With four children spanning an age range from baby to 11 years old we have faced different stages of challenges, levels of independence, ways of entertaining and parental joys. With our eldest we have blindly entered each year of different childhood challenges, parental techniques and worked our way through. We are fortunate that our eldest has been for the most part a very contented child. This giving us a foot up the parent ladder in working out techniques for dealing with all of our children and aiding us in proactive ways to entertain them, discipline them and support them in their childhood years. Of course each of our children have different personality traits to keep us on our toes and not all are as easy as he has been so far.
One technique we rely on is a term I suppose that comes under ‘slow parenting’. We feel it’s not necessary even with our first to rush their childhood as it only lasts for such a short time as it is. This parenting approach we use all the time in our minds for planning our family time together. We don’t feel that we’re holding our children back as they have the opportunity to have one to one time at home when we split our parenting (tag team parenting) so I will help Daisy bake a cake whilst Dougie parents the others or he will do fitness sessions with the older ones whilst I have the baby or some much needed quiet time!
Our older ones also have time out away from home to gain much needed independence and have age appropriate activities. Our children attend a variety of after school clubs where they can be with their peers and gain lifelong skills for example at Scouts, cubs, swimming, judo, gymnastics, piano lessons etc. Along side this they have weekends away throughout the year with and without Daddy at scout/cub/beaver camp.
So when we are together as a family we pitch our activities and daily routines to try and encompass all four and lean towards including the younger ones. We just need to plan and think about ways to age gap parent to please all.
Here are some of our tips that work for us:
Out and about – When we’re in parks, having walks or picnics the little ones are entertained by playground equipment, woodland trails and playing catch and blowing bubbles. To keep our older ones happy we set them challenges such as climbing trees, geocaching, and running a game of hide and seek / what’s the time Mr Wolf! Failing this we allow them a little independence such as exploring an area by themselves with a time limit set. We also invested in battery operated 2-way walkie-talkies, which the big ones love and means they can roam a little further without us having to shout to call them back for lunch! Ours love 10 minutes to visit tourist souvenir shops independently in a museum or visitors centre for example. This also means our toddler is not becoming impatient with everyone whilst they’re looking around.
Shopping – In shops (not that we shop often all together!) we give them age appropriate jobs to keep them on task and to save our sanity such as writing lists, collecting the trolley, fetching items.
Age appropriate Movies – At home we stick to a few rules regarding age and that is we only allow our children to watch films rated appropriately to their age (few exceptions the first 3 Harry Potter films and Star Wars films) this makes it easier as when our eldest reaches 12 he will have lots of films to look forward to watching and will do so in his staying up time. We can then pick films that mostly entertain all 3 of the film watchers in the house.
Morning routine – During the week in the morning we have the Milkshake Children’s channel on the tv to keep the toddler in one place whilst I’m getting organised, and allowing the big two to get organised for school without being distracted. They get a chance to view older programs in cbbc etc at the little one’s bathtime.
Homework time – Strategies we use are advance warning (children do not like to be ambushed by homework!), picking your time so they’re not too tired, trying to be encouraging/not overly critical, and downright bribery!
Reflection – Having just a few minutes a day to ask them all one by one about a good fact of the day and anything that wasn’t so good? You’ll get a useful insight into how your children think!
Playing outside – we have a tree swing for the older ones, den area and trampoline for them all, and a little house, slide and water play/sand pit area etc for the toddler. Our older two are also allowed some independence playing outside our house with friends as we are lucky to live in a relatively secure environment.
Bedtime Routine – We stagger bedtimes and have done so since Finlay hit about 5. Even if it’s 15 minutes difference it gives them a brief window of one to one bedtime, or allows them peace to read without tired siblings annoying them!
Chores & Pocket Money – Our eldest is often doing his normal tween groaning on how unfair it is that he gets more to do. He is swiftly reminded that he has weekly pocket money hence a few more chores that others. We started £1 per week pocket money around aged 8, as before this we have found that they just aren’t that motivated nor old enough to grasp it. We also keep our money levels low as we have 4 and we don’t want them to have money thrown at them from a young age. It’s also good to encourage them to save up for bigger toys. Our 11 year old is now on £2 a week. There are plenty of weeks in the year that he will slack off and not be paid for but then he will also boost it by cleaning the car/ shed etc for more coins when he’s motivated! He has an Osper Card which is loaded by us, and this has made him more aware and hopefully more mature when it comes to thinking about money. Now even our toddler is encouraged to take his plate to the sink, clothes to the wash basket etc to then justify the odd packet of chocolate buttons at the end of the week. At this age they really are happy to do such basic chores as they find it a good challenge!
In all of our plans to keep every age happy we find that our eldest love to share and show their younger siblings things that they know how to do, have seen before or can help them tackle. This can be even sitting and playing with duplo, blocks, happyland, pushing the baby swing or even watching Peppa Pig. Let’s face it we all love to act younger than we have to sometimes! A perfect example of sibling games occurred tonight when Finlay made up a game for Teddy with Star Wars figures and a soft ball- called Star Wars skittles! This then makes for a happy team and good team work skills for life. So then everyone is entertained and gives us grown up children a chance for a much needed coffee, breather and chat!
I have started a series of videos on ideas of age gap activities on our YouTube channel for anyone needing a bit of inspiration.