By Cheryl Lage
My question today is if you could feature some ideas as to keeping the kiddo's entertained during that "evil hour" before daddy comes home. I am usually preparing dinner, trying to straighten up the house, and get my mind back into "adult" mode. Our twin girls are very needy at that time - I'm sure due to my lack of attention. And as it works out, screaming and crying when daddy walks in the door. I feel the importance of that first few minutes when he gets home in setting the tone for the rest of the evening. Do you have any helpful time-management skills or activities that kids under 3 can enjoy on their own?
Thanks for a great question. I think we twin-mamas universally find challenge in occupying our duos peacefully, especially for any length of time. By "length" of time, I am talking even a mere 15 minute uninterrupted span! That "evil hour" following naps (especially if the naps aren't genuine "naps" not even legitimately described "quiet time") and preceding dinner tends to be a tough one in our home (and in many others I've heard from) as well. Of course in the back of our mind is the gnawing concern that Daddy will come home to a house of screaming banshees and assume that is how the days go while he is gone: no semblance of calm or control.
What a great Mama/Wife you are to make a priority of creating a consistent warm and inviting environment for your husband to return home to. You also sound incredibly insightful:
"I am usually preparing dinner, trying to straighten up the house, and get my mind back into "adult" mode. The kids are very needy at that time - I'm sure due to my lack of attention."
Sounds like your girls are bright enough to realize that vocally "seeking" Mama's attention when she is attending to other household (read: non-twin-centered) needs seems the logical way to get your attentionˇKeven when that resulting attention is strained and overstretched, it is STILL attention. Believe me, you are not alone. My husband to this day (and our twosome just turned 4 this weekend) often needs to remind me of that, when I get on a verbally corrective bent "explaining" ad nauseum to two toddlers the importance of other homemaking (read: non-twin-centered) tasks.
We have a few methods we have used with success (sometimes more than others, like you, we're dealing with two individuals on a different day, everyday. Sometimes, it's nothing shy of playing the odds!) So in short list form, here are a few ideas.
As always when starting to employ a new daily routine or disciplinary practice, I make a point to sit our children down for a "you all are big kids now, and have learned to do so much" talk. We (or even just me) list all the great things theyˇ¦ve learned how to do (use a spoon, use words, say "Please", whatever you know they justifiably take pride in!). Then, I introduce the new expectation. In this case, "You all are important members of our family. I am an important member of our family, and so is Daddy. Now that you are bigger, we know that just like you have learned to _________, you are able to play quietly together, or even alone, for a while before Daddy gets home. Dinner needs to be made and the house needs to be straightened. I'll take care of those things, and you can take care of keeping things calm until I can finish what needs to happen."
So what ideas will you introduce to "keep them quietly occupied"? Take a peek at the ideas listed below, and think about the individual personalities of Belle and Lizzy. Bearing your unique family situation in mind, use these directly, as a leaping point, or as a potential validation of what you may already be trying!
First and foremost, if you have a contained playspace/playroom with a baby gate (even if they can scale it), use it! It still establishes the visual expectation of containment and enclosure. Declare it the locale or even "clubhouse" for their big girl self-entertainment sessions.
Let them know that in emergencies, you are right nearby, and can certainly hear them if they call, BUT, the more you are interrupted for "non-emergencies" the longer it will take you to get the things that have to be done to get done. Tell them to stop and think a minute before hollering. Let them know that if you finish your tasks early because of their contented play, you all can have a little "pre-Daddy coming home" reading session or whatever "Girly Time" together activity the three of you enjoy together.
Word of experience: Whenever my husband has placed our two in our playroom den explaining he has some things to do and for them to have fun on their own, they are without fail silent for upwards of an hour, and have been able to do that since age 2-ish. When I do it? Less consistency. Especially if they can see me. Sarah in particular has phases when she will lean over the gate and whine for anything from another sippy of water to faux potty calls. Incessant asking "Is it over?" has often caused me to repeatedly remind her that more interruption equals lengthier time before we can all play together. (Read: attention, even when not of the sort we would view as positive, is still attention. All babies/toddlers want Mama's attention; twins in our maternal view perhaps compete for it even more. It doesn't help that we as twin moms feel inherently guilty about our divided-by-nature attention. Remember though, the babies know no other way. We as the parents tend to project the "neither can be getting the individual attention they know they deserve" onto them. Try to relax if that is something you find yourself feeling.
So you think the "logical approach" may be too lofty at this stage?
