Although vaccines are starting to arrive, it will still be many months before we can all safely go out and interact closely amongst each other. The question remains what can parents do for their children to make the best of their time together at home?
In my soon to be released new book “The Experience Road” I present models and concepts along with tips that will be helpful with this challenge. In this blog I will focus on three areas: developing your self esteem, improving life skills, and finding social activities.
In my practice I often helped families become more cohesive and emotionally connected. All too frequently they would disconnect and build emotional walls pushing each other away. One of my favorite recommendations and homework assignments is well suited for periods of prolonged exposure to each other such as summer school vacations and extended holiday breaks. Parents were instructed to turn off or significantly curtail usage of the screens: TVs, computers, tablets, and cell phones.
The purpose of this instruction is to direct our lives back to a time of less indulgence and more cooperation. For many years now our families and society have been living with a “me” first attitude. If we go back to a “family centered” lifestyle, the family was dependent upon everyone working closely together to complete activities of daily living to provide sustenance and security. These tasks were needed for basic survival and emotional development. Working together and looking out for each other were core values. The values were family first, education second and social/recreation third.
It was not unheard of that in rural communities children helped around the farm before going off to school. Other families required children to look after younger siblings, as well as help with cooking and household chores. Growing up in the 1950- 1960’s , it was common that during weekdays TV was allowed after dinner and homework around 7:00 pm. On weekends TV was usually not available between 9:00 am to late afternoon. To get time to watch a show meant also completing your daily chores.
Over indulgence, self centeredness and immediate gratification poses serious risks. Over the years I have seen a legion of indulgent children and young adults devoid of the skills and temperament needed for eventually becoming capable of self sufficiency. Years of losing themselves in their screens did not prepare them for growing up.
Returning to my suggestion of shutting down the screens the transition will not be uneventful. In the first week expect a marked increase of anger and rebellion. As time progresses an amazing transformation starts to take hold. Families members begin to talk with each other, creative play emerges, comradery and cooperation increases. Boredom becomes a motivation for improvisation.
I recall when my sons were young we often took long road trips around the country for summer vacation. The first few days started with emotional roadbumps. Our regular routines had kept us from spending time talking comfortably with each other, distractions supported disconnection. In time however we found each other, silly songs and jokes surfaced. We heard all about our children’s friends and school year. Warm loving feelings surfaced. Good memories were made.
Developing your self esteem
A positive sense of self is essential for a successful and happy life. Children as well as adults cope better when they have an array of passions to enjoy. The video world that most of our children over indulge is mind limiting at best and often can become overwhelmingly addictive. When screens are removed creativity, problem solving and imagination can blossom. Reading became a passion for me during lonely periods of my adolescence. I spent summers in Middle Earth or on planet Dune. Even younger, I loved reading Brains Benton mystery stories that gave me a playful role model. Even now I still love to read Sci Fi and can’t wait to catch up with my literary character friends.
As I point out in my book, parents should help their children develop a list of things they enjoy, hobbies to develop and life preference. Take time to engage in conversations with your kids through their interests. This can be a very important social skill. Allow them to decorate their rooms with pictures that reflect those interests. Even if their interests may differ from the parent still take time to find time to engage with them. Get to know who they feel like. I loved sports as a child and found engaging in sport with one of my sons very easy while my other son was science oriented not my primary recreational interest. Through my willingness to learn about his science interests he became interested in my hobbies.
When given parental attention to hobbies and interests kids will spend time in more fruitful activity as opposed to mind limiting video over stimulation. It was saddening when I had found that many of the kids I worked with would spend 13 hours each weekend day just playing video games alone without even any parental involvement.
Having time on my hand I eventually discovered artistic interests with making collages and photography. Learning to play a musical instrument, studying acting skills, singing, hiking, birding, nature, astronomy and countless interests should be nurtured during childhood. Teach your children the joy of trying and learning new interests. Interests and hobbies stimulate our brains with knowledge and imagination. With a few interests we can throughout our lives find friends and organizations that share our common interests.
