Friends, deep breathe here. Your mantra for school breaks and long weekends:
My dear children,
Let me first say “I love you.” Now, please hear what I have to say.
I am not responsible for fixing everything for you. I am not responsible for your happiness. You’re bored? Okay, that is your choice. What are YOU going to do about YOUR boredom? Your brother is irritating? Unfortunately, that is life; people can be irritating. What are YOU going to do so that you can enjoy your day even when other people don’t do what you want them to do? Instead of controlling your brother, what can YOU do to control your own reaction?
My dear children, I am here to be a resource, to give you tools, to teach you. I am NOT here to make sure everything goes perfectly and to solve every problem – real or perceived – that you may have. If you want to whine, complain and have me fix your problems, you have come to the wrong place. If you are ready to problem-solve and to work on controlling yourself, I am fully on-board and will give you my energy.
Ah. Yes, the old empowerment trick. I am giving you the verbage that will enable you to enable your kids to fix things for themselves. They can do it. Even a 3 year old (with whom you can reason) can stop and understand that you are there to help, but that they can do for themselves. What would make this message even more effective? Have them looking at you, nothing in their hands, listening. Look them in the eye. They will understand that you mean it, even if they don’t understand every thing you say. You are Mom/Dad, but you are not going to be the creator of their bubble. As much as it may pain you to do it, you have to step aside, let them take a few knocks, suffer a few irritation, and they will be better from it.
It used to be that repeatedly, especially over (dreaded) school breaks, I’d hear “I’m bored…” Now, my kids know that what I will give back to them is “That’s your decision. Your next should be some ideas about what you’d like to do about it.” Often, my eldest comes up with far-fetched ideas of a prehistoric bone dig in Patagonia or – much more reasonably – I get asked to play an umpteenth game of the latest favorite game (currently UNO, tri-ominoes, or kick ball). And that’s good. The dig might not be feasible (but, seriously, how cool would that be?!), but we can draw a picture of what we might discover should we ever get to go, or we can build a replica of the newly discovered reptilian being with legos. Or we can invent a new game involving balls, running, trees, and other things found in the yard. I keep a plethora of craft supplies, and we have sports equipment galore for this very reason.
Often, the answer to boredom can be found by a little bit of imagination, a little bit of poking and a little bit of exploration. The opposite of boredom is creativity; kids need to create, to investigate, to see the outcomes of different approaches to the same problem, and to feel the pleasure of what happens with they tap into their own interests and talents. There’s one thing that squashes creativity more than any other: computers. You may think you’re doing your kids (and yourself) a favor by letting them play games on the ipad (“They’re educational…” ), but I promise you this: the two best teaching elements in the world for a kid is the great outdoors and an active curiousity. Remind your kids to look around; the world is endlessly fascinating. You can find what appeals to you most if only you experiment and sample.
Friends, you already know this to be true, so let me reaffirm: your kids are going to whine. They are going to complain. And, unfortunately, they are definitely going to get irritated by their siblings. You can help them deal with these situations by showing them the tools they have in their arsenal to control their own behavior. Friends, you know this to be true, too: there are big people that can be even more annoying than any sibling might be. Coworkers, supervisors, fellow parents… oh, they are out there. And should your child(ren) not develop the skills to deal with these individuals as a youth, they will suffer the consequences when they get older, especially as they enter the workforce. Having been raised in a family of multiple siblings, and having multiple myself, I see benefits of bigger families. Solo kids don’t have the luxury of growing up learning how to deal with personality ‘quirks’ of others, as they aren’t having to face these ‘others’ from minute to minute day-in-day-out. Not to say they are not as socially competent but growing up having to deal with sibling angst and rivalry is a great way to fill a toolbox with skills for dealing with all sorts of social interactions (between yourself and others as well as between those around you).
You know what? If nothing else, this chat with your kids might help you not hear the words ‘I’m bored…’ quite so often. That’s something, isn’t it? Kids start in the world with great wonder. It’s our job to make sure that they don’t lose that inborn curiosity, imagination, and creativity. As for those annoying people? Well, there’s not a lot we can do to make them go away, so it’s a good idea to learn how to deal with them.