I’m Bored!

This is just a quick idea for helping children find ways to entertain themselves.  When their friends are all busy and nothing sounds fun, it’s hard to get kids engaged in an activity.   For times like these I created an “I’m Bored” list and taped it inside the cupboard door.  The list is based on my children’s current interests and toys.  I try to update it every few months to reflect their recent birthday or Christmas presents and/or the season (summer/winter).  When my children complain of being bored I refer them to the list for ideas.  I encourage them to pick one and try it for at least fifteen minutes.  Often their choice from the I’m Bored list leads them to another idea and then another, and their boredom problems are gone!  I’ve heard of other moms who cut up the ideas on the list and put them in a jar. This would be fun too, but I prefer a list that the children can look over and see which idea jumps out at them.

I will include my list, but of course yours will be tailored for your children’s needs and interests.  Take a moment to write your own I’m Bored! list, and it will save you time in the future.

  • Play Legos
  • Play Yahtzee!
  • Take pictures with your camera
  • Do make up
  • Put on a dance performance
  • Listen to music
  • Play Trivial Pursuit
  • Play Electronic Battleship
  • Play Taboo
  • Paint a picture
  • Have a tea party
  • Look at your white binders (filled with crafts they’ve completed at school and home)
  • Play American Girl (new outfits!)
  • Draw on your white board
  • Play Lite brite
  • Go on Starfall
  • Go on Tumblebooks
  • Call a friend
  • Play house
  • Color
  • Play School
  • Do crafts
  • Make a treat
  • Play dress up
  • Play in the princess tent
  • Play a card game (UNO, Old Maid, Go Fish, trash can, Mexican poker)
  • Read a book
  • Sew with your sewing kit

Family Meetings

Many parenting experts recommend having regular family meetings of some sort.  There are a variety of ways to do this – different timing, formats and structures – but the overall purpose is to gather your family at a consistent time, touch base with each other, share information, and provide a forum for communication.

Modern families have so much going on and keep such hectic schedules; it’s imperative that you have a regular time to stop all of that activity and come together for a moment to regroup.  The stated purpose of these meetings usually has to do with planning the week, but the benefits extend beyond organizing schedules. Having a consistent time set aside to gather with your family will ensure that you and your children communicate frequently about many things.  The discussion of schedules can and will lead to other topics such as what happened in school last week, how they feel about their soccer team, or what they are studying in math.  If you go about your daily lives and never stop to spend time together, these kinds of discussions don’t have a space to come out and end up getting swept aside.

In your weekly family meetings (sometimes called Family Council), you could discuss any of the following: each child’s schedule for the week, family news or business, chores, problems, family decisions, family or individual goals, school successes, or rules.  Some weeks you might simply set forth information (“Here are your chores for the week”), and some weeks you might have more of a discussion (“How do you feel about your weekly chore assignments?”).   You could have each family member share something good and bad that happened in the past week.  You could talk about your family budget, maybe in regards to school clothes or upcoming vacations.  Some families hand out allowances at this meeting.  You could give a compliment to each child or have each family member say something they like about another family member.  Tailor the content of the meetings to fit your family’s needs and desires.

Everyone in the family should be allowed and encouraged to voice their opinion or thoughts on these during the meeting. These discussions can teach children how to listen to others and have a respectful conversation.  It gives family members a time to find out what is working well and what is not working well, and what they could focus on in the week ahead.  Every family meeting might not be an amazing experience, but having this consistent time to talk will help your family grow closer and will give you an insight into your children’s lives that you wouldn’t have otherwise. You will find out valuable and helpful information from your children.

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), our family calls these weekly meetings Family Home Evening.  We have them every Monday night.  We use the meeting time for many of the above purposes, but we also have a lesson each time.  Members of the family rotate giving the lesson.  The lessons are usually centered on a religious concept, such as prayer or giving service, but they can be on other nonreligious topics as well, such as healthy living or the importance of education.  We’ve had lessons on the Supreme Court Justices and the beauty of nature.  Sometimes we do lessons on family unity and just play games together.  We always have a treat at the end of Family Home Evening.  The person who did the lesson the week before gets to choose the treat, and I try to accommodate whatever they want as a reward for their efforts.

