you alternate each day fairly. Keep this up consistently.

· When my children were 7 and 5 years old, I then taught them how to unpack portions of the dishwasher… the older child doing the mugs and glasses, the younger child doing all the cutlery and mom doing the rest. This is teamwork. Only on an ad hoc basis I would require them to help with the dishwasher, and occasionally ask them to unpack it completely (such as when I was sick).

· As they get older, you can then hand the whole job over to them, requiring them to unpack the entire dishwasher either on a daily basis or at a certain time each day or after a certain meal, depending on what suits you. It will initially be ad hoc, then part of their daily responsibilities.

· Then next step would be to teach them to pack the dishwasher, and ultimately teach them handle the whole process from start to finish.

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Quality Time with Dad

We recently had a delightful Sunday afternoon out in Centurion at the model steam train club, driving a train that Geoff’s dad built many years ago. The train has been sitting in our garage with few opportunities for us to drive it, but as our son has grown older, we have realised more and more the vital importance of dad/son activities for his future development.

Dr James Dobson has written an excellent chapter in his book “Bringing up Boys” (Christian Art Publishers 2002) entitled “The Essential Father” where he explores the irreplacable value of a father in the life of a boy. When considering the effect of non-involved dads on boys he comments as follows:

“Boys suffer most from the absence or non-involvement of fathers” and “Boys are in trouble today primarily because their parents, and especially their dads, are distracted, overworked, harassed, exhausted, disinterested, chemically dependent, divorced, or simply unable to cope.” (P66)

According to Dobson, there are two important times in a boy’s life when dad’s involvement and availability are crucial. The first is from the age of 3 – 5 years as boys shift their primary gender identification from mom over to dad:

It is typical for boys during those years, and even earlier, to crave the attention and involvement of their dad and try to emulate his behaviour and mannerisms.”(P69)

Wise parents of boys need to make conscious efforts during these years to plan activities, sports, outings or hobbies where dads and their sons can spend time together. Nurturing this bond between dads and sons is an excellent investment in our future men.

The second crucial time for involvement, love and availability is the onset of puberty.

“Boy and girls at that time desperately need their father’s supervision, guidance and love.” (p69)

As Barbara Jackson said “It is far easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” (1)

Hope for single moms
Later in the book, Dobson addresses the ever-growing challenge of single moms parenting boys. He offers a wealth of information, research and practical advice, certainly worth reading. Promoting the continued involvement of dad is paramount, as is providing male role models in the form of grandfathers, uncles, family friends, strong and positive movie role models, books, sports coaches, Scout leaders and teachers.

However you choose to solve the problem, do not let the years go by without a man’s influence in the lives of your boys. If they have no nurturing male role models by which to pattern themselves, they will turn to whoever is available, such as gang members, or perhaps, to you, the mom.” (p147). Finding “father-substitutes” (p147) will provide a deep sense of security and identity instead of leaving them to “formulate their masculine identity out of thin air.” (p69)

Our train outing was lots of fun, certainly something we will do regularly, and a perfect place of interest for dad and son to engage.

(1) James Dobson “Bringing up Boys” p71; Terri Tabor, “Keeping Kids Connected: Elgin High Program Puts At-Risk Students on Straighter Path,” Chicago Daily-Herald, 17 September 1999, 1.

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Loving our girls in a princess culture

I am sure every parent of a young girl has had the experience of being COMMANDED to go and fetch something! A sobering moment to realise that she actually is expecting you her MOTHER to obediently go and do her bidding! I have been wondering about the effect of a princess culture on young girls, and how to love them without cementing in selfish heart attitudes of entitlement and manipulation.

Firstly we need to understand the society our girls are growing up in: everything in society says “be nice to yourself, take a break, you deserve it, beauty is an excellent goal, popularity is good, fashion is essential, you can get friends and popularity and success through looks, you are the most important person in the world” etc. Many of these messages are overt – wording in adverts and billboards and TV ads. Many are subtle and hidden: going to a children’s clothing store and seeing makeup for 6 year olds is an example, where 20 years ago makeup was maybe considered in the mid teen years.

A second aspect to consider is peer pressure – not so much from the girls themselves but from the moms!! It’s hard to avoid the beauty/image/fashion trap when other parents are indulging their young girls in what used to be an adult beauty culture. An example of this would be having a 7 year old party at a beauty spar.

Forging a path for your daughter that seeks to avoid selfish attitudes and an obsession with the superficial takes some time and thought. Your focus will be on developing qualities and attitudes. Choose extra murals, party themes, gifts and family activities that focus on skill development, physical challenges, the development of kindness and cultivating thoughtfulness towards others. Teach your daughter to give to others, to be humble in her attitude, and not to think of herself as the centre of the universe.

Our family recently invited a destitute family of 4 (Granny, mom and two daughters of 15 and 5) to stay in our caravan for a week in our garden while they found alternate accommodation. I was intrigued to watch my daughter as she expressed the caring, protective and motherly side of her nature during that time. Thinking about someone less fortunate than yourself has a way of turning the attention off your own selfish desires and developing an other-focus that is more healthy and mature.

Our girls are generally overly blessed… perhaps we can cultivate in them a kindness and care for others that will grow with them as they mature into young women who are a pleasure to be around and who play a meaningful role in our society.

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Help! I have a Quality Time child!

After a recent talk a mom discussed quality time with me a little more as she had heard somewhere that a parent should spend around an hour of quality time per day with each child individually. With four children she was having a hard time getting her brain around that! Even worse was the thought that it should be a block of one hour!

The truth is somewhat different.

·         Yes quality time children need an extended amount of time each day. However it does not have to be in one block. It can and should be spread across the day with a number of chunks (10 – 15 minutes is a good guide) and perhaps a 20 – 30 minute chunk of reading or outside play somewhere in the day.

·         You can do quality time with more than one child at a time. Sitting chatting at a meal and having a normal conversation where you look at each person in turn as they speak is quality time. Playing soccer with two children in the garden and giving attention to each in turn as you kick to them is quality time for both children. Playing a family board game is good quality time for each child involved. Reading to two children is quality time for both. The eye contact and undivided attention is a strong indicator of quality time.

·         Both parents count. Mom and dad will be sharing the quality time, but just check and make sure that one parent is not trying to compensate for the absence of the other, in which case even the best efforts of the one parent will not prevent the child from feeling empty and needing love from the absent parent after some time.

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Is it true that Love Languages doesn’t work in every situation?

In many of my talks I start off by saying “Love Languages will not solve all your parenting problems”. It would be like saying that a hammer is the only tool to use for all household maintenance projects! A better way to view Love Languages is that it is one of a number of different tools that you will use in different situations. You need other tools – discipline training tools, sex education tools, educational stimulation tools, language development tools etc. However Love Languages is a tool that you can use all the time, even when you are using other tools from your parenting toolbox. This is called “unconditional love”.

In particular, love and discipline are not mutually exclusive. Love IS the means by which discipline training is made possible. Without love, discipline becomes harsh and unproductive and leads to rebellion. Discipline training is a very loving thing to do.

For instance, if your child purposefully messes or breaks something or lashes out at you and you realise from something they say that this is a sign of an empty love tank, you will certainly offer love to the child and engage them in why they did what they did. However, your love will in no way excuse the behaviour. Because you love the child, you will still explain that there are other ways to ask mommy to spend time with you, and that the consequence of this destructive behaviour will be to clean up, earn money to replace the item, do chores to make up for the inconvenience caused to mom or be isolated for a limited time. The order of events (consequence then love or love then consequence) will depend on you, the child, the situation and the severity of what happened. Discipline is the application of a negative consequence in such a way that the child chooses not to engage in that behaviour again. This does not have to be done in an angry manner – it can be applied in a firm, loving and kind manner. It is not mommy’s withdrawal of love that will get obedience and co-operation, but rather her loving application of a stand-alone consequence that will train the child’s heart towards obedience.

So it is more true to say “Love Languages is not the only tool for parents to use, but it is a tool that can be used all the time.”

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Playing Board Games together

Quality Time comes with two dialects that you can “speak” to another person – quality time speaking and quality time activity. Before switching on the “ON BUTTON” for a screen activity, why not play a family board game together? Even from 3yrs, young children can participate in age-appropriate games. Nikki Bush is a toy expert and  you will find lots of ideas on her website www.brightideasoutfit.com . You can also attend one of her talks on toy and gift selection.

