Remember September? Back when the school year was shiny and new and held so much promise? Yeah, me neither. Who cares about March Madness? It has nothing on May Madness if you are a teacher or a parent. The beginning of summer sports, the field trips and field days, the permission slips and graduations and spring programs and end of year festivities…sometimes it feels like we’re limping across the finish line.
As we close out this chapter, maybe you are making New (School) Year Resolutions about how next year will be different. I don’t know about you, but I like driving the train—not being run over by it! Here are some things to work on over the summer to get organized and ready for a fresh start.
Develop systems that will help your kids keep it all together. My older son has a problem with organization. When he was a kid, it always looked like a science project exploded in his bedroom. His backpack was where old papers went to die. He lost everything. And when he found that important paper we were searching for, it had been folded into an airplane or crumpled into a ball. Maybe you have a kid like that as well? You can’t actually rewire their brains, but you can develop some strategies that will help. Years ago I read the book, The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond by Donna Goldberg, and found some really great tools to help him stay in better control of his school life. I highly recommend it if this is an area where you are struggling.
A great asset for your whole household is a blog written by my friend who is a professional organizer. Follow her online at www.organizedbyolive.com. She is practical, gentle, and encouraging and will help you make simple changes that will transform your home. Check out her schedule and try to go to one of her live events to hear her wisdom firsthand. I promise that you’ll leave inspired! (And if you need someone to come to your house for a hands-on session, she’s your girl!)
Another thing you can do is to concentrate on these summer months to train your little people. Get them on board with starting and ending the next school year strong. If your kids need a little remediation in taking care of their own stuff, start working on those skills now. In a lot of cases, they just have too many things to keep track of and they need to reduce the clutter. I will guarantee you that a room that is overly full will not stay clean. Less to manage means less to clean. Also, keep things with lots of pieces (I’m looking at you, Lego bricks) in a place where they have to ask to get them down and then only get them down when the other toys are put away. Legos mixed with Barbie shoes and accessories is a sorting nightmare!
Finally, take a look at your schedule. Just like a playroom with too many toys, a calendar that has too many events makes a life that is unmanageable. Do your kids play every sport and participate in 15 different enrichment classes and activities? It might be time to pare that schedule down. Right now, some of you are saying, “No way! My kids need all of these things to make them well rounded and help them get into the right college.” As a mom of two college graduates, I can tell you that just isn’t true. The time you gain as a family, the homework that doesn’t suffer because you’ve been running from one practice to the next, and the down time you’ll recover from trimming the fat off the calendar is so worth it.
As for the next few weeks—drink a cup of coffee and let’s do this! The light at the end of the tunnel of 2017-2018 is getting brighter! And maybe, if you do a little planning, next spring will be less chaotic. That’s what we’ll tell ourselves at least.
Last week we added another precious grandson to our family. Of course, we immediately pulled out the scrapbooks to see how much he resembles his daddy’s baby pictures. As I was looking through those pages I was reminiscing about how adorable and sweet my babies were. Did I even appreciate how cute they were while we were in the moment? As a grandparent, I know that I need to tuck away every funny thing they say, but as a mom did I realize how fast it would be over? I don’t think so. I just remember cleaning up endless juice spills and resolving squabbles and picking up toys on my way to doing mountains of laundry. It was so hard! And while I was in each stage, I knew that it was the hardest one.
Babies who can’t tell you why they are crying at 3am are physically exhausting. Even though everyone says, “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” you know that you’ll never catch up on dishes and chores if you do that. If they could just tell you what is wrong or if you could find that perfect cure for colic it would be so much easier. That has to be the hardest stage.
Toddlers who throw tantrums over getting the blue cup instead of the red one are emotionally draining. These tiny little humans who can barely talk still have very strong opinions. So. Much. Crying. And potty training? Whew! That is so hard! That has to be the hardest stage.
Then they turn into preschoolers who ask you “Why?” after every sentence you utter. They are curious about everything and sometimes you feel like you just can’t stand any more words—yours OR theirs! That has to be the hardest stage.
When they go off to school, a whole new world opens up. Playdates and sports and homework and programs crowd the family calendar and you often feel pulled in too many directions. That science project that they’ve known about since last Wednesday? It requires a piece of orange poster board at 9pm to finish it. That has to be the hardest stage.
Junior high brings puberty and that’s a whole new thing. Acne is ruining their life and suddenly, parents know nothing. From monitoring their use of technology to helping steer them toward good choices in friends, you have become a real drag. You are not nearly as awesome and cool as their third grade selves used to think. That has to be the hardest stage.
