Boredom Isn't a Bad Word
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!
I’m about to tell you something really big. This one tip for parenting has the power to transform your family. If you can implement just one change in your household, make it this one. Are you ready for this? Ok…here it is: Eat family dinners around the table. I didn’t really know this wasn’t the norm until I started talking to other people about it. As it turns out, family dinners around the table aren’t as common as I thought.
According to the web site www.thefamilydinnerproject.org, “Recent studies link regular family dinners with many behaviors that parents pray for: lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and depression, as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. Studies also indicate that dinner conversation is a more potent vocabulary-booster than reading, and the stories told around the kitchen table help our children build resilience.” What other thing can you do as a parent that has so much benefit for so little effort?
Right now, some of you are saying, “This crazy woman doesn’t know our family’s schedule.” I get it. You’re busy. I remember the weeks that had multiple sports practices, school functions, board meetings and homework to finish. Sometimes you are just glad to shovel a little food into your kids on the way to the next thing on the agenda.
I’m not talking about serving a gourmet meal every night of the week. It really doesn’t matter if the meal is frozen fish sticks or even a Happy Meal. The key to this tip is to sit around a table. Maybe that table is in your local Wendy’s or Chipotle. That’s ok too. Just gather as a family and eat together. Ask each other about your day. Tell them about something you read or something that happened at work. Let them tell you about the math test that was so hard or the science experiment that went wrong.
If you’re new at this concept, you might have a jar of conversation starters that each person draws from. These might be something like “Tell us something that made you laugh today” or “Tell one new thing you learned today.” You can look on Pinterest for a million ideas for these kinds of prompts.
Put your phones away. Make this a family rule that no one is allowed to look at the phone or the tv until you’ve had dinner. Model this by putting a box or a basket on the table and having everyone stow their device until everyone is finished eating. It is a rare occasion that there is an emergency so important that it can’t wait for 30 minutes until you all get finished.
For those of you with younger kids, I know that mealtime might be the most stressful time of the day. Getting dinner on the table, trying to find something that your picky eaters won’t complain about, cleaning up milk spills and making sure the toddlers aren’t feeding their dinner to the dog make this time of day a hair-raising experience! Can I just encourage you to keep trying? There will come a day that you’ll have intelligent conversation and you won’t be reminding your preschooler to take another bite every 45 seconds.
Now that my kids are grown and gone, my favorite dinners are when they are gathered back around the family table. Yes, we’ve added more chairs to accommodate daughters-in-law and grandchildren and sometimes it’s a big messy event. We still have milk spills. Sometimes we have debates about politics or current events. But mostly what we have is laughter and teasing and everyone telling stories about things that have happened during the week. It’s a time to reconnect and share a little bit of our busy lives. Oh yeah, and we eat. I can guarantee it isn’t a gourmet meal and sometimes it’s just Chinese take -out or pizza. That really is the smallest detail. The best part is when we linger over the empty plates long after the meal is over because we’re still talking.
So as you’re slogging through the years of sippy cups and cutting everybody's meat, take heart. Eventually these meals will morph into something you’ll enjoy and in the meantime you’ll be getting to know the people that your children are becoming. And take it from a mama who has a few miles on the odometer….the results are worth it.
5 Easy Ways to Ruin Your Kid
There’s a lot of parenting advice out there but if you want to really succeed at ruining your kid, these 5 easy steps will get the job done. (P.S. If they ever tell you that you are the meanest parent in the world, you are doing this all wrong.)
They are the kids who want to be on the inside of every inside joke. They are the kids who want to point out how they fit in and how others stick out. They are the kids who always have someone to sit with and protect the seats all around them for their friends.
They are the kids who you can hear bragging to their friends because they don’t have a bedtime and their parents let them have a say in all the decisions. They are the kids who aren’t a bit intimidated when a teacher informs them that they’ll have to contact the parents. These kids know whose side you’ll be on no matter what.
I was a failure as a parent. My kids would gladly tell you that I would never let them win at games and I didn’t care what new thing all their friends had. I was unbending and rigid when I gave them an answer they didn’t like and I always believed it when another adult told me something rotten they did. In spite of all that bad parenting, they have grown up to be responsible adults. And you want to know the weirdest thing? They are turning out to be failures as parents too. And nothing does this mama’s heart more good than to hear my words come out of their mouths.
Kindergarten….it ain’t what it used to be! In days gone by, kids went to kindergarten to learn their ABC’s and how to use scissors. Now they are expected to come IN to kindergarten with a baseline level of skills which include recognizing and writing the alphabet and even some sight words. Kids who haven’t had some sort of preschool experience or parents working diligently with them at home are already behind before their school career even starts!
