preparing for visitors

Ok, so Christmas is a busy time… extra services, extra fancy food, extra special activities and for us extra people coming to stay over the holidays.

There are a few things I have learnt the hard way over the years about helping my children through all the change that having visitors brings so as I’m thinking through all the behind the scenes tasks I have yet to do I thought I’d share them in case they’ll be useful to any of you…

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creating space

With a houseful one of the hard things is children losing that sense that they have a space that’s theirs, to escape to, to be calm in. So we work hard at creating and articulating for them some space they can call their own. It’s usually bed space, but it is more than that physical space that’s needed. Visitors sleep in A & T’s room, and they come into ours on camp beds, so we work together to make sure that all the books/soft toys/lights/clocks that are essential to that feeling of safety and ‘my space’ get moved too and each of them gets somewhere to put them, and lay them out how they are comfortable. For B, who has cousins sleeping in her room with her, we encourage her to do the same, taking all the essential things up into her high bed (which does make it a bit crowded – or should I say more crowded than usual, she is a nester!) and keep that space just for her.

Having a designated, easily visible space they can go to is so important to enable them to regulate their emotions during the time visitors are with us, and to give them a place to go to when they are reaching their limits of sensory input. If they don’t think to take fiddle/sensory toys to that space then we take them there anyway, they are usually needed.

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But that’s mine!

The other half of the story about space of course is that each of my children has to loan their bedroom to visitors for the time they are here. Right from the start we have strongly encouraged sharing, but it soon became clear that the concept needed to be broken down into clear, manageable steps… so from the time B started school we had developed a ritual of sitting her down and discussing which things were too special to share – we put limits on just how many of these there could be! – and these were then put carefully in a box or bag and put right away while the guest was with us. We did the same before friends came for tea even… just knowing that those special things didn’t need to be shared took some anxiety away about how they might be touched, played with differently, broken etc.

The discussion also involved the negotiating of an agreement that the things left were ok to share, we were expecting the children visiting to be able to touch them, play with them, look in the books and so on, and that we expected B not to be cross when they did. We spelled out that we would be supervising too, to make sure things didn’t get broken, and if they did we would try to mend them, but that it was ok to let visitors play with our toys.

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We try to have fun thinking together about what each visitor might enjoy while they are with us… which books could we choose & put next to their bed for them to read at bedtime? Do they usually bring a cuddly toy for bed? If not, is there one maybe that we could tuck into their bed for them to find when they arrive and cuddle each bedtime they stay for? When they wake up in the morning what do we think they would enjoy playing with before breakfast? could we make sure those kinds of toys/activities are easy to find on the shelf? And what about creating some lovely play spaces downstairs together to use during the day? And to think together about a box of crafts or activities that could be dipped into for ideas during the visit. Yes, doing it together does make everything take longer! But I’ve found the detailed, methodical collaboration pays off in the way it reduces anxieties and helps to visualize the activities of the days ahead.

that’s theirs this week

I find it helpful to say out loud that the room we let guests sleep in is their space while they are with us. We need to ask before going in, and we need to not go into their cases or bags looking for things.

We had a ‘funny with hindsight’ moment when B was only a toddler. We were hosting as part of a pastor’s exchange, and our guests had just arrived, and were having lunch. B never stayed at a meal table back then, and so she was toddling and playing. About half way through lunch we noticed how quiet it was… oh yes B had taught herself a new skill and had discovered zips on a rucksack! All our guests camera film was on the floor, and B was happily focused on the lovely film that could be pulled slowly or fast out of the containers!!!

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when and what next?

Yes my children need to know when visitors are arriving and when they are leaving, and they really do feel far less anxious when there is a plan for what we will do each day when visitors are with us.

Sometimes we can get away with working out a list of possible activities and explaining that we will do those things over a number of days but we will work out the order with our guests, or perhaps depending what the weather is like each day. There are usually many fixed points during a visit though too, that we write in the plan and then stick to. Over the years we have learnt together that time between definite activities (or even whole mornings without ‘a plan’) is manageable when we have carefully gone through the processes of preparing play spaces, craft box etc in advance. Somehow it gives boundaries and confidence to a ‘gap’ on the timetable.

