School’s out – the daily pace changes. Evenings stretch later and mornings aren’t so harried. Initially, this can be great. For some families, the situation gets old quickly. Togetherness 24/7 can be quite taxing. Emotions get out of hand and sibling rivalry sky-rockets. Expecting our children to play together all the time is unrealistic, especially if they are out of practice. We feel like yelling, “Can’t you two just get along?!” Well, maybe they can’t.
After ten months of life being scheduled to the minute, a lack of schedule can be really tough on children. But it also provides a great teaching opportunity for us as parents. Knowing that too much togetherness will result in disaster, we can talk with our children ahead of time about the need for each of them (and us) to spend time on our own during the day in addition to playing together. Some parents like to set this out at the beginning of the day: “We can all be together until lunchtime, but after lunch, I have to do laundry and the two of you must spend some alone time until 2. Then, let’s grab the bikes and head to the pool.”
Other parents leave things more to chance, recommending alone time once behavior goes downhill. Whatever the style, the following tips can help us set our children up for success so that they feel capable. Before things go bad, explain that it’s normal for them to not want to play together all of the time and discuss respectful ways for them to ask for some time alone.
Build a list of things that each child can do alone - post it in a handy location. Get supplies down from high shelves so that they don’t need to bother you for them during this time.Children get summers off; but whether we work from home or work in the home, our tasks continue.
Communicating our needs to our children up front sets clear limits on our time. If everyone is going for groceries on Thursday mornings, build it into the schedule so that there are no surprises and fewer arguments. A posted calendar enables everyone to see what the week holds – adventures and duties alike.While keeping track of events on a calendar can be helpful, it doesn’t mean that every moment of each day needs to be planned. In our society, many children are used to being entertained throughout the day. Parents often believe that they must fix boredom. In reality, our children may need help to become involved in things but they don’t require constant entertainment.
Boredom offers another opportunity for teaching:
For our children:
Before they get bored, create a What Can I Do List. Make a list of books to read, games to play, craft projects to create, stories to write, pictures to be drawn, puzzles or word problems to solve, friends with whom to play (phone numbers too). (These can take place in a tent in the back yard or in a fort in the family room.)
If they aren’t in the habit of independent play, start them out for a small stretch of time and then work their way up.
Plan a respectful response to the dreaded, “I’m bored!” (Whining back, “If you’re bored with all of these toys around, I’m going to start throwing them away!” doesn’t really help.)
a. “You may continue to be bored or you can find something to do from your list. I have faith that you will make the right decision for you.”
b. “Perhaps your body and mind need some quiet time – why don’t you check your list?”
Often, “I’m bored,” means I need to be with you. Acknowledge feelings and teach them to ask for some time with you instead of whining about being bored.
Lastly, when our children are home all day, we cannot totally disengage. If we tell our kids, “You’ve got me for an hour before I have to make lunch,” then we need to provide undivided attention. Phones, emails, blackberries need to wait. We would expect the same of them. Multi-tasking our attention creates misbehavior that demands our attention. Set your family up for success and enjoy the summer.
Julie and Gail are the founders of Parenting Power. They provide parents with strategies to become confident, capable and calm. Contact them at parentingpower.ca or 281-2524.
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