Games are wonderful in that they promote a wealth of skills without the child even being aware of it:

·         Taking turns
·         Learning to lose gracefully
·         Learning to win kindly and not boastfully
·         Never to mock or ridicule another person as they play
·         Working with numbers and a dice, and counting one-to-one correspondence
·         Patience
·         Social skills of interaction and conversation as you play
·         How to have a sense of humour – how to laugh even at yourself!

These are some of the games we have enjoyed as a family:

·         Who is it? From 3 onwards, you can play co-operative versions or simplified versions.
·         Nikki Bush’s Barney Collect-a-Shape game for cementing in those shapes and colours in a fun way.
·         Zingo – from about 4 onwards a child will need a relaxed atmosphere to be able to get up to speed. Good for pre-reading and memory skills
·         Slides/snakes and ladders – gosh you need patience here! We don’t let our children abdicate and duck out of the game!
·         From 6 or so Battleships is fun and requires a lot of patience and strategizing.
·         We introduced chess at about 6/7 years but it requires consistent practise to master the concepts.
·         Beetle drive – where you take turns to roll a dice to draw a beetle (6 = body, 5 = head, 4 = tail, 3 = eyes, 2 = feelers, 1 = legs). Can take ages and requires patience and humour.
·         Dominoes is always good for matching and discrimination skills from a very young age.
·         Pick-up sticks requires patience and eye-hand co-ordination.
·         Snap is great for developing quick recognition skills
·         We recently discovered the Junior Pictionary. Beth at 5 years surprised us with her ability to draw quite well! Brilliant for visual memory skills and fine motor co-ordination.
·         Spill and spell or Scrabble require some spelling abilities, but that does not stop a child playing with an adult. They learn a lot just observing.
·         We have tried Mastermind with Jason at 7 years but find we need to play in teams to work it out – the logic required is a little advanced for him.

There is a lot more and brilliant new games are invented all the time. Find games that help your family to spend quality love time together!

We’re a team!

During the holidays, I sat my children down and we discussed how we as a family are a TEAM. Mom is not the slave of the home, and in a family everyone loves each other by HELPING out with what has to be done. Even if there is a full time domestic worker, families still need to express love through DOING things for each other and helping with chores. Working together in a team is a loving thing to do!

ACTS OF SERVICE is a form of LOVE, and our job through the primary school years is to constantly extend our children’s ability to be skilled at expressing this kind of love. Yes they will complain, but we need to stand firm, not back down and persist. Consequences may even need to be applied for children who refuse to help.

Some ideas for involving preschool and primary school children in the home. Not an exhaustive list but some age-appropriate ideas!

Chores for personal responsibility – regular chores

Loving the family chores – introduce a few at a time. Do some ad hoc and some on a regular chore chart.

· Make my own bed

· Pyjamas under pillow

· Dirty clothes in wash basket

· Towel hung up in bathroom

· Polish school shoes

· Open/close curtains

· Choose clothes and dress self

· Brush own hair

· Lunch box to kitchen

· Tidy own room

· Pack away ironed clothes

· Pack my bag for school

· Pack my case for holiday

· Carry my own school bag


Preschool and early primary school:

· Lay and clear the table

· Make toast, own breakfast cereal, juice

· Close curtains in the house at night

· Sort dirty laundry into colours

· Make a salad

· Pick veg from the garden

· Unpack the dishwasher

· Pack the dishwasher

· Vacuum

· Dust

· Clean windowsills, counter tops, toys, chairs, shoes etc

· Rake leaves

· Sweep

· Help to bake and ice biscuits

· Bring in groceries

· Pack away groceries

· Water the garden

· Empty waste paper baskets

· Help to wash the car


Older primary school

· Put a load of washing into the machine

· Take washing out of the machine

· Hang washing on line

· Make tea

· Bake

· Iron clothes

· Mow the lawn

· Paint

· Plant seedlings/plants/pots

· Learn to cook

· Feed a pet and groom

· Learn to sew on a button

· Wash a car


Involving children may be tedious at the time, but the rewards will be long-lasting and their experience of family love strengthened.

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A LOVE LANGUAGE THOUGHT – for parents of the under threes
Moving wallpaper

Neil Postman wrote a most fascinating book published in 1985 called “Amusing ourselves to death” about the effect of Television on the American culture. He gives excellent insights into the effect of television on thinking skills, reading and research skills and general values and ideas. He also explores the hidden messages that television conveys such as the trivialisation of serious information, and the agendas promoted by the entertainment industry.

Twenty five years later in today’s society, we no longer even ask questions about television and its effects, but in fact may even conclude incorrectly that television is a modern and good stimulation for small children!!

If your television set is on all the time in your lounge and you have small children, take a moment to observe their behaviour around the TV. Do you notice that whatever they are doing is constantly interrupted when they glance up at a movement that catches their eye on the screen? They are never allowed an uninterrupted time to focus and concentrate on the activity at hand, but keep moving and looking up to see what is next on the screen. This constant interruption will hamper their ability to focus and concentrate on activities, a skill needed for formal learning at school. Even worse, they may not even actually engage with a constructive activity, but may wander aimlessly around the room for hours and hours really doing nothing fulfilling at all.

If your television set is on all the time in the lounge, ask yourself what activities YOU are avoiding doing as a result! It’s much easier to sit and be distracted by the screen than to actually sit down at a table with a two year old and build puzzles while having an intelligent conversation. You are also probably not talking in full sentences to your child and you are probably not speaking about anything interesting or constructive. Children around the age or 2 – 3 years ONLY learn to speak during DIRECT interactions with them where there is NO BACKGROUND NOISE, and where you are able to look directly in their eyes and speak to them one-on-one.

Also take stock also on what your child is not doing because the TV is “babysitting” her as she flits around the room. Here is a checklist of activities that small children can and should be doing on a regular basis IN THE HOME and WITH THEIR PARENTS to ensure adequate stimulation and preparation for school, even if they go to crèche:

·   Reading books with a parent

.   Playing constructively with a parent with a toy or set of toys on the floor such as cars or blocks (not a mish-mash of unrelated bits and pieces)

·   Playing outside every day in the garden eg with a ball or on a jungle gym or in a sandpit or with water, with a parent present

·  Going out to the shops, a pet shop, the library or post office – one outing every day or two from as early as two months

·   Helping with chores around the home from when they can walk (1 year)

·   Playing alone for one period of time each day to help develop independence

·   Playing at a table with a parent every day to develop sitting and focussing skills, thinking skills and fine motor skills

The beauty of each activity listed above is that it accomplishes a few things:

1.   It fills up your child’s QUALITY TIME love tank which leads to contentment and a greater ability to concentrate and be independent

2.   It teaches your child HOW to play constructively which leads to greater maturity and independence in their own play

3.   It teaches your child to SPEAK and to THINK.

If you want to make use of television for the under threes, remember that it should be limited to ONE per day – one programme or one story – and should be an interactive activity where you sit together and talk about what you are seeing. Further than that, the best course of action to promote love and learning is the big SWITCH OFF! Keep the screen off for the most part of the day and you will switch your children ON!!

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Priceless Gift

We often think of gifts in terms of items on which we have to outlay money. However there is one gift worth more than what money can buy and which is guaranteed to fill up the love tank of any child – the gift of yourself. Being present at games, matches, speeches, eisteddfods, plays and awards ceremonies are good examples of this special gift, especially when a child is expecting you to be there. Being present at supper time and re-scheduling certain work is a dad-gift that mom can’t compensate for! And just being present in your family – choosing not to outsource everything – is a gift that says “you are very important to me and I like to spend time with you”.

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The Love Invitation

In a few of my talks I refer to the Harvard University Preschool Study conducted in the 1980s where the researchers followed the children in the study for 10 years “hoping to discover how experiences in the early years of life contribute to the development of a healthy, intelligent human being.”  One of the conclusions was :

“The best parents in the study were those who excelled at three key functions” – one of which is:

·         “They permitted their children to interrupt them for brief 30 second episodes, during which personal consultation, comfort, information and enthusiasm were exchanged.”

Children benefit from loving access to their parents. While learning to be polite and wait while an adult finishes speaking, it is also important that they feel able to approach their parents and find interest and personal attention when they need it, especially in the early years. The results of this study are quoted in James Dobson’s book “The New Strong-Willed Child”, Tyndale House Publishers, 2004 pages 95 – 96.