I can tell you from experience that there is a real difference in kids who have parents who are engaged in the learning process. A few years ago we had a little guy who was clearly at the top of the class. His parents were not Ivy League scholars or prominent executives. In fact, they were just average working class laborers who made their child a priority. They did some things that really made a difference and probably didn’t even know they were doing such a great job! Every week when they came to school, they had been talking about the new letter of the week and trying to guess what the letter would stand for in our phonics chant. It was just a little game that dad and son would play on the way to school, but it sparked a curiosity in that child that made him eager to learn.
So how can you build a firm foundation before they step into the classroom on that first day? Here are 10 things that will help your little one get ready:
Lies Parents Tell
When I was a little girl, I was playing too near an old metal fan. My grandpa showed me his hand that was missing part of a finger and warned me that if I wasn’t careful that would happen to me too. As it turned out, that was a big fat lie. A few years ago, many years after my grandfather died, I was relating that story to someone and my husband said, “You know that he was just kidding, right? He cut that off in an industrial accident.” What?! All those years I believed something that was patently untrue!
Here’s a classic: when my kids were little I told them about the eyes that only moms have in the back of their heads. One night as I was rocking my toddler he was groping around the back of my head and running his fingers through my hair. Finally, annoyed, I asked what he was doing and he said that he was seeing if he could feel the eyes in the back of my head.
When my older son was little we lived in another state. I had complete control in a way that people who live near grandparents will never have. I told him that the ice cream truck was just a nice man who played music for the children. When we moved back to our hometown and the ice cream truck rolled through our neighborhood, my mother totally blew it and bought him ice cream.
When I was about 5, we saw a baby fox lying dead on the side of the road. That was so traumatic and I was distraught over the poor little creature. What was even worse was that my mom told me it was because he wasn’t holding his mommy’s hand when he crossed the street. Of course, it was easy to remind me of the fox whenever I balked at holding her hand to cross a street or parking lot after that.
My 4 year old grandson still needs to take a nap, but he always says he isn’t tired. I tell him that he only has to lie still for 10 minutes with his eyes closed and then he can get up and play. Works every time.
When my best friend’s kids were little, she was trying to get them to confess about something. She told them she would just have to go back and watch the video tape and see if they were lying. They were terrified of being caught in a lie and blurted out their misdeeds. Incredibly, she rode that horse for years—threatening to review the invisible tape whenever she needed the truth.
My daughter in law got a Roomba for Christmas. She has the kids convinced that if they leave their toys on the floor, the Roomba will suck them up. Wanna see them freak out? Turn that baby on while the door to the playroom is open.
Time for confession, mamas and daddies. Tell me what lies you have told your kids. Some of you are saying right now that you never lie to your kids. Oh really? I mean, even if you cut out the classics like Santa and the Tooth Fairy, I’ll be willing to bet that you have told them the Paw Patrol dvd is broken or that the candy machine at the store is broken before. Come on. Fess up. There’s no judgement here.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Peanut butter and jelly don’t have much in common but they sure make a delicious sandwich. Maybe it’s the balance of sweetness and salt that makes it sooooooo good. A peanut butter sandwich without jelly is ok, but it tends to stick to the roof of your mouth and just tastes like it’s missing something.
My best friend and I have worked together for 24 years. We live just a block apart and have kids in the same age range. We have spent part of almost every day together for over two decades, but we couldn’t be more different. First, there are the obvious things—she’s a cat person, I’m a dog person. She has two girls and I have two boys. She loves the summer and I love the winter. I home schooled my kids, she sent her kids to public school. Even our personalities are complete opposites! The reason our relationship works is because we respect (and laugh about) our differences.
The way we parented our own kids was not at all the same, but we both raised kids that have turned out pretty great in spite of our shortcomings. It helped that we walked a few miles each day and talked through every step in the child-rearing journey. Walking with a good friend is actually a lot cheaper than therapy. We really listened to each other when we shared opposite perspectives. I love her kids dearly and I know she feels the same about mine, so I trusted that her opinion was always for their good and mine.
I guess opposites really do attract, because my husband and I often see things differently too. Since I was the one with a degree in Early Childhood, I appointed myself Boss of All the Things with Children early on in our parenting experience. I would frequently inform him of the sentence I had handed down while he was at work and then expect him to back me up. A kid that back talked his mama or deliberately disobeyed was dealt with swiftly and without mercy. In the heat of the moment, I said all kinds of ridiculous things. I’m not saying that I didn’t occasionally stumble on something brilliant, though! When our son threw a piece of trash out the window of the car and then lied about it I handed him a trash bag and ordered him to pick up litter in a parking lot. To my knowledge, he’s an upstanding citizen that has never littered again. (Now for those of you who are freaking out about all of the crazy things he might have picked up in our current world, this was 20 years ago and I was right there with him.)
