I was picking up my son from camp yesterday and overheard a boy of about 10, also being picked up and waiting while his dad chatted with another parent, turn to his dad and interrupt with “I’m bored.” Eek. The father replied “Just a second. I have a snack for you in the car.”
OK, so the kid probably wasn’t “bored.” He was restless, wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself, and was probably ready to go home. But it brought to mind the idea of childhood boredom – a quickly disappearing gift in many a plugged-in suburban neighborhood – and the opportunities that lie within.
As parents who try to provide a wide range of opportunities and experiences for our kids, it can be pretty irritating to hear “I’m bored.” A declaration of boredom can hit a nerve when we know the kinds of sacrifices a family makes day to day to enable a child’s social life, education, and entertainment.
Ironically it is often the very children who have so much to do who are most susceptible to “being bored.” They have become used to rushing from one activity to the next, constantly being fed entertainment and direction. And snacks. (Since when do kids need to eat every 20 minutes?) Absent that input, they can feel restless, anxious and desperate to find something to do.
And when they come for help, many-a-parent will oblige, if half-heartedly, with suggestions: “Why don’t you read, or go outside?” Here is something I think is revolutionary: resist even this! Offering a suggestion implies that kids really do need to be doing something every single minute. I think it was Richard Carlson (stress consultant!) whose suggested an awesome response “Great! Be bored!” Not only will a child likely stop asking for ideas, they will also come to know that it is not your job to keep them constantly entertained.
Of course this approach isn’t something to do all the time. Most parents really enjoy playing an active role in what their kids are up to, even love just hanging out with them. To encourage boredom on occasion is in response to the tendency of some kids to be overscheduled and overstimulated to the point where it is actually uncomfortable for them to simply be still.
Some of my own favorite and most vivid childhood memories stem from long stretches of spacing out, of wandering in the woods, of riding in the back of the station wagon for hours and hours and hours. I’m not surprised that, as an adult, I now seek these spaces when I need to unravel a problem, make an important decision, or feel dragged down by the static of the day.
As we try to provide opportunities and experiences for our kids to learn and grow from, keep in mind that the ability to be alone, settled and content with oneself is a gift, a place of fertile ground for creative thought and reflection. Amid the everyday busyness and distraction, it can take some practice. Children need to be able to find, and be in, those quiet spaces. Encouraging boredom on occasion is one way to help them get there. –t
Now look at what you’ve written and tease out what elements made them memorable. Was it being asked to take on a more grown up task or responsibility? Was it time alone with a friend or an adult? Were you surrounded by family? By yourself? Outside?
As parents we hope that family life provides lasting and loving memories for our children. And thinking back to our own childhoods can be a great source of inspiration not necessarily for the activities (e.g. the hike, the vacation, the amusement park) but rather for the essence of what made certain moments special (i.e. connection with others, being in nature, experiencing something challenging and new). -n&t
In a return to our roots and what we’re all about – seeing opportunity and implementing small shifts in mindset that really enhance the way we engage with our kids – today we share one of our favorite ideas from our book we both return to again and again.
Say “yes” when you can.
By this we mean look for—and be open to—more chances to say “yes.” This powerhouse tactic can do three things: smooth the bumps, affirm your child, and help you emphasize the boundaries that are most meaningful.
It can be dismaying how frequently, in the face of parenting exhaustion and stress, our knee-jerk response to children’s desires is “no.” When tensions rise, we try to call upon the little mantra, “Can I say yes here?” It often finesses the way forward. “May I have another cookie?” “Can I drink out of one of those cups?” These straightforward requests can sometimes be indulged to get over a hump or reward a patient child. Most of us are nagged by the fear that this kind of indulgence might lead to bad habits or spoiled kids. Remind yourself that there don’t need to be hard and fast rules: on some days it might be okay to have the extra cookie, and on others not. Likewise, for some families some options are a possibility, and for others not. “Yes, you may have another cookie” (because you were really cooperative while we were running errands, and I appreciate it), or maybe it’s “not now” because dinner is almost ready. “Yes, you may drink out of that cup” (but only water). “Yes, but –“ can sometimes work wonders. Hooray! You are still in charge!