According to Ross Campbell in his book “How to really Love your child”, Life Journey Publications, 2003, Chapter 4, he says that “eye contact is one of the main sources of a child’s emotional nurturing” and should be used positively and not just to “give instructions or for reprimanding and criticising” as this will convey conditional love rather than unconditional love. Love invitations by available parents create a sense of security, closeness, acceptance and unconditional love.



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Dealing with sarcasm and cutting words – children and teenagers

Based on principles in the book “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and D. Ross Campbell

One of the ways in which words children (and adults) indicate a lack of words in their love tank can be the use of sarcasm and cutting comments. Although I address these different requests in the Love Languages  talk, dealing with sarcasm and cutting words is a little more challenging, requiring a lot more thought and intentionality, and is therefore worth a more in-depth look.

 The temptation, when on the receiving end of sarcasm or cutting words, is to be sarcastic or cutting back. This really achieves nothing and has no effect on filling up the love tank of the child or adult concerned. The better response is to speak truthful, loving words on the topic under discussion

 An example of this would be the child who says: Well, you are not my friend any more”, to which it is very easy to respond “Then lets just see how you do my darling without ME as your friend!!” Expanded into a teenage world, this could lead to a very nasty back-and-forth exchange that can be both destructive and very hurtful to both parties involved.

 A better response is to speak truthful loving words, something like “Well you know, I am your mom and I love you very much, and in fact unlike any friends, I will always be there for you. My love for you doesn’t change – I will keep on loving you even if you say I can’t be your friend.” Or if a child says “Then you can’t come to my party”, you may be tempted to say sarcastically “Let’s see how YOU do having a party without ME” when we should be saying “I love coming to your parties and arranging them for you because I love you very much and you are very special to me and I wouldn’t miss your party for anything in the world.”

 Running a teenage youth group on Friday evenings has been an interesting experience as I have got into the world of teenagers! A teen in a bad mood who refuses to greet you could push you to explode in anger, or you can use your words to say “When you don’t greet me I feel ignored, I would appreciate it if you greeted me because I love you and I enjoy chatting to you” regardless of the response at the time. Barbed comments can be turned into opportunities to express love; “Oh well I’ve got nothing to say because no-one is ever interested in my opinion” can be given “I am always interested in your opinion and would like to hear what you have to say on the topic” in return.

 Gary Chapman, in his Book “The Five Love Languages of Teenagers”, has a chapter on “The Importance of Parental Love”. He talks about a teen’s desire for connection with their parents, a desire for acceptance from their parents and a desire for nurture from their parents. Words teens can become destructive in their use of words if they are feeling unconnected, rejected and not nurtured. Tempting as it is to always retort with equally clever and destructive words, the wise approach is to take a moment to think of a truthful, loving expression despite the negative comment thrown at you. Chapman says “Your teenager needs to hear that you accept him even when you don’t approve of his behaviour”.

 Sincere, consistent loving words will win through as they fill up the love tank. Genuine recognition, interest and affirmation for specific things will contribute to a teen’s sense of feeling loved even if outwardly they show something different – after all, when you are a teenager, the last things you want to admit is that someone else is right! Have a look at Chapman’s chapter on using words of love with teenagers if you feel the need for some ideas. Chapman says “Even if your teen’s primary love language is not words of affirmation, she will appreciate your affirming statements.” He concludes “When teens are secure in the love of their parents, they will have confidence to face negative influences in our culture that would keep them from becoming mature, productive adults.”

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Communicating Loud and Clear

Words of affirmation is a love language that involves speaking loving words to another person. However communicating verbally to someone is not merely a matter of the actual WORDS spoken – there is so much more to communicating than that!  Consider these factors that work together to form communication:

  • Words
  • Information/data contained within the words
  • Facial expression
  • Eye contact
  • Body language/posture
  • Gestures
  • Emotion conveyed
  • Tone and intonation of voice
  • Volume of the spoken words

The wonder of face-to-face loving interactions with our children and loved ones is this – we can use more than just WORDS to love them – our eye contact can convey acceptance and interest, our tone of voice can convey tenderness, softness and empathy, our volume can convey intimacy and closeness, our body language can convey interest, our facial expressions and gestures can convey our interested responses, and our emotion can convey our connection to them. Putting screens away and giving face-to-face time to our loved ones will do wonders for their love tanks!

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The simple things in life

Based on principles in the book “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and D. Ross Campbell

I recently presented a talk away from Jhb and stayed over at a guesthouse which was on a dirt road. When I returned home, I roped the children in to help me wash the car. We had a lot of fun, but the comments afterwards were delightful. My daughter (4 years) announced that she had “worked herself into her blood” – I assume being an extension of working yourself to the bone! My son (7 years) commented that his hands were going to fall off!! I realised while we did the job that it requires quite a bit of skill to wash without leaving streaks and half-washed dirt marks. While we don’t do the job often, I have made a mental note to repeat the activity. Precious memories are made doing even the simplest of things together… and acts of service and quality time are love, even when you are just washing the car!

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Based on principles in the book “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and D. Ross Campbell

  • It is useful to remember that children will seldom appreciate all the time, thought, work and effort and money that went into preparing a party if they are not part of the preparations or if the love is not explained to them. Work done in secret and late at night is not seen or understood and needs some explanation. And of course there are many things even small children can do to help!

  • Parties at home, especially for smaller children, lend themselves to involving even the smallest child in the preparations. My children have both enjoyed folding party boxes and packing food goodies into them, as well as making decorations and getting the venue ready on the day.

  • Involving children forces you to avoid perfection-addiction! ACTS OF SERVICE LOVE is about what went INTO the event, not how perfect the setting looks. Not everything has to be perfectly colour co-ordinated and perfectly executed, but should be more an expression of family and love and involvement together!

  • To avoid developing the disease called “ENTITLEMENT” and a dental disease called “TOOTH DECAY”, parents can look to meaningful yet small gifts if they want to give a party favour instead of the popular party pack filled with sweets. Something used in the theme of the party (we’ve seen a cowboy hat, as fishing net, a water pistol, a fluffy kitty tail, a plastic creature, a glow stick) – these are constructive and more long-lasting. However, make sure these gifts are small. Children have been known to view parties according to what they will GET at the party as a gift, not in terms of GIVING to the birthday child!

  • Parties are a great way to teach our children the love language of GIFT GIVING– how to GIVE gifts to birthday children, and how to graciously accept gifts from others. Opening the gifts at the party in front of the guests is a good way to teach appreciation and gratitude – the gift is then about the PERSON who gave it in love, and not about the LOOT I can accumulate afterwards!
    Happy Partying

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Fostering sibiling affection

Based on principles from “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
Having a second child can be quite traumatic for parents when they see how their first child seems to undergo a radical personality change with the arrival of baby! Older siblings who are used to having exclusive mom and dad time quite often resent the new baby and may even become nasty and hurtful. So how do you turn this around and foster love and affection between siblings?
Firstly, a parent’s best ally is loving words of affirmation. Not DESERVED words, but unasked-for, unconditional, freely-given words of love. Here are some practical examples for younger children:

  • Mommy is going to bath the baby – you are SUCH a helpful big brother – would you like to come and help me?
  • I am going to feed the baby now  and I would LOVE to read some library books to you – go and fetch five books for me to read while I feed.
  • You are such a kind big sister – would you like to be a big girl and hold your little brother on the couch? (Then get very excited at the wonderful job they are doing!)
  • Come lets show your little sister how clever you are building blocks on the floor.
  • Lets build puzzles while your little sister sleeps. I love building puzzles with you!
  • I used to do this for you when you were a little baby – mommy loves you and your sister just the same.
  • Tell others (granny and gramps) what a wonderful big brother/sister the baby has – they are so helpful and kind and look after their little baby so well.

One does not have to start saying “no” to every love request by the older child! Take the baby with and watch big brother riding his bike, climbing the jungle gym, splashing in the paddling pool or playing at a table. All these activities are very stimulating for even a small baby who feels included and part of the family activities. Make good use of nap times to fill up the older child’s love tank, and if you have chores to do, include the older child in as much as you can. (It would not be a wise use of time to put the older one in front of a DVD while the baby sleeps so you can do washing! Include the older one in helping with the washing, thereby making a love opportunity of words, quality time and acts of service done together).
To counteract an older child’s suspicion that the baby has replaced them, one has to wisely and clearly give words of reassurance, love, acceptance and invitation, as well as many offers of quality time love. Over time, this will settle the older sibling and can lead to a close and loving relationship between the two as they grow! Although the time investment may feel time-consuming initially, the pay-off later in contented children is worth every minute!!