An old skill needs to be revisited. Get a penpal. Write actual letters and send them through the mail. Waiting patiently for a response is part of the excitement. Encourage kids to write journals, poems and short stories.
Family activities: Give each member, child as well as adult, a time to tell each other about their interest. Provide a forum for positive attention. Make this part of the dinner time conversation. Never use dinner time to complain.
Schedule a family movie or fun board game night that reflects each child’s interest or passion. Take turns sharing the selection. Have a family sing a long night. This holiday time go caroling together but wear your masks. Make up a family drum circle using pots and pans. Take a large sheet of paper and have a paint a long, or family collage night. You can even go stargazing or birding as a family.
Inventive play: I have a section in my book on street games that we played in my childhood neighborhood that I adapted for indoor use. One such game is balloon volleyball. Take two folding chairs and place a broom handle across them and viola you have a net. Blow up a balloon and let the good times roll. Make up sides, kids vs parents or each parent and one child, set up rules but keep it simple.
Improvise games like charades, I spy and find the hidden object. Use word games like Mad Libs. Take some unusual items and challenge each other to create a new game. The idea is to encourage fun cooperative play while trying to deemphasizing competition.
Improving Life Skills
Learning life skills is essential and could be a very important way to productively fill time. Parents work hard for their families and kids should learn to work for the family as well. We need to all learn to accept delayed gratification not immediate indulgence .
Learn to do the laundry. Teenagers love to scatter their clothes across their rooms. They willingly give parents three loads of dirty and clean clothes to wash, while complaining they have nothing to wear. In many families countless hours are wasted arguing over putting your clothes away. I instruct parents to stop nagging and let the clothes build up. When the teen complains show them the washing machine and teach them how to use it. They will become neater when they expend their own energy.
Another important skill is to know how to cook. Learning to cook can be a very fun activity as well an essential life skill for boys and girls. Engage them cooking together. Take out old family recipes and tell stories of grandparents and your childhood. Teach them to how to follow a recipe. Give each child a night to cook dinner either with you or another sibling. Be patient when they burn their first meal.
Each member of the family should have chores that contribute to the family. It can be the task of cleaning parts of the household, caring for a pet and even running an errand such as going to a grocery and helping with shopping.
Teach them how to manage money by going over how bills are paid. Let them help you draw up a budget. Help them to save up for things they would like to purchase.
Finding Social Activities
Social engagement has been well documented as an essential childhood growth activity, especially with teens. With the pandemic this poses a very difficult challenge. It goes without saying that children should be well informed about the dangers of covid-19. If you have a yard and a few children at least the kids can play outside with less restriction. Involving neighboring children can be a major problem.
Some families have formed “bubbles” of close friends to share social activities. Even with precautions don’t assume everyone has been careful to not be exposed. Masks and sanitizers are essential. With younger child play dates can be held outside in the yard or even in a garage with the door open. Keep groups to 2–4 kids. Parents will need to supervise and direct the play. Keep the time limited to at most one hour.
With older kids and teens try to take advantage of going for hikes, bike rides and picnics in the park. Teens could meet in the yard or park to catch up with each other. They can bring their musical instruments. Try to use hula hoops to mark off boundaries. Again they must keep on their masks. As much as teens crave privacy from their parents some supervision will be needed and reminders about distance. Parents should role model proper social distancing and continue to have open dialogue about covid-19 with their kids.
With respect to teens, access to screens to chat with their friends is encouraged but as a reward for compliance with chores and on a time limited basis.
Eventually we will get past this pandemic, yet the focus of this article is that developing self esteem, life and social skills should take place even in a non-restrictive time. Learning to accept delayed gratification, teamwork, creativity and problem solving are essential skills that foster maturity.
From my family to yours happy holidays.
PS: Coming this January, 2021 the “Experience Road” from PathBinder Publishing.