There are also opportunities to say “yes” to requests that are often brushed aside because we are in a rush. These are chances to affirm your child—to show them that you take them seriously. While it might seem silly to us to “take the ramp instead of the stairs,” if your kid noticed the option and asked, then it’s likely important to him. Be open to those seemingly silly requests—they are great opportunities to let your child feel appreciated with very little effort on your part. Riding the escalator at the mall one more time will add three minutes to your day but will show your son that what he cares about is important to you. Rather than thinking of it as an indulgence, consider it an affirmation.
“Saying ‘yes’ when you can” also means loosening up your parenting style. We’ve found these small shifts to “yes” actually serve to set apart the truly important boundaries (about respect for others, health, and safety) that we establish for our families rather than creating a situation that leans toward pint-sized anarchy and indulgence. Like the rest of us, children respond to rules when there are fewer of them. When the frequent little “no’s” drop away, the bigger “no’s” become clearer and better heard. Children are then more apt to pay attention to those boundaries that really matter. But when those principles aren’t in question, we say give that extra cookie, ride the escalator again, and, more generally, “Say yes when you can.” -n&t
When hitting a stretch of being overwhelmed by too much to do, I turn to the idea of “Choosing 3 Things” to get done in a day to help get me through the chaos and find some footing. Identifying 3 things to accomplish in a day serves several purposes:
1) It forces prioritizing. The act of choosing requires me to evaluate and think about what’s important given the restrictions of time and resources. On any day it could mean making a family dinner happen, attending one of my kids’ sports game, exercising, powering through something at work, helping a friend, or making time to spend alone. Also, what should I make happen today that won’t be a possibility tomorrow?
2) It helps focus energy. The number of things that any of us could possibly do in a day is infinite, often overwhelming, and can distract from the focus necessary to see any one task to completion. There are details and times to remember at home and at work, countless articles and news stories to suggest what each of us could be doing for better health or the greater good. Not all of it’s important–to say nothing of “doable”–and calling up 3 manageable tasks or reachable goals can help focus the energy that will be spent.
3) It allows for a greater sense of accomplishment. The background hum of endless possibility often prevents me from appreciating progress or things that I actually do manage to accomplish, especially since I have a tendency to see the shortfall instead of the distance I’ve come. Choosing 3 can help create a sense of accomplishment and grounding.
Some days just feel like I’m on the other side of the net from one of those tennis ball machines, and all I can do is bat away those fluorescent blurs that keep coming at me, with no time or perspective to place any single shot in a thoughtful or strategic place. Purposefully identifying anchors can help me let some of those balls just fly by, gives me time to get my form and balance right, approach a ball with focus and intention, and take my best swing. –t
…or compliments. Or wishes. We all know someone who “has everything” or is difficult to find the right gift for. The tasteful, elegant Grandmother just might not want another macaroni project (cute as it may be), and the Grandpa who might adore the “love coupons” may just live too far away to really cash in on “Breakfast in Bed.” But who wouldn’t love a collection of special memories or personal compliments? Simple instructions for this gift: use a glass jar with a lid (such as a mason or jelly jar), some colored pieces of paper cut into pieces big enough for notes, tissue and ribbon if you want to wrap it. Have each person (mom, dad, kids) in your family generate a few messages to include, for example, for a grandfather for Father’s Day: “I love how you always call on my birthday.” “Thank you for always giving us good advice, even when you disagree.” “I have fun playing cards with you.” “I like your soft earlobes.” This jar is best filled with the specific and personal. If children are old enough, a child’s own handwriting is a beautiful touch. Wrap the jar in a piece of fabric or tissue paper, secure with a ribbon, and send with love. -t
Today we share gift ideas at many different price points in three categories: toys, books and whole family gifts. Thanks to those who responded to the survey with their kids’ faves. We hope you find some inspiration below!