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These acts of service you should NOT be doing….!

Wonderful as it is to use acts of service love for our families, there are certain acts of service things that parents should NOT do once their children reach a certain age. See how you are doing on these!

  • If they can walk they can and should take their own plate to the kitchen
  • If they can walk they can lay the table every day
  • From 3 years mom can help with making the bed. From 4 or 4 and 1/2 years, a child should be capable of making their own bed and SHOULD make it every day including Saturday and Sunday. Don’t leave the house with beds unmade by the person who sleeps in the bed!
  • A four year old should be able to dress themselves completely – from selecting the clothes to undressing and dressing fully. Mom can start the process off with something like “SO what are you wearing today”. Some motivation may be needed. A three year old can dress themselves with assistance and supervision and bits of help and motivation when they get stuck.
  • Every child in a playgroup, preschool or primary school should carry their own bag to and from school.
  • A four year old can open their own curtains in the morning, close them in the evening and put on their own bedroom light in the evening.
  • All preschoolers and primary school children should pack their own lunchbox into the bag in the morning, put it in the kitchen in the afternoon and pack shoes away in the cupboard.
  • Primary school children should manage to put their uniform away neatly if it is to be worn again.
  • From Grade 1 a child should be able to polish their own shoes.
  • All children from a very young age (12 months) should be involved in helping to tidy their own toys. At 4 years, a child should be able to tidy with minimal supervision if the room has not been allowed to become completely chaotic. A 6 year old should be able to be told to go and sort out their room and do this with virtually no guidance except for the checking process.
  • All children from 2 years should put their own dirty clothes in the laundry basket and their own pajamas under the pillow. Younger children will need to be accompanied. By the age of 3 or 4 years, they should manage this simple task alone.

Give the Tidy Fairy a break! It is in our children’s best interests to hand these acts of service over as quickly and permanently as possible.

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First Things first

When presenting Love Languages talks, I am frequently faced with the dilemma that I cannot cover all aspects of the topic fairly and in correct proportion, especially in the shorter talks. One of the principles I seldom have time to cover is what Gary Ezzo (Childwise book) refers to as “First things First” – the need to make sure your children see that Dad and Mom love each other! Although children take up a huge amount of time and often urgent involvement, their importance should never take precedence over the importance of the loving relationship between Dad and Mom. In fact, in an interesting way, children actually feel loved and secure when they know and experience that Dad and Mom love each other. But then, scheduling only Dad and Mom time to the exclusion of the children would be a great detriment on the other side! Children need to feel welcomed, loved and included while knowing that their parents place a great importance on loving each other. Love Languages works – both in your marriage and with your children!

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Reference: “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell 

As we get to the end of the year, I am reminded yet again of how important it is that we teach our children the art of GIVING gifts to others, and not just sitting around expecting everyone to give THEM gifts! In a child-centred and permissive society, it seems that our children get gifts and sweets everywhere they go – every restaurant, every lesson, every doctor’s appointment, even Sunday School – more gifts and sweets in a month than most children in the world get in their lifetimes! This Christmas time, let us teach our children the art of giving, the art of gratitude, the art of restraint when opening their gifts and the art of appreciation for what they have.

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With Mum and Dad

Reference: “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell 

I recently took my children back to the pottery studio where we have previously painted breakfast bowls, to paint a few plates to be used later as gifts. We spent a lovely hour together, quietly painting. Jason can paint more independently at 6 yrs while Beth and I worked together on her items. It struck me yet again that the value is not the painting per se; its the painting WITH Mom, in this case, that was so valuable. Crafts and hobbies can be so well used to assist US to block out fun time with our children or encourage a special relationship with a close family relative like granny or grampa. After all, when our children look back on their childhoods, it will be the special memories of fun things done with family that will stand out!

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Grocery Shopping

Reference: “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell

Grocery shopping
When I mention grocery shopping to parents at Discipline workshops, I usually get horrified gasps and much shaking of heads – “No I can’t take my child to the shops with me, he is a terror! I rather leave him at home with the helper while I go and do the shopping!” Yet shopping is worth a second look in terms of the huge love value and educational value, both of which should not be underestimated. And in fact the child who NEEDS to go grocery shopping the most in that very one who is a “terror” in the shops – who else will teach him the skill of how to behave in a shop if not you?
Firstly let’s take a reality check – not every mom can take her children with her on every major grocery trip, and it is not necessary. However, they need regular planned opportunities to participate in the grocery shopping. It is important to bear in mind that the best age for maximum involvement is YOUNGER not older – don’t wait until they are six before teaching shopping. The optimum learning time is from when they are babies and toddlers on through preschool.

Love value
Shopping together has great potential for love! Chatting in the car on the way, discussing what is to be bought and just doing the activity together all convey one strong message:” I like having you with me and I like doing things with you and I am prepared to include you even though it may take a bit longer”. Shopping is both quality time and acts of service as you love the family together while buying what is needed.

Educational value
The skills that can be developed incidentally during shopping are numerous. Yet one can choose to minimise these opportunities by rushing quickly through the shop, or maximise the opportunities by planning and taking a little more time.
1. Babies: Do shorter trips not when they are hungry but when they have been fed and are now in “wake time”. Talk to them as you go. The lights, colours, noises and people will be very stimulating.
2. Smaller toddlers: Keep them in the trolley seat and give them things to do. Don’t fall into the trap of bribing them with food on every trip – feed them their snack in the car on the way to the shop. Rather let them look at things like the colourful kiddies’ vitamin bottle, the new toothbrushes or the toothpaste box. Keep the trip shortish and chat as you go. Let them take non-breakable items from you and pop them in the trolley. Talk about what you are buying as you go – they will be learning vocabulary and general knowledge.
3. Older toddlers: Let them walk with you for short periods and give them jobs to do – “Would you like to put the softener in the basket trolley”. Manageable jobs would be to get something off the shelf and put it in the trolley or to take it from you and put it in the trolley. Talk as you go and do things like colours and counting “Mommy needs two soaps – one, two”. They are learning about not touching things on the shelves and about following mom and staying together.
4. Preschoolers can push their own basket trolley – younger children can manage one basket at the bottom so that they can still see where they are going (3 – 4 years) while from 5 – 6 years they should manage two baskets.This is a difficult skill and takes some patience in teaching them not to bump people in front of them. I guide my children quite clearly about where to park and how to look out for other people. This develops consideration and an awareness of the needs of others.
5. Preschoolers love it when you draw little lists for them to stick on the trolley with prestick. They get to put those things in their basket and many extras – “Would you also like to get one cheese each and put it in your trolley”. Mine like me to tick off their lists as we go (5 items on their lists) – I wonder where they get that from!!
6. Preschoolers can be asked to sort their items at the till – “Bring me all your cold things” or “Bring me all your cleaning things”. Excellent for that VITAL skill of sorting. Also something to do as you go through the till where all those chocolates are! Buy one chocolate though, and open it in the car as you tell them what excellent shoppers they are! This little reward (not known up front) will be a great boost for their confidence.
7. Other lessons learnt are:

  • That adults do grocery shopping because it is a responsible thing to do. They learn about adult responsibility and the time taken to do the job – if children never help with groceries it would be very easy to take this task for granted.
  • This type of involvement promotes independence (autonomy) and personal responsibility and therefore promotes self confidence and a sense of satisfaction in work well done.
  • There are numerous perceptual skills that develop in the shop – selecting the purple softener, picking two soaps, finding the brown bread, getting the right product and the required brand.
  • Social skills are fabulous as they learn to greet people, stay with mom, watch people do their jobs and learn about how people interact.

8. Packing the boot is something older children need to learn how to do – politely decline the help offered and do the job together.
9. Unpacking at home is a vital part of the experience. This act of service says that we work together, even though we are tired, to complete the job. If we all help it will go more quickly.
10. Small tasks can be delegated to small children – unpack the apples into the fruit bowl, take the wash powder to the laundry, take the tissues to your room, put the vegetables in the vegetable rack. Following instructions is a very tedious skill to teach children and has to be REPEATED thousands of times for them to really get it! Use every opportunity!