We also find it makes things easier when we plan the meals and go through it with the children in advance too. And extra special foods for Christmas always have an alternative that is familiar. We have also found that it helps to say in advance where my children can sit for the meals – especially if there will be a kids table and an adult’s table.

I have prepared a social story about our Christmas dinner – because its a flash point! (see here    – I have left as a word document so it can be easily adapted)

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Well, I’m still expecting there to be ‘moments’ while visitors are with us… but at least when I try to do these things I feel more prepared, and feel I have prepared them as best I can!

 

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A simple Bible story

It’s bedtime story time with T and I’m delighted she has asked for the story about the trumpets that she had in her church group last Sunday (I’m thinking walls of Jericho piecing together the bits she has said about it since then). I look for her Bible on her shelf, and wonder if it will have the full story in it, and decide to pop downstairs to get one of the versions I have on my shelves that I’m sure will tell it well. Of course I’m hoping she will be able to do what I asked & climb the ladder & be ready & waiting when I run back (ever hopeful!!)… needless to say when I get back there are just a few little details to sort out to help us be ready (PJ’s have been taken off again, others are negotiated on; toothbrush put on the bed ready (she is less stressed doing it with stories) is now hidden – found, cleaned and put back ready; climbing the ladder has to be done with my help, apparently she doesn’t want to touch the bottom 3 steps at all on her way up tonight; we settle into our spaces on the bed – always very precise…)… now, its story time.

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So, we read our two other stories (T gets 3, but can lose one sometimes – it’s something she adores so suggesting losing one can improve behaviour quite quickly.) and then open the bible and find the walls of Jericho – so far so good. we read, we talk about the pictures, and she is, as always, very keen to tell me what will happen next. But when we get to the end she suddenly becomes a ball of stressful emotion. She pinches me, tries to bite her hands, pulls out some hair, kicks the wall, growls at me…

‘what’s wrong?’ I say when I can get a word in edge ways. ‘It’s not finished! … It’s not the right story! …  It’s not right!’

A large amount of lengthy unraveling and calming down later and I managed to discover that this version of the walls of Jericho was simply different from the one they had used on Sunday.

The trouble is that it’s very difficult to help T express to me which particular part, or phrase, or word she really needed to hear to feel it was the same story. Emotions can be sudden and are intense, almost impossible to think in the middle of them.

I tried later, once I’d calmed things a bit more, to explain that every Bible in our language is slightly different because the people writing the stories in our language have to make decisions about which words might be best. I tried to explain that children’s Bible’s especially are each written slightly differently but are the same stories just being told by a different person – like I sometimes tell you a story (‘from my mouth’, as T describes a made up or oral story) but when you ask me to tell you again it might be slightly different because I choose different words – ‘but I correct you!’ – implication, then it’s ok.

She’s right, she’s very particular about how stories are read. If even a word is missed we may have to go right back & start again. The other day we recorded our reading of one of T’s favorites,  hope you enjoy it – those who also know this emotional intensity around stories will I’m sure notice the definite ‘yes…’ every now and then when T does not want my help, and will hear the anxieties in T’s voice as we struggle with ‘Schnitzel’, and I’m sure will spot that just as I stop recording she is beginning to ask if we can start again because she didn’t get a bit right. Of course, we had already gone through the story about 3 times because something wasn’t quite perfect each time, and she just loves this story when it is all absolutely right!

T reads Hairy Maclary with Mummy

I have some work to do! This may have been an extreme reaction, there may have been other factors making stress levels that little bit more unmanageable that night, but it is not going to be the one and only time she will hear a Bible story told ‘slightly differently’. The way a story is retold in collective worship at school, at the front in church, in youth groups, in different versions of the Bible, in drama… all of these differences could feel very uncomfortable and perhaps confusing.

