Anyone with young children knows how difficult it can be to get anything done. On a small farm there are some jobs that have to be done, animals must be fed and vegetables watered, feed stored properly and machinery or tools mended (constantly it seems).
In any setting, a small child can find task switching hard and you can end up dealing with epic tantrums that seemingly spring out of nowhere. Coaxing your 2-year-old away from the ducklings and baby goats to go water the garden (or vice versa) is not easy but doesn’t always have to end in tears.
Here’s our top strategies for task switching with toddlers on or off the farm!
Not just along for the ride
Sure you could bundle your child from task to task to get it all done in super-fast time but this is likely to result in a lot of screaming and it’s certain to make you as unhappy and frustrated as your toddler. Try getting them involved instead, tell them what needs to get done and let them help, however painfully slow that may be! Children want your approval and there’s nothing that makes a toddler proud of themselves like helping you feed hay to the animals or gathering eggs from the coop. Once the task is done they’ll be eager to help with the next thing and moving on should be a lot easier.
Although measurements of time have little meaning to small children it’s still important to let them know before you expect them to abandon what they’re doing. Once we really thought about it we realised just how important this one is. A few minutes warning is all it takes.
Often our daughter is totally engrossed in whatever mission she’s embarked on. It may look like she’s doing nothing but to her it’s terribly important and being torn away without any warning is definitely not ok with her. Do all the stones need to go in a line or is unstacking all your plant pots essential? Try to think like them and if necessary help them to discover what they need to do to complete their task before you drag them on to your next one.
A little reminder that you’ll you be going soon goes a long way. Just say something like ‘you can do x three more times and then we’re going to do y’.
Talk about the next task
A little enthusiasm goes a long way and since we love working on the farm, our daughter does too. Make sure you talk about the next task and tell them what they can do to help you with it. We never use the word ‘chores’, from shovelling manure to building broody nests for the chickens, everything we do on the farm is called fun.
Avoid any statement that only gives one option
‘Do you want to…’ Usually this question would end with something our daughter loves to do but sadly it wasn’t always met with the enthusiasm or compliance we had hoped for. Instead give a choice that makes them engage with the new task. We go with; Do you want to carry this to the pigs or shall I? or … Shall we feed the pigs next or water the garden?
This also works for nap time! Our daughter sleeps in her push chair, we have to push her of course but it’s a small price to pay for an hour or so of ‘us’ time. ‘Do you want to go to sleep?’ was starting to fail and tired toddlers are hell so we changed it to ‘Do you want to get in your pushchair by yourself or shall I help you?’ This really works!
Let them know how helpful they can be
One of our hardest moments of the day is when the watering in the garden is finished. Simply turning off the tap and saying ‘all done’ was not going to cut it. So we began to make the end of the watering a task our daughter could complete, she makes sure the last drops of water come out of the hose and it’s terribly important! If you can find a job for your child that helps the task end, no matter how silly, just go with it.
Allow enough time
Being on a schedule is sometimes inevitable but if you don’t have to, try to avoid rushing. Leave enough time for each task and ask yourself if you really need to rush off to the next one. This could actually save you time, five minutes playing and preparing your child for the transition could be quicker than the tantrum you’ll see if you try to rush.
Unless your goat’s having kids in the next field or the ponies have broken into the grain store you can probably spare a few minutes to indulge your little one. Take a look at what they’re doing, ask if you can join in. Maybe that other job can wait a while? Besides, filling up the little pots of water for the ducklings isn’t such a bad way to spend 10 minutes!
If all else fails, there’s always food. I must admit that I use this tactic more than my husband but it works and if you try to keep it healthy I think it’s alright. During summer we have peas and strawberries growing in the garden that make good snacks and if we’re trying to make it home the promise of a drink on a hot day is usually a winner.
Doing all this helps make time on the farm much more enjoyable for everyone and we get to stop and appreciate the wonder that our child finds in almost everything. Farming with kids can be a joy, if you have a lot of patience and you approach it the right way. Maybe you’re not as productive as your childless friends but you’re growing little humans into confident happy people and that’s got to be the most important job of all.
What strategies work for you? Let us know in the comments!