As you go through this experience, give many words of affirmation for participation, success, good skill, helpfulness, perseverance and hard work. Overcome patheti-chitis by talking – “Yes I know your legs are sore but you will be just fine. We are going to finish and them you can rest in the car. No you cannot lie down on the floor of the shop – someone may trip over you. No I am not going to pick you up – you will be just fine to walk. Just think – at school you run around for ages and don’t get tired – I think you will manage”.
Happy shopping!

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For the under sixes

Reference: “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell and “On Becoming Childwise” by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam

Loving words are an integral part of our discipline training of young children, and a lovely idea to remember is a “pre-activity encouragement”, especially on an issue where you seem to have got stuck in fighting mode!! Before moving to the activity where you are experiencing difficulty, take a little time to describe not only the type of behaviour you are expecting to see, but a description of the attitude with which you expect it to be done as well as a word of confidence. Children who hear words of confidence and trust in their ability tend to rise to the occassion.
Here are a few examples that I have recently come across where words of love can be used to good effect with under fours:

  • Getting into the car seat: While explaining to the child that you are going out, take the opportunity to explain something like “Now because mommy loves you very much, you will have to sit in your car seat just like we do every day, and I know you are going to get in with a happy face. Let’s see how quickly and happily you can climb in all on your own, because you are such a big girl”. Work at this every time you head towards that car seat, implementing a firm but calm consequence when they don’t comply, but giving lots of loving words when they do: “Wow look at you, such a big girl, look how nicely you got into your car seat today, thank you!” – even if you had to wedge them in! Over time the reward of loving words should outweigh the unpleasantness of the calm but firm consequence leading to compliance and getting into the seat independently.

  • Staying at the table for meals: “In five minutes it is going to be supper, and we are all going to sit nicely at the table because in our family we love each other very much. Let me see how quickly you can sit on your chair/in your high chair, and I just know you are going to stay sitting right until the end when everyone is finished. We don’t want anyone to feel sad because they are sitting all on their own while everyone else has left the table.” Provide activities for the under twos to do once they have finished eating such as board books and peg puzzles. Give lots of loving words for the time spent sitting at the table, but implement a calm yet firm consequence for any attempts to leave the chair or table.

  • Refusing to enagage in a particular activity eg a child who won’t climb a jungle gym, ride a push motorbike, kick a ball or engage in vital gross motor activities like throwing, catching, kicking, running, jumping or balancing. It is very important to confront small children with activities they are flatly avoiding so as to help them grow through their avoidance and mature in that area. Love is a vital and core ingredient here. In conjunction with a star chart (which is really a visual representation of words of affirmation), the parent can say something like: ” Because I love you very much, I have decided that I am going to help you to learn how to ride your bike. I know you don’t like to ride, but mommy’s job is to help you to learn because I know that you are already such a big girl, and you are going to like it very much. And I want you to be happy at school when all the other children are riding their bikes too. So every day we are going to ride your bike just a little bit, and when you have ridden just a little bit, you will get sticker on your chart”.

  • The same concept would work for learning to use scissors, learning to use glue, learning to tie laces, learning to sit at a table or any number of areas where a child may need an extra boost.

  • Refusing to get dressed in the morning State clearly “We are going to get dressed now and I know that because you are three, you can do it on your own. What colours are you going to choose to wear today? Can I help you put the clothes out straight – now let’s see how nicely you can take off your pajamas. Well done!” And so you can walk them trhough step by step, implementing a consequence (counting is good here) for getting stuck on a step. Give lots of affirmation as you go – one has to stay in the room and give support during the learning phase.

  • Doing homework: My son in Grade R gets a batch of homework once a week which we work on a little bit every day. In our family it seems to work well to sit with him doing 10 minutes of homework while his sister baths, and when he baths, she (Grade 000) comes and does “homework” too, where my focus has been to reinforce areas where I feel she needs extra practise. We sit next to each other in my study – I stay with them for the duration of the homework – but I may do some minor admin once they are busy with something. My goals have been to make homework a pleasant and rewarding experience for my son, as I know, as a teacher, how vital it is for boys to start off positively. For both of them I want to see focussed concentration but yet also independent work, so although I sit and give lots of praise as they go, I expect quite a lot of independence, especially for my son. One has to preface homework with comments like: “Come let’s see what your homework is – I know you are going to do such a good job this week” or “You are such a good homework person” or “Jason has been doing so well in his homework daddy, look how nicely he is doing” – a comment worth giving even for imperfect work. Giving love and verbal praise for PROCESS is vital if you want to avoid DRIVEN PERFECTIONISM where children only feel they are acceptable for a final, perfect, finished product. Constantly correcting young children or expressing disapproval for their own work just leads to a reluctance to try. However, they seem to relax and actually do better when surrounded by love and relaxed kindness, especially in the preschool and foundation phases where a lot of their base confidence in school activities is developed.

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A love language thought
Car Time

Finding space to fit in quality time love for quality time children is really challenging in a busy world. But the benefit is worth every ounce of effort you put in to making time available. Quality time children are draining, irritating and exhausting when they follow you around demanding and pleading for more time, and the time then given is worth only HALF the value just because they had to ask for it. Time offered is of a much higher value, and a quality time child with a full love tank will show wonderful signs of independent play and contentment.
A great place to do some quality time talking is in the car. After a Saturday morning workshop recently, I took my two children off to granny and grampa in Pretoria for a visit, and we spent the car time chatting about all sorts of interesting things …..all the way there and all the way back! It was very effective in filling up both love tanks, and I noted yet again the contentment and independent activity that results.
Car time in the morning on the way to school and later on the way home again is great for conversations. Cell phone calls and listening to the radio can be left for other times, as the conversation time is too precious to waste! In our family we chat about what is coming up at school that day (a brilliant way to teach organisational skills and planning ahead) as well as general knowledge topics based on school themes and what we see around us (great for teaching observational skills and social interpretation). In the afternoon we chat about what happened after the day (an excellent time to process what happened). General driving is great for all sots of chats connected to what you see as you drive. Older children and teens will be more interested in discussing ideas and thoughts. Children gain a great sense of security from these simple activities as they understand through experience that they are special and important enough to mom or dad for them to enjoy conversation time with them.

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A love language thought
Loving Touch

Touch children are easy to spot as they can usually be found somewhere ON TOP OF their parents! And they respond so well to lots of different kinds of touch throughout the day. My 3 year old daughter is a touch child, and an easy way to spot a space in her love tank is when she simply says “cuddle mommy”.
Not being primarily a touch person myself, I have had to teach myself different ways of giving Beth (and Jason) sufficient touch. Here are some fun ideas:

  • For a toddler and preschooler, when you put them in a plastic swing in the garden or garage, don’t just push them by pushing on the swing. Use the opportunity to push them by pushing on various parts of their body. I used to sing an inane little song as I worked my way from the toes up, pushing (with a tickle or a squeeze) each time on the body part mentioned! “These are your toes toes toes, these are your feet feet feet, these are you legs legs legs” and so on. Include ears, neck, belly button, nose, chin and so on …. yes you can push gently on them! Fabulous way of reinforcing body parts, personal spacial organisation and body awareness and of course fabulous for LOVE!

  • I had forgotten about zibbits until recently when I lay on Beth’s bed and cuddled her and zibbited her tummy and back before bedtime. She just loved it!

  • One evening with daddy out at a meeting, I invited my two to have a “group cuddle” on the bed before sleeptime. Jason, not being a touch child, skirted in and out of the cuddle squealing with delight as he got captured now and then, and Beth of course stayed close and gained maximum cuddle benefit – also squealing all the time!

  • Just holding hands with a touch child as you walk or even sit together, fills up their love tank.

  • Extended touch rather than quick touch is good for touch children.

  • This evening while helping Beth take off her long-sleeved top before bath time, I played a game whereby every time I “tried” to take the top off, it accidentally turned into a cuddle!

  • Sitting close together while reading books every day is a great time for touch children to experience loving closeness.

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A love language thought
Holidays again!

One of the difficulties parents face is “WHAT TO DO IN THE HOLIDAYS!” Holidays are an excellent opportunity to pour in lots of love where you would otherwise be limited by work, school and other activites. This is where family memories are made, forming some of the deep roots that constitute security for children. There are also great opportunities for discipline training as you do activities with your children. So what to do?

