I’ve eluded to this concept many times, but today am going to hit it strong. This is probably the best advice I could give any mother who has young children close together…
Corral (verb) to gather together and confine (a group of people or things)
People ask me how I do it. How do I have so many kids so young in age and still manage to stay sane and have some semblance of order while raising well-behaved (most of the time) children. I need to work up a good response to this question since I haven’t learned to take a compliment well yet, but I know the reason.
The reason I can meet multiple kids needs throughout the day.
The reason they’re well behaved for their age.
The reason we have an orderly day.
It’s because I am the Valedictorian summa cum laude graduate from the School of Corralling.
Now, there are many times during the day when I let the kids roam wild and free with the wind blowing in their hair. I actually love those parts of the day when we’re outside and exploring. But for many parts of the day, wild and free is not an option. Why? Because wild and free soon turns into dangerous and chaotic.
What is corralling?
For the purposes of this blog, corralling is when you put children in some area(s) that are contained where they are not allowed to leave without permission. Or sometimes, they are not physically able to leave without your help. This will be for a set period of time, usually a short period, and is for a purpose. It’s not just putting your kid in a playpen all day so you don’t have to worry about them.
So here’s how to corral for the benefit of everyone in the home.
1. Corral during your “trouble times”
There are certain times of the day when I need to give my undivided attention to something that is not all-the-kids. This means I need them occupied and doing something that is a) safe, 2) quiet, and d) mostly supervised and/or contained. Times like these might include:
- feeding a baby
- cooking dinner
- taking a shower
- going to the bathroom
- making an important phone call
straightening my hair
The reason I call these “trouble times” is because if I’m doing one of the above things, I can’t immediately intervene if someone falls off a table, hits another sibling with a big John Deere tractor, or takes a Sharpie to the wall. I can’t intervene because I’m busy with something that won’t allow me to immediately run without other consequences.
2. Use physical boundaries
There are many ways to corral, but I tend to stick to the basics. If I need to do something that is going to take the better part of 20 to 30 minutes, I’ll usually do this when the kids are in independent play so they are already in their rooms. That is their boundary. If I need to do something else for a few minutes like answer the door and talk to someone outside or make an important phone call, I’ll corral in a different way. Here are some boundaries you can use to corral.
- high chair
- infant seat
- booster seat
- a play divider like this
- play room
Or really, any given physical area they can remain in or on. So, if we are taking a walk and the kids are on foot by the stroller, but I need to weave in and out, I’ll make them get in the stroller. Duh. If I need to change one child’s diaper quickly before leaving the house, I can ask the other kids to each sit in a chair by the door and wait. This means as soon as the diaper is changed they’re sitting ready to go. If I need to cook and my 1 year is old is getting antsy, I’ll put him in his high chair with some water, toy, or simple activity.
3. Teach them to stay in one place
As the pre-toddlers become toddlers who become preschoolers who grow up, you no longer need to physically restrain them when you need a few minutes. And I’m talking for their own safety, not just for convenience. But it’s still important that my children are able to sit still for a bit if I need them to. Some evenings when I’m getting my 1 year old ready for bed, my 3 and 4 year olds get full of energy. They want to run around pulling up their shirts playing “belly bumps” and getting more hyped up than is good at bedtime.
I’ll ask them to sit down in a chair with some books and have relax time. They’ll sit back and browse some of their books and chat, but they remain in the chairs. This is corralling. It’s keeping them in one place so I can do something else without them undoing what just happened.
4. Use the door (and the lock if necessary)
Wait for it… sometimes when I’ve given all 3 older kids a bath together, they like to streak naked all around the house and get hyped up. One thing I like to do is to lock us all in the bathroom. Me included. I might say that until every child is out, dried off, dressed, and teeth brushed, we aren’t leaving the bathroom. I’m corralling us all together.
Some may think this is overkill, but I assure you that having a 4 year old, 3 year old, and 1 year old means you really do need to create some order and boundaries. Or you are just running around like a chicken with your head cut off all day long every day.
5. Don’t parent “outside the funnel”
Parenting outside the funnel is essentially giving children privileges or freedoms that are not age appropriate. Or conversely, not allowing privileges or freedoms that are age appropriate. I’ve noticed recently that my 1 year old has been given far more freedoms than I gave the older two children. Why? I just thought it was convenient. What isn’t convenient is how he’d gotten a bit too big for his britches, and wouldn’t sit still or come when I called.
I’ve started corralling him more often to teach self-control and am seeing great strides in his ability to just be a tad more calm. Look, I’m not trying to raise a zombie, y’all, but if a kid can’t sit still for 5 minutes so I can do something important we’ve got a problem.
6. Make sure they’re getting wild and free time
One way that I feel comfortable having periods during the day where I require my kids to sit still and be calm, is because I know they are getting wild and free play where they can exercise and let off steam. They have outside time in their actual corral (my grandmother refers to their big fenced in play area outside as a holding pen, ha), random free yard time, and periods during the day where the whole house is free for them to mill around in. Because I now they are not caged animals, I don’t feel bad when I need to corral.
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