Eventually, however, I learned that it was better for me to tell the kids that they would be punished for their crime, but I would have to talk over the sentence with their dad first. That way, I had a little while to cool off and gain some perspective and I also had the balance of a little jelly with all that peanut butter. The thing to remember is that even though we come into parenting with a whole set of ideas and our own baggage, there are a lot of ways that work and a little balance is good and healthy. Where Dad might be an advocate of tough love, Mom provides a soft place to land. That’s ok. Both of those are important for a kid.
When I was in college, I heard an expert speak in a seminar regarding the roles of mothers and fathers in the life of a child. He said that dads tend to rough house and toss the kids high in the air and moms caution them to be careful. Both of those jobs are important—the dad is helping to develop balance skills and moms make sure nobody dies in the process. See that? Peanut butter and jelly together makes a great sandwich.
Read It Again, Mommy!
“The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind
His mother called him ‘WILD THING’ and Max said, ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP’
So he was sent to bed without eating anything”
(Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)
I did that from memory and I could keep right on going to the end. Impressive, right? Maybe you can do that too. Where the Wild Things Are was one of my son’s favorite books when he was little, which means that I read it approximately one million trillion gajillion times. I had it memorized. HE had it memorized. And twenty-five years later, I can still recite it word for word. (That has actually come in handy with the grandkids.)
“Read it again, Mommy!” Why is it that kids can listen to the same story over and over? As it turns out, reading the same stories repeatedly has a lot of value. In our younger preschool classes, we read the same story for a whole week. As children become familiar with the story, they begin to understand concepts on a deeper level and become more familiar with words they haven’t heard before. The first time we read a story, we are often stopping to ask children to make predictions about what will happen next. The second time through, they are able to understand the meaning of the story on a new level. The one hundredth time through, unicorns will burst into the room and jump over rainbows. (Ok, I’m just making that part up.) Repetition is key to helping kids master new concepts.
We also encourage kids to retell the story at home (sometimes sending home props to help them remember) because this is an important pre-reading skill. Retelling the story checks comprehension to make sure they understand what they have read/heard. It also encourages vocabulary development, teaches them that written words have meaning, and helps them understand that stories have a beginning, middle and end. If you need to spice things up, just try changing parts of the story to see if they notice. (Who am I kidding? They ALWAYS notice.)
Remember these things when you are losing your mind because you’ve read the same bedtime story every day for 3 weeks. And who knows? Maybe someday you’ll get to recite it for your grandkids too.
These are two of my favorite wild things:
Surrounded by Tiny Humans
I hope my epitaph reads, “Brilliant wife, mother and nana. Friend to all and loved by all who knew her.” In actuality it will probably say, “Fun, with a little sprinkle of crazy. Spent her life surrounded by tiny humans.” I’ve always been a “kid” person. When I was barely more than a child myself, I started babysitting for people in my church. My first real job was leading a summer playground group for elementary students. My first grown-up job was as a licensing agent for home daycare providers on our military base. I still rock babies in the church nursery and I’m also rocking the whole grandma thing now.
I know a few things about kids. First, I know that there’s no issue you have with your kids that someone else hasn’t already had with theirs. When my younger son was 3, he stuck a broken piece from a Matchbox car up his nose. Alllllll the way up his nose. So far up his nose that we had to go to the emergency room to get it extracted. All the way down the highway my husband and I argued about which one of us had to tell the receptionist why we were there. It was going to be so embarrassing! I finally drew the short straw and plodded toward the desk cringing at the words I was going to have to say. With a beet red face I blurted out our problem and the receptionist barely looked up from her paperwork as she said, “Oh yeah….third one today.”
Second, I know that every child is different and what works for every other Pinterest mother might not work for you. Sometimes you have to just keep throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Our son (yes, the younger one—are you starting to get a picture of him yet?) was a world class fit thrower. His temper tantrums were legendary. For him, the terrible twos started at 18 months and ended somewhere around 4 years old. I had tried many different methods of dealing with this behavior, but one night I’d had enough and put him to bed at 7:00 to save my own sanity. The next morning, a different kid rolled down those stairs. A light dawned on me and I actually heard angels singing. For two and a half years I had been doing battle with a kid who was tired. He didn’t ACT tired and he was able to sleep until he woke up on his own, but he most certainly needed more sleep. That act of desperation was the answer I had been looking for but I was looking in all the wrong places.
In the 30 years I’ve worked in the field of child care and preschool, I’ve learned a few things. Maybe some of those things will help you as you navigate the murky waters of parenthood. Maybe you’ll teach me some new things as you comment about what I write. Either way, I hope we can be friends. I’m still gunning for that “Friend to all and loved by all who knew her” thing, but if I miss that mark, I can guarantee that I’ll hit the “Fun, with a little sprinkle of crazy” head on.
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!