  • For playgroup-age children, a wonderful and easy trick is just to repeat some of the activities that the child enjoyed during the term. Playgroup and preschool teachers have a wealth of clever ideas, and children will enjoy repeating an activity JUST because it is done with you!

  • For older children, get to know your children better by promoting or investigating something they are interested in. My son loves building, so a visit to the Sci-Bono science museum in town was wonderful, as there is a Murray and Roberts building site available for children to “build” on with life-size bricks and conveyor belts and wheelbarrows! For a mere R20 per person, we spent an entire morning exploring the whole building.

  • For older children, museums are great. This week we are going to visit Fort Klapperkop in Pretoria (012 313 7694).
  • For all children, involvement in the activities of the home is INVALUABLE and should never be underestimated in its educational value. Every household and garden activitiy is jam-packed with value transmission, character development, the development of desirable qualities, physical skills and LOVE LOVE LOVE! And the play opportunities for the under sixes are never ending:

  • Stringing up a rope across your garage or down the passage is great for preschoolers to try out their washing-hanging abilities with still-to-be-washed washing. Good for a rainy day.
  • Watering the vegetables by sucking up water in the wazooka and squirting from a distance is lots of fun.
  • Raking up leaves, jumping in them, tossing them in the air and then raking them again for the compost heap.
  • Picking the last flowers of summer for a vase arrangement or two.
  • And lastly, whatever YOU enjoy is also good to share with your child. Our own interests, hobbies, sport or responsibilities help our children get to know us and what is important to us. I go into Alex twice a month to visit a creche and do activities with the children- my children are involved in selecting and preparing the educational activities and apparatus to pack in the boxes.

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A love language thought
In the garden

In September 2009 I wrote about vegetable gardening as an opportunity to express different kinds of love – acts of service together working in the garden, words and quality time as well as teaching children to give, to be responsible and even to eat fresh veg! I thought I would update you on the status of our vege patch, as it has been an interesting season.
One of the first things we planted was about a dozen beans which we had sprouted on the windowsill. However, just as the plants matured, we were hit by a heavy hail storm, which decimated our poor bean plants. Needless to say, we nurtured them back to life, only to have a second hail storm later in the season. We eventually had to pull them out and start again! I was struck by the value of this process in teaching my children qualities such as not giving up, starting over and having hope!
Our gem squashes turned into a forest of plants, and Farmer Jason and Farmer Beth enjoyed spotting gems under the prickly leaves and counting our crop every day!
Some other valuable lessons we learnt just this week were:
Beth is not an acts of service child, and she is learning that everyone in our family pulls together and helps, even if they don’t feel like it. As long as she helps in some way, she is contributing to the task whether it be watering newly sprouted plants or picking beans.
Jason learnt this week that swishing the water haphazardly all over the wall, grass and paving is not really going to help the little plants, and before he was allowed to go and play, he had to do the exercise three times before he showed the self-control required to properly water the baby plants.
Lots to learn in the garden!
So what to plant right now?
Why not try your hand at cauliflower, broccoli, peas, onions or carrots, as they all like to grow in the cooler months. If you are nervous of growing seed, buy seed trays of little plants ready for planting in well composted soil. The only seeds that don’t like fresh compost and have to be seeded straight into position are carrots – let the composted ground wait about two weeks before sowing.

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A Love language thought

One of the things I remember as a child is walking home from school and chatting to my mom about the day over lunch. A child’s sense of belonging can be strengthened so much by this simple act of love – sitting and chatting. Regardless of the age of the child, one can spend 5 or 10 minutes at some time after school sitting together and talking about the day. (Make sure it doesn’t sound like an interrogation – some children need to wait a while before the want to chat!!) For younger children one can ask: Who did you play with, did you paint today, what games did you play, did you bake, did your teacher read the book you took etc. For older children, one can ask about their tests, lessons, homework, friends and extra murals. For quality time children especially, this is a time that says “you are so important to me and I love you so much that I would like to sit down with you and hear all about your day”. If children resist, it may be worth explaining the love in this activity.

Interestingly, these quality time chats have a few other benefits. Reporting is quite a difficult conversational skill for little children to learn, and talking about things in their immediate world helps them learn this skill. Remembering is also a learned skill, as well as explaining things in sequence. On an emotional level, talking about things helps them process how they are feeling, especially if they had difficult or sad experiences. And this is probably the best time for you to hear things that may be problematic such as friends exerting a negative influence or behaviours you wish to address.

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A love language thought
1. Back to school

Primary school is an exciting time in a child’s life, but also quite a stretch for the parents who have to get used to all the demands made by their child’s education! Homework, projects, tests and exams not to mention concerts, sport and extra murals are all part of the fun! The great part of it all is that school activities offer numerous opportunities for parents to express various kinds of love to a child. And children thrive in every way by having involved parents.
So where is the love to be found? Firstly it is in our attitude. One can be involved but distracted, involved but irritated, involved but angry, involved but impatient, involved but disparaging. Our patience, kindness and welcoming attitude is the key to filling these activities with love. And the research is clear on the strong connection between parental love and a child’s ability to learn.

  • Reading: Listening to a child read their reader is filled with love – quality time focus, physical touch as you sit together, and words of affirmation as you give positive feedback. Children thrive on kind responses (Don’t worry, you are just learning OR We can practise again tomorrow OR you have done so well today OR I am so proud of how you have improved) rather than criticism. This is certainly an activity to treasure rather than delegating it to someone else!

  • Practising counting, bonds and times tables: Without a parent’s loving attention, few children can cope with the discipline required to practise rote learning. Only parents can make this fun! And of course maths concepts have to be part of every day life from birth in order for children to conceptualise easily in Grade 1. Include counting activities all the time (How many forks and knives do we need for supper OR please pick 10 beans from the garden OR how many flowers did you pick OR go and pack 3 pairs of shoes.)

  • Learning for tests and exams: Difficult as this may be, the quality time you make available for your child’s learning will be directly related to how they manage to master the material. In my years of teaching, despite trying my utmost in class and incentivising and encouraging every child, only those whose parents took the time to spend daily on their learning managed to cope with the assessment tests and exams. Learning involves an act of service as you train and teach your child, and there are wonderful opportunites for loving words all the time.

  • Checking the school bag and homework diary and packing to the timetable: This daily act of service forms the training that enables a child to be personally organised over time. It is time-consuming and repetitive, but if you invest the time in the early primary school years, a child will naturally become more independent as they grow older, which makes your life EASIER in the long run!!

  • Cutting out pictures: This act of service love activity can be quite fun, and once children have mastered it, they will happily do it on their own. Jason and I have been doing this since Grade 000, and this morning he leapt out of bed and asked if he could make a poster for school on lions (being in the Grade 0 lion class!). All on his own, with a small bit of help, he selected, cut, pasted and even drew his lions, adding his name and class name at the end! The investment of doing it TOGETHER when they are young pays dividends when they get older and can do it on their own!

  • Going to the library: It is tempting to think that using the internet is an easy option for today’s children, but quite the reverse is needed! The information on the internet is generally unedited, and the discernment needed for selecting good material from the internet comes from the slow process of learning to read in-depth from well-edited books. Popular Mechanics published an article entitled “Is google making us stupid” (October 2008), pointing out that internet surfing produces children who can only “surface feed” information. Furthermore, one can compare books by placing them side-by-side, and one can quickly flip back and forth between pages. Going to the library and patiently teaching your child (not mom!!) the complex skill of selecting, processing and presenting good information will span the duration of their primary school career. It is certainly a worthwhile act of service to do!

  • Doing things on time: School is filled with books to be covered, forms to be returned, things to be brought, money to be paid and places to be! Doing this on time is an act of service for your child that helps them learn the value of personal responsibility!

There is certainly much more love to be found in being involved with your child’s education. I hope that you enjoy finding it!


Going to play group for the first time is quite a big step, and there are wonderful ways to use your Love Languages to help your little one settle in. The playgroup teachers I have spoken to have all commented about the fact that children whose parents spend a little time settling them generally have a better contentment and detatchment rate.
So what is “settling” all about?
Remember that under 3 years a child draws all emotional sustenance, confidence, identity and ability to learn from mom. It is important and age-appropriate under 3 to spend some time (10 – 20 minutes) handing over a child. Obviously this means that one has to arrive early enough to be able to fit this in before the daily programme begins. This can involve some of the following:

  • Pushing them on the swing
  • Jumping them on the tampoline
  • Sitting and playing on the carpet with them
  • Sitting doing activities with them at a table

Once you have done this, you can be satisfied that your child’s love tank is full. You will have had time to include touch, words and quality time – just the boost needed to carry them through the day!