High school just raises all the stakes. Now you are equipping them with a 4,000 pound weapon and instructing them not to text and drive. You are trying to help them choose a career path and college when they are still trying to figure out who they are. Weren’t they just babies a few days ago? And what about that boyfriend your daughter introduced you to last week? That has to be the hardest stage.
Just when you think that your parenting responsibilities are over, you realize that this is a job with no retirement. Parenting young adults is hard because they can do whatever they want but the choices they make are life altering. Now that boyfriend that you thought was a disaster could be a husband! Certainly, THAT is the hardest stage.
Can I give you some hope, mamas and daddies? There really is no retirement plan for parenting, but there will come a day when you’ll turn off the lights and realize that no one cried today. There will come a day when you will watch them cross a stage and be handed a college degree and you’ll realize that you’ve crossed one of the finish lines of parenting. And someday, if you’re really lucky, there will come a day when you’ll hold your newborn grandchild and weep because you have been promoted from the best job you’ll ever have to an even better one.
I recently told my daughter in law that it was my job to make sure her children believe they are the center of the universe and it’s her job to make sure they know they aren’t. I was joking—kind of. She is ready to deliver our third grandbaby and I already have a pretty good track record of making the first two think the world revolves around them. If I had treated my kids like I do these littles, they would probably be unemployed and still living at my house expecting me to do their laundry! Can I get an amen from the grandmas out there?
As parents, how do you go about making sure your kids don’t grow up with an air of entitlement? Your job is to raise responsible adults who are self-sufficient and hard working. In our daycare and preschool programs we see the fruits of this problem all the time. We have kids who won’t clean up their own messes because someone will always do it for them. We have kids who boldly announce that it’s their birthday and remind us that we owe them a birthday treat. We have kids who feel like the rules don’t apply to them and expect us to always rescue them from their mistakes. Maybe you see some of these traits in your own child, but aren’t sure how to reverse that line of thinking. I have a few ideas for you!
First, cultivate a servant’s heart. The whole time my boys were growing up, the family joke was that they would be “happy to help” with anything anyone needed. That’s actually what I’d tell people—“My boys would be happy to carry that to your car. My boys would be happy to stay and stack the chairs when the event is over. My boys would be happy to mow your lawn.” You get the idea. They even caught on and would say, “I’m sure I’d be happy to help trim your hedges, wouldn’t I, Mom?” Were they always “happy to help”? Ummmm….not always, but I didn’t allow back talk or eye rolling or deep sighing from boys that were instructed to help. To this day, they will go out of their way to help others when they see a need.
Second, don’t buy them something every time you go to the store. (That’s the grandma’s job anyway!) When the boys were around 3 and 7, we were in Walmart and my younger son was asking for a pair of roller skates. I had already told him “no” but he asked again. His brother ended it by reminding him that they were with Mom, not Grammy. Wanting something is ok. Saving up for it by doing extra jobs is a great lesson in how to spend money wisely. Just because all of their friends have one doesn’t mean that your kid has to have one too. And if you say, “no”, mean what you say. Don’t give in because you are exasperated and don’t want to hear the begging anymore. The correct answer to “No, we’re not getting anything today” is “Yes, ma’am.” If you’ve already gotten into this bad habit, rough roads are ahead when you try to break it. Hold on tight and let them know that there’s a new sheriff in town.
Third, expect them to do their part. When the boys got old enough to stay home when I went to the grocery, they knew that when I pulled in the driveway they had better come out and help carry in the groceries. (This feature of child rearing is one that I miss terribly on grocery day as an empty nester.) If they wanted to eat the food—and they DID want to eat the food because boys are always hungry—they had to do their fair share. When they were old enough for yardwork, my husband saw the opportunity to train them to help and eventually turned those jobs over to them. (He misses this particular feature of child rearing, too!) I promise you won’t ruin their childhood by expecting them to contribute to the household chores. Start this young by putting hooks where your preschooler can reach them and having them hang up their own coat or put their shoes in a designated area. Your child’s teacher will thank you for training them to take care of their own things!
Finally, model the kind of human you want them to become. Let another car go in front of you in traffic. Hold the door for strangers. Help an elderly neighbor drag their trash cans to the curb and back. Not only are you making an impact in someone else’s life, but you are living by example. As the old saying goes, “People won’t always believe what you say, but they’ll always believe what you do.”
I was reading an article by David Burkus the other day in the Harvard Business Review . (That probably makes me sound smarter than I really am, but the title caught my eye!) The title was “The Creative Benefits of Boredom” and the article referenced two research studies that showed how much more creative people become when they are bored. (It’s pretty interesting if you want to read it for yourself: https://hbr.org/2014/09/the-creative-benefits-of-boredom.) The application for this article was in the workplace, but it made me think of how that works with children.