I have often been quite impressed with the quality of lessons my children prepare.  The younger ones are excited to be like their older siblings and give a lesson all by themselves.  It is so rewarding to see the time and effort they will put in, even if the overall product is not as refined as an adult’s lesson.  Admittedly, this enthusiasm for lesson planning wanes in the teenage years.  I always have some easy-out lesson ideas if my older girls are busy or having a grumpy week.

Certain lessons have become yearly traditions for our family.  Every year, around the time of our anniversary someone does a lesson on our “family timeline.”  We put a long piece of masking tape on the carpet and label the years when our family started (when we got married), and all the important subsequent events.  My husband and I tell stories about how we met and our wedding day.  The kids love hearing about our lives before they came along and how our family came to be.

On Memorial Day we have a lesson on our family history.  Whoever is on lesson reads through our family history stories and creates a family tree or researches one ancestor’s life in specific.  It is very important for children to have a sense of where they came from and to whom they belong.  Hearing about ancestors and other family members overcoming hardships gives them the strength and security to get through their own struggles.

Another tradition we have started is having someone pick a quote for the week.  I’ve created a file folder full of quotes that I’ve gathered or printed out, some spiritual and some not.  The quote is read at Family Home Evening and also each night the rest of the week.

Even if you don’t have a religious component to your family meetings you could still have a rotating assignment for a lesson and have that person present information on healthy living, an educational topic, budgeting, or communication. If you are noticing a problem your family needs to work on, you can give a lesson on that (cleanliness, speaking respectfully, etc.).

Bruce Feiler is a bestselling author and public speaker.  He wrote a book called The Secrets of Happy Families, which I will discuss more in a future post.  He also has a highly entertaining and informative TED talk where he explains how having family meetings can help children grow in independence.  I hadn’t previously thought about this specific purpose of family meetings, but it makes sense and is another valuable reason for holding them.  He suggests that during family meetings parents should encourage children to plan their own goals, set their own weekly schedules, and evaluate their own work.  If you do this from the time children can understand the concept of goals and schedules, they will be in the habit of thinking about their own needs and working on improving themselves continually.

In our family we also have a daily family meeting, which we call family devotional.  We sing hymns, read from the scriptures, and have a family prayer.  It takes about 10-15 minutes, and it is definitely time well spent.  For us, family devotional extends the benefits of the weekly family meeting: we are able to check in with our children, briefly discuss any issues that might have come up, and spend a short amount of quality time with them, showing them what is important to us.  I have been so grateful for this habit because occasionally a longer discussion will result from this time together, where our children open up and talk about what is going on in their lives.  I know this would not happen if we were not in the habit of spending time together daily.

When your children are little, these family meetings will be short and sweet.  Don’t expect too much from young children, and have conversations and lessons that fit their age and stage.  Be kind and calm as you encourage them to pay attention or share their feelings.  The habit of regular family meetings will bring great rewards as your children get older.  Young children tell their parents all about their lives; sometimes parents want them to talk less!  But older children don’t share as willingly and are busier, so you spend much less time with them.  Having set family meetings that they are expected to attend provides a time to be together and a forum for them to express themselves.  I know my family wouldn’t be reaping the blessings of cooperative children and great family conversations during our family meetings if we didn’t hold them consistently, or if we’d been angry and upset about their behavior during the meetings.

The benefits of family meetings are many, whether you hold them weekly, daily, or both.  It is so important to take the time to gather members of the family and formally discuss news, problems, and successes.  Think of it as a “staff meeting” for your family.  Whatever format and content you choose for your family meetings, be consistent with them and over the years you will have a well-run family and a great relationship with your children.

Books on CD

In 2006 I had one of those change-your-life conversations.  We were heading to Jacksonville, Florida for a 3 month rotation as part of my husband’s residency training.  We would drive our family there (from Minnesota) and back, as well as make multiple trips to Orlando to go to Walt Disney World.  A friend of mine had done the same rotation and recommended listening to books on CD during the long drives. This suggestion had a huge impact on not only that rotation but the rest of my parenting career!  From then on, we have listened to books on CD anytime we had a long drive, and we learned to love them.  We were able to “read” so many more and different books than we could read at home. Listening to books on CD provides many of the same benefits as reading aloud to your children (see Read to Your Kids).  Children are enriched and educated by listening to the stories and the language. They easily absorb the vocabulary and syntax knowledge.