When it comes time to leave, please note that tricking a child, sneaking out or lying to them in order to get away is counter-productive! They will be distracted for the rest of the day, never knowing clearly what to expect. Rather be honest: “Mommy is going to go and you are going to play here with teacher. I will come and fetch you at lunch time.” Pick them up, hug them and hand them over to the arms of the teacher in the first few weeks, then walk away calmly! They will stop crying just when you are out of earshot!

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A Love Language Thought
Using physical touch

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
Looking at the newsletters over the past year, I realised that I have not elaborated on physical touch at all, so here are a few nifty ideas:

  • Face painting is a great activity not only to extend mom’s artistic abilities, but to speak love through service and touch. It helps to copy from simple pictures, and stick initially to simple ideas. Kids love it even if it is imperfect!

  • After-bath-lotion is a brilliant way to use loving touch for a touch child.

  • Touch children love any and all forms of giving and receiving touch – letting kids do hairstyles on mom is a favourite for littlies and a good opportunity for mom to zone out for a while!! Once they have learnt to be gentle, many children will enjoy finding lots of different ways to play hairdresser!

  • A parent on a picnic blanket will never cease to be an open invitation to a touch children to climb, cuddle, ride and bounce on dad or mom! A fabulous de-stressor in a modern world!

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A Love Language Thought
Packing for holiday

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
Over this past long weekend, we took the family camping in Polokwane where my husband was attending a conference. Now that my children are a little older (5 and 3 years), I decided to involve them in packing their own bags in a more independent way. Previously I have selected and taken out the clothes for them to pack into the bags. This time I set aside some time to involve them more and was amazed to realise the immense value in this activity.
The more I study Acts of Service love (which is in no way my own primary love language!!), the more intrigued I am at the learning that happens when we encourage children to serve. Here are a few thoughts on what was going on while we were packing bags!

  • Following instructions – “Go and fetch three pairs of socks”.
  • Listening.
  • Counting.
  • Colours – “I want you to choose 5 outfits of matching shorts and t-shirts”. (At 5 Jason managed this, at 3 Beth needed to be guided).

  • Remembering the instruction.
  • Focussing on one activity at a time.
  • How to break up a big task (packing your bag) into little steps – a VITAL skill for primary school tasks and projects.
  • Decision-making (part of the development of independence) – “go and choose one pair of closed shoes and two pairs of summer shoes”.

  • Helping – tasks don’t magically happen at night while the kids sleep. The children are involved and understand how much work is involved in selecting and packing clothes. They are far less likely to take the contents of their bags for granted having invested thought and time into the packing.

  • Acceptance of imperfection – the bag does not have to be perfectly packed although neatness should be attempted. Packing is a skill that must be learnt and improved on over time, with lots of encouragement.

  • Personal responsibility – being able to do things for myself.
  • A sense of pride and achievement at a task completed, especially when mom expresses words of affirmation.
  • Older children can be involved in creating a list of what they think they will need for the duration of the holiday before they pack.
  • Older children can be involved in the planning of menus, food to buy and the packing of supplies.

I noticed that both children were very interested in selecting their own clothes on holiday and they were careful in the use of their bags.
There are a few lovely by-products of this approach for mom!

  • The activity is a good way to fill time instead of racking your brain to think of something to keep little ones occupied.
  • It actually saves mom time – she has two less bags to pack at night!
  • It is an opportunity to express so much love to a child – mom has confidence in you, you are a clever girl to have followed the instruction, I am so proud of you for having packed your own bags!
  • It forces you as mom to slow down and practise patience 🙂

This activity does take some planning, and your own thoughts have to be ready for the slow process and the constant repetition. However, its certainly worth the time to see the increased maturity and competence that such involvement produces. Happy packing!

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A Love Language Thought
Vegetable gardening

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
While reading an article by Bill Kerr in SA Gardening magazine some time back, I was amazed to see that the starting point of a love for gardening and plants began when his mom planted four beans in the garden! Today he is a well-known horticulturalist and regular writer on garden matters. We never know which experience will spark a lifetime of interest for our children – we just have the privilege of walking with them through their excitement of discovering something new.
We planted our four beans outside the kitchen door about two years back, not even clearing a special place for them to grow. Jason so enjoyed being given the task to “go and pick some beans for dinner”, that we gradually added to our patch as we became a little more confident. Although the children do not have set or regular chores in the veggie patch, I involve them in things like switching on the sprinkler (and running through it of course!), picking beans, lettuce leaves, spinach or tomatoes, digging out weeds, putting in compost, planting seedlings and sowing seeds.
As an educator, I can see the value of children learning basic concepts “hands on” in their own garden. Simple terms like roots, stem, leaves and fruit as well as ideas like what a seed needs for germination are all out there in your veggie patch! Snails, slugs, worms and shongololos will visit by the dozen all to be explored. And children will experience the wonder of nature as their plants grow and grow. Children armed with this type of experiental general knowledge have an excellent foundation for formal learning in years to come.
Interestingly, doing acts of service out in the garden has many other unusual benefits. Hard work is one by-product very important for young children to learn. In an instant and perfection-addicted society, it is easy to be critical of less-than-perfect produce. Having grown your own, your children may be more forgiving of a slightly imperfect tomato, and will appreciate the huge amount of effort, time and expertise that goes into growing and keeping fresh, all the produce we buy. An appreciation of the work of others is an important developmental experience in the preschool years.
So to get you started, here are a few easy tips.

  • Beans can be germinated in cottonwool, inside, in the sun, with daily watering. But because they also need air, do not pack the top cottonwool too tightly over them or they will rot. They can be planted out between September and January in a sunny spot once they have their first leaves (6 hours sun per day).

  • Don’t plant beans in the same soil again, as the second crop will not grow!
  • 6-8 bean plants will give you enough beans for your family to eat every 2 -4 days. They will need a few poles to climb up as they get taller.

  • Watch for snails and slugs!

  • Buy a packet of beans at your local supermarket – they will germinate quite well. The packet will last for a LONG time, so share with others!

  • Other veggies and herbs to try (easy if you buy them in seed trays from a nursery) are spinach, parsley and mint.
  • Carrots are successful to sow if you have friable soil and do not plant them in fresh compost as their roots split.

Young children will enjoy picking or cutting veg (with supervision) and washing them before use. And amazingly, children may even eat unheard of veggies if they grow them themselves!

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A Love Language Thought
Clothing messages

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
Whenever I wander around a children’s clothing store, I notice some lovely wording on T-shirts and jackets, which gets me thinking about how we can give words of affirmation to our children even through the clothes we select for them! I particularly notice wording on boys clothes because positive messages can be hard to find, whereas girls clothes always have delightful messages about love, butterlfies, princesses and fairies!
When God made me He was just showing off
Wings of freedom
Mane Man
The next best thing
Avoid “naughty is cute” or “rebellious is cool” messages, of which there are many on boys clothing, and be selective about wording. The best of course, is sitting down and reading wonderful words to your child, explaining why you like them and why you chose them. A delightful moment of love!

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A Love Language Thought
Giving words

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
A wonderful and unusual way of including words of affirmation in our families is to look for opportunities to affirm one person to another, either in their presence or not. Some examples are:

  • When one parent has done something for the children, the other parent may say “Your mommy loves you so much. She took so much time to make playdough/an activity for you”. Or “Wow look what daddy did – he made a ramp for your cars/a bridge for you to walk on”.

  • When coming home from visiting grandparents to say “Your granny and grampa love you so much. Granny really enjoys reading books to you” or “they really love it when you visit them”.

  • When a new baby arrives and the older sibling is learning to adjust, to tell the other parent in front of the older child: “Jason was such a helpful boy today, and he was so good with his little sister. He really loves her very much”.

  • When one child spontaneously does something caring or kind for someone else, like sharing smarties, or letting a sibling have a turn with a toy, to describe this to the other parent over dinner that evening.

  • When coming home from school with a clever craft activity or lovely art work, to also say “You have such a clever teacher, look how much she loves you, she planned this wonderful activity for you to do today!”