I want to explore with her how any story can still be the same story despite variations.

Perhaps we will adventurously find out how the Bible came about as we have it now, perhaps in that story and that history some of these differences will have a context that gives them meaning. I have a small book on my shelf called ‘all about the Bible’, Lois Rock & Anna C. Leplar. I might start there.

I’m hoping maybe as we’re finding all this out that we can talk about how the meaning of the stories in the Bible, their essence and value, the way that the Holy Spirit speaks through them to us is much more than the particular words – which I know is going to be very hard to explain!

my jesus family-Dorothy book

 

Drawing together resources 2

Well finally here are some more Bible verse colouring pages.

Printable versions linked here

 

Drawing together

I myself have taught my people to walk, leading them along by the hand. (Hosea 11:3)

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Finding things that my kids & I can get engrossed in alongside each other is important to me. So much of the everyday time we spend together is spent trying to negotiate things like homework, mealtimes and after school clubs, and getting to the right places at the right time!

When they first started school I naively assumed that the hour or so between school and tea would be amazing – catching up on each other’s days, thrilled to be back together. But the reality is, as I’m sure most parents could have told me if I’d thought to ask, that usually it’s more like a flashpoint. Kids are hungry & exhausted after the day at school, craving space & a chance to switch off at the same time as feeling clingy – and often I have that feeling of ‘help I just needed another 30 mins to finish that job’, so things can get a bit tetchy!

It’s been important for me to be intentional about finding things that the kids are absorbed by that also interest me – or that I can develop an interest in! – that can be ready to pick up & do together of alongside each other in the flashpoint times of the evenings (at the moment its just before bed for some, after school for others, and that awful run up to tea).

During primary years with B, we spent a good few months with a dolls house, painted and brushes out & ready in the dining room so that she & I could paint it together during those times. Andrew & A have done similar things with models. Baking has also been one, especially at weekends when there’s a bit more time. But one activity that has lasted for years now with B & now seems to be working with T too is drawing & doodling.

We recently had a chance to get out our colouring books at the ASD support group I’m part of, and we learnt about how it frees up our thinking by occupying the part of our brain that so often overpowers our ability to calmly think, process & communicate. It helps us to process things differently.

 

..colouring in is an easy way to calm the mind and occupy the hands. Speaking at a mental health workshop in 2009, author, speaker and communication expert Mark Robert Waldman explained that active meditation focuses attention on simple tasks that require repetitive motion. Concentrating this way replaces negative thoughts and creates a state of peace, and many people who have a difficult time with concentrative meditation can find this easier. This gentle activity where you choose the colours to create your picture and the repetitive action of colouring it in focuses the brain on the present, blocking out any intrusive thoughts. (https://www.psychologies.co.uk/why-adults-are-going-back-colouring-books)

“When you draw an object, the mind becomes deeply, intensely attentive,” says the designer Milton Glaser, an author of a 2008 monograph titled Drawing Is Thinking. “And it’s that act of attention that allows you to really grasp something, to become fully conscious of it.” (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/07/doodling-for-cognitive-benefits/398027/)

Interesting to find out about drawing, doodling & colouring from another perspective! I guess some of the same benefits are the same whatever form that absorbing activity takes, model building, crafts, baking, gardening.

Of course the benefit I was looking for is also there when it is an activity we are doing alongside or a project we work on together. The space and calm we find, we find together. It does draw us together – sorry couldn’t resist!

The girls & I are thinking about our family lent verses by drawing them when we get time… I seem to be creating colouring pages so when I have a few more finished I will make them available here.

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So it’s 2016…

Will it be busy? (most probably)

I wonder what will surprise me?

Will I find it tiring? (Of course!!)

I wonder what will make me smile – laugh even?

What new skills will I learn?

I wonder who I will meet, who I will encourage, who will encourage me?

Will there be new challenges to face with the children, how will they grow, who and what will inspire them this year?