I’m not a fan of electronics for kids. Now, I’m not saying that there is nothing to be learned from educational apps for kids or that there is anything wrong with a favorite television show in moderation. But when we rely on these things to keep our kids constantly entertained, we create kids who don’t know how to do anything else. Something in their brain gets rewired to need constant stimulation and creativity goes out the window.
In our Before and After School Program, we have one Wii game station that is used in spurts. There are entire days that it doesn’t get turned on at all. The rest of our play space is outfitted with sports equipment in our gym, art supplies, blocks and manipulatives, board games, dress up and grocery store items, and a whole center of dollhouses. It is a rare day that we hear anyone complain about being bored because these kids learn how to make their own fun. They have made creative homemade board games, they put on “shows” for their friends, they make up games in the gym and they play very elaborate games of house or grocery store.
I can also attest to the way this worked in my house when my boys were younger. I limited the amount of television they could watch and we didn’t really do video games. My rule was that if they were bored, I’d find them a job to do. It’s weird how infrequently that happened. Instead, they figured out ways to keep themselves busy which often led to some pretty creative endeavors. For instance, there was the time they took a giant rubber band that had come on a piece of cabinetry and fashioned a massive sling shot from it. That idea went wrong when they hooked it to the posts on the playset and then used that slingshot to shoot plums over the house into the street. That might have been a little TOO creative! Imagine driving down our street and having a small purple grenade being fired at your car! (To the lady in the blue Oldsmobile: if you’re reading this, I’m still really sorry.)
My point is that given a little time to be bored, kids will be inventive. Don’t feel like you need to schedule every minute of their day. Don’t hand them your phone to keep them entertained while you’re waiting for your food at the restaurant. Don’t feel bad about taking them with you to run errands because it won’t be any fun for them. A little white space in their heads is a good thing! It allows a place for ideas to blossom and thinking to occur. Keep paper and markers handy for them to draw or write. Let them bring a book along. My granddaughter can play for hours with a set of little Disney princesses that I keep on hand. She makes up all kinds of dramatic scenarios for them and it is precious to listen to her tiny 2 year old voice singing and playing.
As we approach the upcoming summer out of school, think about the possibility of going unplugged. The initial breakup with the remote will be hard, but just like with that junior high boyfriend who broke your heart, there is something better on the other end. Just watch out for any combination of rubber bands and boys. (Speaking from experience here.)
First, let me start by saying that I was the good kid. My sister? Not so much. She gave my parents a run for their money. (Spoiler alert: she has turned into a pretty great grown up.) If my parents would ground her for being late for curfew, she had already calculated whether that punishment was going to be worth it. If she didn’t have anywhere else to go for the next couple of weeks, it would be worth it to stay out and take the lumps.
Now I know that every parenting handbook you read will tell you that having consistent discipline teaches children boundaries and will result in better behaved kids. Believe me, I read all of those books too. I also went to college for Early Childhood Education and was taught the same thing there.
When my boys were little, I had the chart on the fridge that outlined the infraction and whatever penalty they would suffer if they broke the rule. If you do X, then Y will follow. My kids knew the punishment for lying, but sometimes they still lied. My kids knew the punishment for hitting each other, but they sometimes still hit. My kids knew the punishment for disobedience, yet sometimes they still disobeyed.
I’m not going to tell you that all consistent discipline is worthless, but I think there’s a little power in the unknown. When I started going off script, I found that they were a little more afraid to break the rules. When there’s a crazy person in charge, you never really know what will happen next! You should have seen their faces the first time I made them hold hands because they were fighting. For 15 minutes, they couldn’t get away from each other. If they could find a way to play cooperatively while keeping their hands linked, so be it. If they continued to squabble and couldn’t agree on what to do, well then, so be that too!
The other advantage to this approach is that it really helps develop your own sense of creativity. Those hum drum days of kids sitting in time out can be over! Think of something new that will catch them off guard. If nothing else, it will relieve some of the monotony of doing the same thing and getting the same results. (Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?)
We try to mix things up with our Before and After Schoolers too. Using unkind words? We might just ground you from speaking for a few minutes. Pushing to get to the front of the line? We might just reverse the whole line and you’ll be at the end. Then again, maybe we’ll just give the biggest helping of the special treat to the people at the back. They really never know!
Yes, we do have some hard and fast rules that always get the same result, but we’ve found that a little creativity in dealing with minor offenses really does work better most of the time. So get those creative juices flowing! If you’ve doled out a punishment that really fit the crime, share it with us here. I’d love to hear what you do at your house!
Hi! I'm Janet and I've been the Director of the Before and After School and Smart Start Preschool Programs at the Troy Rec since 1994. My hubby and I have been married 30 years and we have two grown sons. Each of them is married and blessing us with grandchildren left and right. Life is good even when the nest is empty!