Words of affirmation do not have to be directed to the person being affirmed, but this person can also enjoy hearing the words of affirmation being expressed to someone else in their presence. And using works of affirmation when the person is not there is valuable in that the children learn to always be appreciative of others and to speak kindly of people when they are not present.

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A Love Language Thought
The value of recycling

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
While visiting a friend a few years back, I noticed a couple of wash-basket type containers in her kitchen. I was intrigued, as she was using them to recycle items right there. I took her idea and, because I have a tiny kitchen, I put my baskets in the garage and started to recycle too.
Once I had my children, I began to include them from a very young age in the recycling process. A chore such as this is acts of service, and all children can participate in helping. This is not a formal chore but it happens as needed. Practically, we collect recycling materials in one of our vegetable racks in the kitchen, and sort it into the garage bins approximately once a week.
There are a range of skills learnt by a young child engaged in this activity. Apart from the loving quality time of doing this together with mom or dad, there are other educational skills:

  • Following instructions: “Beth please take this tissue box and put it in the recycling cupboard”.
  • Sorting, a vital pre-school skill: plastic into one bin, egg boxes and toilet roll inners into another, tins into a third, glass into a fourth, cardboard into a box and paper into the Ronnie Bag.
  • Distinguishing different types of plastic (same and different, hard and soft).
  • Now and then our recycling efforts have led to creative contraptions!
  • The moral value which is an expression of consideration: “We look after our planet by recycling as much as we can and not putting too much waste onto the rubbish dump. Recycling gives lots of people a job.” So we drop everything, neatly bagged, at Mama She’s every few months.

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A Love Language Thought
The diningroom table

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
Some time during 2008, I watched a series on SABC called FOOD MYTHS, and was astounded to see some of the myths they busted around children and food! One that stands out in my mind is that they proved that children eat a huge amount MORE food having their meals in front of Television, than when they eat at a table! This was visually portrayed for us in EXTRA SLICES OF PIZZA PER ANNUM, a very sobering thought.
Of course the diningroom table is not only excellent for healthy eating habits, but it offers an exciting wealth of quality time opportunities in our rushed lives. Ross Campbell (How to Really Love your Child) defines quality time using three ingredients: eye contact, focus and undivided attention. Not all “together” time qualifies as loving quality time, but table time can easily fit into this catagory.
Table time can include some of the following quality time and learning activities:

  • Listening to mom and dad have a polite adult conversation;
  • Participating in a polite conversation about the day where each member has a turn to have everyone’s undivided attention and interest;
  • Learning good table manners and etiquette, an essential skill for corporate world sucess and social expertise;
  • Telling stories and remembering family events such as holidays, funny happenings or outings;
  • Learning that part of loving your family is to have the self-control to stay seated until everyone else is finished;
  • Learning that another way to love your family is to have self control around technology at the table, because the quality time is with the real people in front of you, and other communication can happen later. Mom and dad can leave their cellphones elsewhere when they are at the table;

  • Learning that life is not solely about entertainment. Entertainment (TV, music, etc) has a specific place but it cannot take over every aspect of life. Eating at a table with the TV off reinforces this.

  • Learning by the example of their parents, that not everything in life has to be multi-tasked! Mom is able to sit down and stay there and enjoy her family too!

The list of benefits of using the diningroom table is endless! Keep at it! Your children will only gain greatly from your insistence on sitting together at meals

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A Love Language Thought
Bedtime stories 

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
“Please mommy can we have a pink flying cow story tonight!” In October 2008 when Geoff went overseas for a week, we bunked the children in one room and I started a special evening treat of telling three short stories to them on their beds before bedtime. Although we usually read books some time during the day each day, this was something different. Based solely on an image of a wooden, pink cow flying on one of our DVDs, I launched into a series of imaginary stories over some months about pink flying cows. The children were entranced! Jason even told me that he saw the pink flying cow milk in the shop, and could we please buy some!
Bedtime stories are a brilliant way of doing a quality time “snuggle up” at night, a comforting time before sleep when all is quiet and mom or dad say “I love you” by spending a few minutes telling a story. The possibilities are endless. I did a whole series for Beth using Topsy and Tim as my characters, but re-telling events that were actually happening or going to happen in her life. For a two year old, this is an effective way of processing events and hearing “story re-telling”, a vital skill in comprehension thinking. For both children, I did a short series on “When mommy was a little girl..”, telling some of the exciting things that stand out in my memory from my childhood. This has great value in deepening our children’s family roots, and in helping them to think outside of their own experiences.
So let your imagination fly! The more unusual and “out of the box” your stories are, the more you will stretch your children’s imaginations to become rich ground for THINKING! Our flying cows have been to the beach, visited a volcano, found treasure in a cave and floated in the dead sea! Having waded through many years of Grade 5 and 6 creative writing stories, I can testify to the fact that those children whose parents read to them and tell stories to them, in turn write creative stories that are a pleasure to read!

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A Love Language Thought
Baking together

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
When Geoff and I got married, he reminds me that I stated clearly that he shouldn’t expect me to bake cakes and biscuits all the time, as I really didn’t enjoy baking that much! I can recall my grandmother and my mom baking regularly, but I really didn’t have the inclination to do so myself.
As my children have grown however, I have seen the wonderful benefits of baking together. Acts of Service is clearly not my forte, but I have had to learn this love language for my son who adores “doing things” and “making things”. Baking is a firm favourite, and being part of every step in the process helps him to express his love language and mature in his ability to love other people. Activities like baking and cooking for the family help children to grow from serving themselves (making their bed, tidying their own toys, taking their plates to the kitchen etc) to serving the family. These types of activities teach them how to love others through serving, a very important lesson to be learned for adult life, business leadership and parenthood.
The love, however, has to be explained to avoid a child seeing service activities as boring chores. “We are making these cookies for tea this afternoon because granny and grampa are coming for tea and we love them very much.” And for non acts of service children, who should equally be involved in learning to serve others, the lesson may be one on doing loving things for others even though we may not feel like doing so.

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A Love Language Thought
Celebrating a milestone birthday

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
I must credit my cousin with this inspiring idea for a milestone birthday gift! When each of her children have turned ten, she has created a flip folder for them that includes pictures, letters and inspirational messages appropriate to the child. The expression of love is amazing:

  • Each member of the family writes a letter to the child explaining ten qualities they admire or love about them. This is an expression of words of affirmation. Young children can dictate their list to an adult!

  • Interspersed with the letters are pictures she printed out of the child doing loving activities with the family. This is a reminder of the many quality time happenings in the past, and a reminder of how much he or she is loved.

  • In her particular books she has taken admirable qualities and character traits that they as a family aspire to, and created a sheet for each of the ten qualities with Bible references and related pictures. This can include things like honesty, kindness, diligence, self-control and love for others. The book then becomes an act of service as it is lovingly put together with special thought for the child and his or her strengths and abilities.

  • Lastly, the giving of the book is surrounded by physical touch, and the parents explain and read the book with the child.

My children have not yet reached a tenth milestone, but I am storing up this idea for later use and will be interested to hear if anyone tries it out! I am sure it would be suitable for a tenth, 13th, 16th or even 21st birthday gift. I wouldn’t use it earlier as the very nature of the content requires some length of time in getting to know – and shape – your child’s character, and some maturity in being able to appreciate the gift.

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A Love Language Thought
Choosing gifts according to love languages

Reference: The Five Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell)
As I sat watching Geoff build Lego with Jason the day after Christmas, I thought about the wonderful opportunity gifts present in speaking love to our children in their primary love language. We can choose gifts that help us to love them in their favourite way, and help us as parents to step out of our own comfort zone and into something a little different.

For instance, loving a quality time child through a gift may mean buying a board game and playing it with them. Or buying sports equipment that will get us off the couch and into the garden for a game of basketball or baseball. For an acts of service child, it could be a craft or hobby kit to do together; you could even make your own board game and play it together! A physical touch child might enjoy an interactive reading book, read snuggled up next to mom or dad. And a words child could enjoy a challenging activity related to his or her interest where you can praise and encourage them as they progress.

Any gift bought with careful thought for the interests and abilities of a child shows love and care. And when gifts are given together with loving words and loving touch, we prevent our gifts from becoming just another acquisition. Enjoy choosing birthday gifts this year!

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