Ideally, the best safe/containment alternatives then seem to be high chairs or at table with booster seats. There, it can be art time galore! Play-Doh or finger paints may not be advisable if you are trying to avoid constant supervision, but crayons or Magna Doodles are a great option. Crayola also makes the "mess free" finger paints and markers, what a treat that might be! If you have explained the Daddy's imminent return home as a motivator for this "special twin quiet time/Mommy housework time", maybe consider making a nightly drawing art project for Daddy.
Books in the high chairs/at table are also a great option if your girls are into them. If they can sit near each other, they can even be taught to "trade" when they are finished.
If they like characters from Sesame Street, Veggie Tales, Dora, Wiggles, or some other children's favorite, maybe plush figures to play with and accompanying CD music for them to act out could provide a substantial timespan of fun. (Our son has loved animals for years, and at two, we purchased 6 or 7 plastic animals from the Wal-Mart $1 aisle and he would play solo for 30-60 minutes regularly.) Many kids love the Fisher-Price Little People or other easily manipulated people figures.
Electronic toys have never been a personal favorite of mine, but many parents swear by the educational distraction they provide.
In that same vein, carefully-selected (and parentally previewed) DVDs and videos can be a good resource for that limited window of time you need. The phrase couch potato is an accurate one: they may become extremely "calm" if the entertainment is engrossing enough. We know of numerous parents who have actually used a video as a pre-bed calming force. While we havenˇ¦t used videos pre-bed, we have definitely used them as a tool to keep them occupied when necessary. We also have used them as an "earnable" privilege. Other things may be good "earnables" in your home.
One thing we tried with great success, and one that made me feel as though I wasn't constantly "rewarding" each and every good behavior with a tangible beyond positive affirmation (which in my mind, ultimately should be enough, eventually, the knowledge they are doing the right thing should be enough, but for now, they are toddlers!) was the long-term behavior chart. We had both twins facing real challenges that we felt they needed to work on. We created specific charts for each of them, for a week-long span. On each, we listed what we wanted them to try hard to accomplish, and had a space for either a sticker (success!) or an "X" (missed goal) for that day. We declared that at the end of the week, if the charts had more stickers than "X's" we'd go get a surprise. It helped them visualize their successes, and work toward a practiced longevity in changing behavior for the better. If you think the girls are ready, a chart with a single goal of quiet play while letting Mommy get some work done might be worth trying. Sticker for each day that Mommy gets a full hour (or whatever span you determine you need and they are capable of) of things accomplished without unnecessary interruption. If they aren't ready now, put that one in your memory bank for the future! (Many parents employ similar methods for documenting potty training successes.)
If your girls are "Daddy's girls", it might be worth giving incentive that you really want to tell him what helpful girls they have been by allowing you some time to get housework done before he comes home. Positive accolades from Daddy go a LONG way in our house.
As time passes, be sure to reinforce their improved ability to self-entertain. A little acknowledgement/encouragement goes a LONG way, especially with twins. When one child hears their sibling being encouraged, they will often mimic the laudable behavior.
Today for instance, Darren who is in a BIG stage of saying "No, I won't!" to any request that doesn't coincide with his immediate desire, managed to avoid saying "No" when I told him to go to time-out. Granted, he didn't rush there enthusiastically, BUT as soon as he managed a quiet moment without rebuttal, I lavished a "Good job Darren! I KNEW you could take a moment and concentrate and not say "No!" You do need to go to Time-Out, but it will be shorter because you held it together! I am proud of how you are learning to control yourself." He beamed on the bottom step for 3 minutes, and got a big hug afterward. Sarah subsequently made a point to let me know that she had gotten down from the table without standing precariously on her booster chair (as I have clearly asked her not to), and she didn't used to be able to do that. Good jobs were again doled out. Monkey see good behavior, God willing, two monkeys will do!
Unfortunately, there are just going to be occasional (or in our case, seemingly constant) stages of demanding-ness. Try to remember to take some deep breaths as needed, and once you've explained the necessity of Mommy handling other responsibilities, don't feel as though you must respond to each and every whine. As a matter of fact, once you have told them whining is unacceptable, don't respond to any whining at all! You may find it necessary to remind them you don't like that tone, and they need to use a big girl tone to make their requests once quiet play time is over. Until that time, remind them to enjoy themselves peacefully, and you'll be in soon. If there is a clock in their view, even tell them that when the big hand is on the ________, I'll be back in. Gives them a visual reminder to reinforce the time factor. Ours couldn't tell time at two, and can't now, but we use that directive a LOT.
All the best, and many blessings-
Feel free to contact me with your experiences in twin potty-training, or with any twin parenting dilemnas you may have at http://www.twinsights.com. I hope to hear from you!