*indicates multiple votes / perennial favorites
For 6-8 year olds
Minecraft (& Minecraft games, toys and books)
Sockem Bopper Power Bag
Nerf all conditions football
For 9-12 year olds
JD Bug Scooter
Perplexus Epic Maze
Bounce Back Net (for sports)
Taylor Swift concert tickets
Magazine Subscriptions (Muse, Ask, Cobblestone, Sports Illustrated Kids)
Gift Cards (Starbucks, iTunes, GameStop, Target)
Make up / Sephora Gift Card
Frisbee (Ultimate regulation weight)
Magazine subscription (eg People StyleWatch)
For 6-8 year olds
Ivy and Bean
Diary of A Wimpy Kid -The Long Haul
American Girl Smart Girls Guides
Scat by Carl Hiassen
Guys Read Other Worlds by Jon Scieszka
Skink: No Surrender by Carl Hiaasen
For 9-12 year olds
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
City of Ember Series by Jeanne DuPrau
The Greenglass House by Kate Milford
The Mysterious Benedict Society Series by Trenton Lee Stewart
Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Alex Rider series
Minecraft, The Complete Handbook Collection, by Stephanie Milton
The Giver, by Lois Lowry
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick
Holes, by Louis Sachar
WHOLE FAMILY GIFTS
“Movie Night” (share a favorite DVD, movie sized candy selections, microwave popcorn)
Holiday Concert tickets
YMCA / gym membership
Ice cream maker
OK, look out: here comes a post about housewares. With the autumn chill in the air, we’ve recently revisited our love for our hand blenders and decided to mention in case there was anyone out there who still doesn’t yet own one of these fabulous little gadgets. I once blew the top off of my blender and sprayed hot kelly green all over a depressingly large portion of my kitchen during the “blend” step of making spinach soup. My mother-in-law was the one who saved me soon afterward with the gift of the hand blender. For the many years since, I’ve plunged that thing into pots of soup and sauce, and let it whirr with gratitude, to say nothing of relative safety. Even for someone (like me) who likes to keep the kitchen relatively simple and old-school, this plug in is a favorite.–t
For anyone still with great gift ideas to share, click here for the annual give-and-get survey. Results to posted in this blog soon!
5. Books (for kids)
Often the biggest challenge to committing to something over time is the size and scope of our expectation. For me, regular exercise has always posed such a challenge. If I felt that I didn’t have enough time for a yoga class or run followed by a shower, I’d bail. But it was assuming that I needed a big chunk of time to make it worthwhile that kept me from exercising on a regular basis.
The shift that has worked for me is to shoot for a shorter amount of time, i.e. to make exercise “doable,” such that consistency and commitment is manageable. Most days I can find 30 minutes. With that time frame in mind, I’ve discovered a few ideas that have created a more reliable (read: more likely to happen) workout. They include:
- Mapping out running/walking/biking routes that are 30 minutes out and back from my door
- Getting timed workout apps, such as the 7 minute workout app. (Click here for a list of others.)
- Using yoga or pilates videos with 20-30 minute sessions, such as Rodney Yee AM/PM Yoga for Beginners
Hooray for “doable!” –n
My cousin and his wife just had a baby! In deciding what to send to welcome her, I thought back to the gifts that brought our family the most lasting enjoyment: music and books. When my first child was born, a friend whose kids were a few years older sent us a CD of their family’s favorites songs. At first it seemed like a long time before this gift would be relevant, but soon we came to love the songs their family introduced us to. It’s an idea I have borrowed many times since. Similarly, when I was fighting to keep my head above water in the early days of new motherhood, enjoying books together seemed a long way off. Yet in the following months, each time we read a book we received as a gift, I thought about the sender and was grateful.
