Caring for Small Children the Little House Way

Linking up with Hallie today!

I received a wonderful question from one of our readers, as a follow-up to this post. Suzette (whose blog you can find here) writes:

This is awesome! Thanks for these tips and perspective. I'm 36 weeks pregnant with a 1 and 3 yr old and running errands, a daily chore and the normal chores, plus cooking dinner is kicking me in the rear lately. The 3 yr old hasn't napped consistently since she was 18mths...that's really the most difficult part of each day. Having her in my space, my face, my work, etc any tips on that? 

Can I get an "Amen!" from all of you out in blogland? Because that's probably the hardest part of parenting small children, isn't it? It's tricky when you have little ones who won't nap or who have given up their naps and you just. can't. get. a. moment. to. breathe! Sister Nugget is 8 months old (today!) and Sister Stinky is 3 years and 5 months old. Sister Nugget is a decent night sleeper (not straight through, but usually only wakes up once) but is an awful napper. I think she's only napped longer than an hour once in her crib, and that was when she was a newborn. Normally her naps are in the 15-45 minute range. (45 minutes is considered a really long nap for her!) Sister Stinky naps once or twice a month. Probably. She was a good napper when she was a baby, but she's just basically done with naps. However, I've discovered that if she doesn't have a minimum of half an hour quiet time in her room, alone, she'll melt down. During her quiet time, I'm able to let the baby nurse-nap so that she'll sleep longer than half an hour. So, basically, what this means is that...I've got one or the other child with me all day!

I could give you my suggestions...but I don't have that third child yet, Suzette! So, I'm going to refer to Ma's advice here.

Let them join in on the fun.

If you read the Little House books, you'll quickly realize that chores were not viewed as drudgery by the children of the family. I'm sure that Ma may have dreaded certain chores, but Laura and Mary certainly didn't (at least not while they were small). Ma capitalized on that wonderful quirk of small children - thinking that adult work is "fun." Now, granted, young kids can't help with every chore, but - from the age of 2 or 3 - they can legitimately start helping with some things. Moreover, they want to help with some things. When Laura and Mary wanted to help out, Ma let them to the degree that they were able. It kept them busy, but it also trained them in doing certain chores that were tasking (like churning butter). She harnessed that toddler/preschooler energy for good!

Give them responsibility as they are ready for it.

Garth Williams, Little House in the Big Woods: Ma's Little Helpers, page 28 illustration


Trundle beds were tiny...therefore, they were the perfect size for little hands to make! As little ones are ready for real responsibility that is all their own...let them have it! Even if they don't do a task perfectly, all that matters is that the responsibility is theirs. Now, if you're talking about a 3 year old, the tasks they can take on independently are pretty limited. But it's something. Can your child carry their bowl to the sink? In our house, our kitchen is downstairs and the rest of the rooms are upstairs (a weird set-up, for sure!) and I can only run up and down those stairs so many times a day. So, one of Sister Stinky's daily responsibilities is to take her cereal bowl and spoon down every morning and put them in the sink. It sounds so small, but it really makes a difference for me! Ma knew that having her daughters take on even the littlest responsibilities lightened her own load and prepared them for bigger tasks down the line.

Unsupervised play is encouraged.


Mandi over at "Messy Wife, Blessed Life" linked to this excellent article yesterday. The gist? Not only is it perfectly fine for kids to play unattended (within reason, and of course you have to keep in mind the maturity of your child) but it's actually good for them developmentally. Now, that doesn't mean you need to just let them loose on the neighborhood (because often that isn't realistic), but you can tell them, "Just go play." They may hang on to your side for a while, but if you ignore them they will eventually give up and go play by themselves. Depending on the child, this may take multiple attempts (speaking from experience here...I have a child who's attached to my hip and very over-emotional at times...takes after her mother!) but eventually, a child will get the point - their job is to play. And you don't need to feel guilty if you need to ignore them in order for them to get this point. You aren't being a bad parent - you're encouraging behavior in them that is normal and healthy for children. Ma took it for granted that her girls needed to play, and she gave them the space and freedom to do so. If you need a break - and even if you think you don't! - it's okay to send a child off with the age-old admonition to "just go play."

Toss them a bone pig bladder.


Okay, so for those of you who haven't read the books, the above picture is one of Mary and Laura playing with a pig bladder during butchering time. (Apparently, it was similar to a balloon.) A pig bladder. A child's idea of entertainment is a lot less complex then you might imagine. Sometimes, the easiest way to keep a child from clinging to your side when you're trying to get through the day is to throw something unexpected their way, and I can just about guarantee that they will turn it into a toy. If you're cooking, pull a spatula and a spoon out of the drawer and hand it to them. If you're knitting or sewing, a spool of thread or a skein of yarn can occupy a child for a long time if you're alright with winding it up when they're done. If you're doing yardwork, handing your child a few sticks and acorns can be a cause of great excitement. I think you get the idea. Things that we wouldn't think of as toys - especially implements used for adult chores and tasks - can be an endless source of amusement for little ones!

Don't make it all about their enjoyment...make sure you're having fun, too!


Okay, something that always strikes me about the Little House books is the fact that there is just something special about the Ingalls family. You can't quite put your finger on it until you reach These Happy Golden Years, when Laura is teaching away from home and is made to stay with a perfectly miserable family. It is then that she (and we) first really appreciate just how happy her family is. Now, the Ingalls family faced all sorts of difficulties...but they also made sure to have a lot of fun. Part of what makes Laura's childhood so happy is that her Ma had fun! There were times when the grown-ups stayed up late talking and enjoying themselves, times when they stayed with relatives and had parties, times when Pa played his fiddle just to bring a smile to Ma's face. Even in the most dire of circumstances, they found little ways to celebrate (like during their Christmas in The Long Winter...definitely worth a read if you're not familiar with it!). At any rate, Ma and Pa knew that the secret to a happy family was their own happiness. And so, they did what they could to make each other happy. Their family wasn't focused entirely on the children - it was focused on the happy marriage of Ma and Pa. And Pa was so deeply in love with Ma, that he did all he could to make her happy (and she did the same for him).

So, what do I think Ma would tell you? She would tell you to be gentle with yourself. She would definitely commiserate with you and me about the hardness of having small children underfoot all. day. long. But she would encourage you to lean on your husband, if you can, and to find humor in little things. She'd encourage you to make sure you had fun, too - whether through sewing, listening to fiddle music, making paper dolls...whatever floated your boat.

From a modern perspective, I've learned that I need to build in little breaks and points of enjoyment for myself. With the luxury of modern conveniences, I can sit a non-napping child down to watch a cartoon (or ten) on Netflix if I need to sleep when the baby sleeps. Quiet time is strictly enforced in our house, even though naps often aren't taken then (it's still a chance for me to lay down and relax). Little by little, like Ma, I'm learning what my "simple pleasures" are, and making sure to work them in to my schedule. When I do so, I'm a happier mommy, and that makes for much happier children. So, please, please...take care of yourself! Be good to yourself! Taking care of small children is a hard job!

But you, like Ma, can survive it. ;-)


  1. Wonderful suggestions! Thanks for taking the time to post this. :)

  2. I love this! Ma is my inspiration, too!

  3. This is so great. My first year of teaching I often thought of Laura and her struggles teaching. Now that I am a parent, Ma is on my mind a lot. Always the kind, soft spoken word. Something for me to work on. But I did have to explain to my husband, "Little pitchers have big ears."


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