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We have had a lovely couple of days with some of our family, the kids have been playing; good food has been eaten; silly games old and new enjoyed. Today after the late night last night everyone has been tired but ‘relaxed’ (quite a bit of the day anyway) and now the upstairs is getting gradually quieter (spoke too soon, we have just had one tip toe down the stairs and a tired anxious face round the door!), the fire is dying down and we are chatting, tweeting, checking messages and reflecting together. I actually really love these days just following all the bustle and party poppers, they are the ‘pause’ before getting up and setting off again.

I was talking with a friend over coffee recently about snow, particularly those patches of clean fresh snow that haven’t been trodden on yet. Most kids know just what to do don’t they, we wrap them up warm and they’re off – running, delighting in the possibilities, the space, the patterns of their footprints behind them. We were also recognising that sometimes we find ourselves standing looking out on a completely blank, unknown landscape yet to be ventured out into, and it’s fear that quickly threatens to overwhelm us rather than excitement. Maybe there is fear of spoiling it, failing it with our footprints, or of perhaps of losing our sense of direction and belonging in it’s expanse. The unknown throws uncertainty in our way; will I know how to cope with what comes my way?, what if it’s not solid ground underneath?, what’s at the other side or round the corner, will it be for good or for bad?

My friend commented to me it is as if God has us at a crossroads in those moments, the necessity of moving forwards is a given, but how we embark on it depends largely on us. To run with excitement and anticipation, knowing we are provided for, watched over by Him, assured of His loving faithfulness; or to be fearful, unsure of our own ability and strength to manage whatever may face us with each new unknown step. It’s a challenging picture for me – so instinctively biased towards the fearful, ‘I’m not good enough’ approach in life!

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Especially challenging as a Mum, when so often loving my kids to bits seems to be worked out in practice as worrying about the many ‘what ifs’ that could be round the next bend!!

With subject choices at school coming up this next term for B, more steps in the process of assessment with T, and continuing settling into secondary school for A in this year ahead there is plenty of potential to feel I’m at that crossroads. And I truely know which choice I want to make because God has proved Himself faithful and loving, I want to step into each unknown confident in Him to lead and provide, and protect… I also know I want that same confidence and anticipation for us as a family together as we come to each new possibility, challenge, surprise and disappointment of the year ahead. I know we’re going to have to take turns to encourage each other into what’s new when the fears threaten, I have much to learn from all of them in their confident trust in God, fearless praying and hoping, and joy-finding in the moment as we step out. But I know I want to keep on stepping out… Andrew has just read out to me these wonderfully, fearfully inspiring words from a Dad who steps out where God leads him…

“As a husband and father, I feel the weight of responsibility like never before, but as I’ve often preached, the safest place to be is in the heart of God’s will, and safety isn’t the absence of danger, it’s the presence of God. We’re immortal until He calls us home. We can’t just talk a good game, we have to live those words out. You too in this new year of 2016. May it be your best yet!”
Written by Simon Guillebaud as he prepares to return to Burundi with his family next week.

I don’t want fear to get in the way of living our lives in the heart of God’s will, don’t want to miss out on what God has for me, for us. So I guess if fear is difficult to shake off I will have to step out anyway, despite it kicking and screaming and creating a fuss – as I have always tried to do

Making the decision to begin ‘clearly nurturing’ at the end of last summer was a crossroads moment and it began much more within me than I could have anticipated. I have been surprised by how much I have grown to love finding little spaces to sit and write, I have been so very encouraged by all of your comments here, on Facebook and via Twitter. It has been great to reflect on some of the everyday amazing moments of sharing faith with my kids, I think (trying to be optimistic!) the process may even strengthen my skills in joy-spotting! So a HUGE THANK YOU for being part of that!

I’m excited (yes honestly) about ‘clearly nurturing’ – the blogs during this next year, and also how it may develop. Alongside this blog I have been busily working on some books for parents like me to enjoy with their little ones, books that I hope will be good tools as we share our faith with them & grow in faith together. I’ll hopefully be able to let you know more soon!

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