So today I’ll share the 5 books I’ve sent to welcome the new baby (spoiler alert to my cousin who occasionally reads this blog)–some of my family’s favorites:
- I Know a Rhino
- Is Your Mama a Llama
- Farfallina and Marcel
- Tumble Bumble
- Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball
Wishing you many hours of snuggly reading together, –n
I love my whiteboard. It’s hangs on the refrigerator in the kitchen, and is our family’s place for the running grocery list, the most critical to-dos, the place to find the daily schedule when things need to get done with a high degree of coordination. It’s where we can all Get On The Same Page.
I’ve recently added an additional smaller whiteboard that holds new lists: things for each of the kids to get done or remember. Of course I could have added these lists to the main whiteboard, but, well, there isn’t really room.
I am now loving this other whiteboard for different reasons. (Why did it take me so long to figure this out?) If there is a job in the house–or other things–for each kid to be responsible for (e.g. empty the dishwasher, return a permission slip, practice violin), there it is on their list! Every time they go to the fridge for a snack or a drink, there it is. A reminder! I feel disproportionately unburdened by this small white rectangle that allows me to not have to be the one who has to remember, remind, and yes, occasionally nag to get things done. –t
I am a sentimental crier. I was crying off and on while watching A Dolphin Tale with my kids. And, um, also during We Bought A Zoo. I well up almost every time I see a parent struggling to do their best by their kids, when I bear witness to someone going through a tough time with grace, or at pretty much any moment that highlights acts of true humanity. There are a couple of children’s books that, no matter how many times I read them, I hear my voice choked with emotion at certain points as I struggle to get to the bottom of the page. (For me these stories include The Summer My Father Was Ten by Pat Brisson, Lobstering with My Papa, by Billie Hancock and Joan Walsh, and Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney.) These are all stories of aging, kids growing up, the passage of time–themes that resonate deeply with me as a parent. My kids’ reactions have been varied, sometimes they’ve just looked over and said nothing, other times they asked, “Mom, why are you crying?” This has given me a chance to share what I find moving. I am glad for these opportunities with them. They get to see me cry not because I’m hurt or experiencing loss: just because I’m moved. It gives us all a chance to think about the emotions and how we experience and express feelings…good for everyone. –n
For anyone with an upcoming road trip, here is a fun idea that may even keep your children off of screens for a short while (no promises). Create playlists for your car ride with a theme in mind. Themes like weather (songs that mention rain, sun, cloudy, etc..) or Colors, People’s names or States. Don’t tell them what the theme is, but let them listen to a few songs and guess. Once someone figures it out, listening to the rest of the songs can be about trying to find the “theme” word. -n
I remember the first time my daughter saw a ripe strawberry on a small plant we had in a garden box on the roof of our apartment building. She was so excited as she slowly and tentatively picked it and ate it. And then, I kid you not, she thanked the plant. While I wasn’t–and still am not–a knowledgeable gardener, I want my kids to know a little bit about where food comes from. I think it’s generally good to know and care about these things, and so each year we’ve planted a little garden.
Of course teaching kids about how things work is one of the jobs of being a parent–we are constantly helping children to make sense of their world and the things in it. Sometimes it’s with a short explanation, sometimes with an interpretation of a comment or joke, sometimes with a commitment to a garden for a few months, sometimes with a fun “lesson” on a theme.
One summer day, in need of a project and a goal, proved a perfect time to do such a “lesson.” This time our theme was ice cream. We made a day of it by going to the library and finding a couple of books on how ice cream is made (among them, Ice Cream: The Full Scoop by Gail Gibbons). We read the books together, then, woo-hoo! went out for ice cream. Simple. Educational. Extremely satisfying and fun, and a terrific way to spend the afternoon. A winning combination.
Does your child love buses? Make it a day with a trip to the library then a bus ride. Or maybe it’s trains. Or a bakery, a farm, even the airport to watch planes take off. Slower days of summer for parents can allow time for creating these kinds of experiences, where kids have the opportunity to learn and preview something in a book at a slow pace, then connect the information to something real in their world. –t