Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Helping Children Behave During Long, Boring, Hot August

One thing all parents know:  Boredom + Being Together Too Much = Bickering.

 No question about it, where two or more people (no matter how old they are) are stuck together in one place for too long -- with nothing to do -- there will be dissent and quarreling, whining and complaining, hate and discontent.  No kidding, summertime at home with all the children can be a challenge for Mom. It's a pity we can't just be gone away from home on holiday through the whole summer break, where everyone is happily distracted and having too much fun to be ornery. But there's a whole lot of time left to fill between holiday trips and outings -- and it's awkward time, when our ordinary-life routines are turned upside-down, children are thrown together who may not be used to seeing each other all day every day, and a lack of structure leaves everyone at loose ends, ready for bad moods.  By August, all summer novelty has worn off and the whole crew is ready to mutiny.
What's a mom to do?

Here's my answer:   DELEGATE!

Though a certain amount of planning on your part is important, don't fool yourself into thinking it's all up to you to keep everyone happy all summer long.  Unless your children are all still toddlers and infants (in which case this is a season of your life when you really do spend most of your time entertaining and caring for them), you can and should leave a good amount of their free time up to your children to organize.  You'll need to start them out with some rules and basic planning, but if you have children over the age of reason, the best summers are ones that they create for themselves!

Here are some things you can do to help them hold boredom at bay, keep their minds and bodies active, and make fun out of the long days of summer -- with a minimum of arguing amongst them:

* Have plenty of resources available for all ages: craft and art supplies, board games, balls, jumpropes, etc
.  Make a space for everything -- and require that they be replaced to that space when no longer in use.  Be clear about who has to replace them and by what time.  If you leave a question, the children won't generally go to the trouble to find out what you expect -- and nothing will be cleaned up.  Or the blame game will start -- and heaven knows, we want to avoid that!

*  Pull out a stack of special summer reading -- either from books you already have, or borrowed from the library.  Maybe even set aside special blocks of time just for reading.  Set the scene for comfort with quiet music everyone likes, comfy pillows, and maybe even clean-finger snacks to nibble on while reading.  Choose special read-alouds for summer.  (*We love Mark Twain for summer reading, as well as pirate classics, like Treasure Island.  We've also enjoyed some of the classic series over summertime,  such as the Narnia tales and the Lord of the Rings.)

* Make a list of ideas for simple activities for the children (and yourself!) to draw from, so no one can say they can't think of something to do! Write several ideas on a white board or chalk board or make a small index card file with ideas -- or queue up a website with summer fun ideas!  Like this one.  Make sure there are an equal number of indoor and outdoor things that they can safely do/play on their own.

* Make rules about television and movie viewing.  Too much of "the tube" makes for cranky kids! Block off the times of day you will allow it and make rules about who gets to choose what to watch, when.  Our general rule is that anyone who gets up before 8 a.m. can watch one of a handful of Netflix shows that have been okayed.  Then, with permission, they're allowed to watch a documentary in the middle of the afternoon when it's hottest outdoors -- and we all watch a movie or program together a few evenings a week, as Mom and Dad decide. (Mythbusters is our favorite, but we also really like the old John Waynes and other classic movies.)

*  Have healthy snacks and drinks available.  Make specific times that the children are allowed to snack.
 Make specific rules about who cleans up, when.  (I know I repeat the "specific rules" thing a lot - but, if you want to avoid arguments and misunderstandings, it's super important to make sure everyone understands what you expect!)

* Make rules about where and when toys may be dragged out to be played with -- and when they need to be put away and by whom.  For instance, we have a craft table that our little boys are permitted to build their elaborate block or Leggo structures on, and they're allowed to leave those toys on that table indefinitely, but they're not allowed to build with them anywhere else in the main living space.(Their bedroom is always free to play in, but has to be cleaned up entirely at least once a week.)  Any other toys the children get out, they have to put away as soon as they've finished playing with them.  Everyone is expected to respect the play structure or game that is in progress amongst any other children in the house.

*  Teach them to organize their own activities. Since we have three older daughters at home (between the ages of 11 and 15), we utilize and nuture their abilities by expecting them to take on roles as assistant "cruise
directors."  On days of the week, when the "sailors" seem especially restless, I'll assign each of the girls an afternoon job.  One will be the P.E. instructor, responsible for finding a game or task that works out everyone physically; another will be in charge of finding and running a "brain game" of some sort to exercise their minds; the third will have to come up with some kind of creative activity, arranging and explaining some kind of art or craft for everyone.  By the time everyone has completed each of their activities, the afternoon has passed with something to show for the time.

This idea can be broken up so that the children only do one activity each day: PE on Monday, Brain Games on Wednesday, Arts and Crafts on Friday, for instance.  Mom or Dad or a teenage sibling may need to help with some of the initiating of ideas, and rules concerning authority need to be made very clear, but it's an excellent learning tool for everyone, teaching organization and leadership for the assistant cruise directors, as well as cooperation amongst the siblings who should be obeying their instructions.  Make sure,too, that everyone is clear on how clean-up must be accomplished!  And reward a successful afternoon of sibling directed activities with a treat!  (Popsicle are always popular here!)

*  A few ideas for some more cheap or free fun stuff to do here...  And, of course, if you'd like to scroll 31 Days of Fun, you might find a few projects to keep everyone busy and happy.
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*  Last, but not least -- and perhaps, most importantly --  provide plenty of time for free play for your kids.    Scientists have proven what children have known from the beginning: parent-free play time is good for them.  Free play is necessary not just for healthy bodies, but for healthy brains!  Read  about it here.

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