A few years ago (around the time Lily turned 2) I came across some great advice for moms with preschoolers.  I can’t remember if it was a book or blog, but it has stuck with me nonetheless and I use it almost every day.

Moms AND preschoolers should be able to answer two questions at any given time of the day.

1. What are you supposed to be doing?
2. Where are you supposed to be doing it?

Now at first this may seem a little controlling (okay, maybe not to you, but I thought it was the first time I read that), but think about it.

When you are “in charge” of your preschooler, how long do you allow your child to go unsupervised?  Maybe 5 minutes?  10? 15?  Until they get into trouble?

A 4 year old given the freedom to roam throughout the house looking for something to do is destined for trouble.  Sure, they may be able to entertain themselves with an age-appropriate toy for a little while, but soon- when you notice the silence, you will likely stumble upon a big mess.

Being proactive about what they should be doing and where they should be doing it minimizes the amount of trouble they can find because of sheer boredom.

The only way I survive being a stay-at-home mom is by asking myself or my kids these 2 questions.  And I ask them daily.

Whether the answer is: 
Playing blocks in the office.
Coloring at the table. 
Playing ponies on the floor in their room.
Reading on the couch.

Between the hours of 8-5, there is always something & somewhere.

This maintains my authority over their day, and helps me be proactive in what they do.  There are times they get to choose their activity, and times they do not, but most importantly, we should both be able to answer these two questions.  If they can’t answer it, how can they be expected to do it?

Most times when my kids are in trouble it is because I have failed to do this.  Not all problems are eliminated, but minimized greatly.

I also think the more specific the directions, the better.

Here’s a small example:

Every morning after breakfast all of my kids have room-time (until Lily started school this week).  The idea is that each child has a specific activity to play with on their own without anyone else entertaining and/or helping them.  This helps with problem-solving skills, learning to self-entertain, make-believe, and much more.

Well, over the summer I got a little too lax in my directions during room-time and started letting my girls (age 3.5 & 5) play together.  As long as they were reasonably quiet and didn’t argue, I let them play at will.  While it worked some (maybe even most?) of the time, it wasn’t satisfying the reason why they have room-time to begin with.

Finally a couple weeks ago, I enforced the boundaries again with Lily & Cailyn.  I divided their room and told them each to pick a side.  Then I gave each a box of toys (one ponies, one princesses- & no they did not get to choose).  I told them they could ONLY play with what I had given them, and they couldn’t cross over to the other’s side.  I shouldn’t have been so surprised, but they played for an HOUR quietly.  After 30 minutes I went in and told them to switch sides so they could take turns (& they eagerly obliged!).  They were having so much fun I had to make them clean up and practically bribe them to come downstairs when it was snack-time.

During evening time when Filipe is home they have free time, but every now and then if they get out of control, we quickly give them an activity and a place to be.  It’s amazing how quickly the noise level subsides.

It’s not always easy, but I’ve found necessary indeed!