In preparation for our road trip and three month rotation, I borrowed or downloaded a stack of books on CD, and we had such a great time listening. I can still hear in my mind some of the voices and sounds from those books.  It made the car time fly by!  And, as an added bonus, bickering between the girls was greatly reduced.  They were so enthralled by the books that the time went by quickly and they didn’t think of arguing with each other over small problems.  My girls loved listening to books on CD so much that they started asking me to rent them so they could listen in their rooms.

A road trip is the ideal time for listening to books on CD, although sometimes it’s fun to do around town. However, hearing snippets of a book in between errands isn’t as attention-grabbing as listening to an hour or more at a time.  Try to find books at your children’s listening level.  This is usually a step or two above their reading level.  Look for books that your child will be interested in, and think about the length of the book, also.  If you read to your child often, he will be able to listen to longer books.  There are picture books on CD at the library that come with the book.  Thumbing through the pages of the actual book could help younger children listen longer.

There are various ways to get books on CD: buy them, borrow them from the library, download them from the library to your computer and burn onto discs, use an app like Audible and purchase audio books, or use an app like OverDrive and rent audio books from the library.  The restaurant Cracker Barrel has books on CD for purchase, and you can return them to any other Cracker Barrel in the country and get a refund, minus a small rental fee.

Our love of books on CD began before DVD players/TVs in cars were common, so we didn’t have as many options for car-ride entertainment.  But I would still recommend listening to books on road trips.  Watching movies can be a good way to pass the time and entertain children, but books on CD have substantially more educational benefits.  As I wrote in Read to Your Kids, words that children hear repeatedly will be easier for them to recognize when they start learning to read.  Having them listen to books on CD adds words to their listening vocabulary reservoir, which eventually overflows to the speaking, reading and writing vocabulary.  Listening to books will fill their brains with the sounds of words and get them accustomed to standard, grammatically correct English.  Movies have conversational English, which doesn’t have the same variety of words or structure of sentences that books have.

As an additional benefit, many of the books we listened to were interesting to us as well as the kids.  It was a shared experience for the whole family.  We could talk about the book together and look forward to the next chapters.  When we began making road trips from Minnesota to Utah every summer we created a 3-part system: listen to a book on CD for two hours, watch a DVD (usually 90 minutes to 2 hours), then have “quiet time” for 2 hours (reading, coloring, playing with toys or sleeping).  It worked great.

Below is a list of the books we’ve listened to and loved and would highly recommend!

Peter Pan
House at Pooh Corner
Mary Poppins
The little Princess
Black Beauty
Five Children and It
Ginger Pye
Wizard of Oz
Tom Sawyer
Where the Red Fern Grows
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Magician’s Nephew
Prince Caspian
Ella Enchanted
Ballet Shoes
Pinky Pye
Cricket in Times Square
Dear Emma
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Freddy the Pilot
Freddy and the Popinjay
Freddy Goes to Florida
All of a Kind Family
Trumpet of the Swan
Uncle Remus
Scarlet Pimpernel
Return to Goneaway
Freddy and Ignoramus
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil Frankweiler
Unusual Suspects
Million Dollar Shot
Just Grace
Porcupine Year
River Secrets
Silver Crown
Tale of Despereaux
101 Dalmatians
Salamander Spell
Salamander’s Spell
Frog Princess
Dragon’s Breath
Once upon a Curse
No Place for Magic
Dragon Princess
Dragon Kiss
A Prince among Frogs

Nurture Shock

I was looking through some of my parenting notes for ideas to write about and found a summary of the book Nurture Shock.  There were so many fascinating sections to this book that I had to devote a whole post to it.  Nurture Shock is an accidental parenting book.  The authors, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, had been researching the science of motivation in grown-ups and began to wonder where kids get their self-confidence from.  What they found surprised them greatly because it was the opposite of most parents’ natural instincts. They started to wonder what other parenting instincts were off-base and how this was affecting our children.  They found enough material to fill a whole book with ways that “modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring – because key twists in the science have been overlooked.”  The book encourages us to think differently about children and make small corrections in our approaches that will have long-term impacts.

Product Details

I want to give a Cliff’s Notes version of some of the chapters, with the hopes that you will want to read the whole book.  This book is full of amazing information.  Here are summaries of a few of the chapters.

*The Inverse Power of Praise                                                                                                  Parental instinct is to praise your child in terms of how great they are: “You’re really smart!” “You’re an awesome basketball player!”  “You’re such a great artist!”  This type of praise can back-fire, though, for a variety of reasons.  Emphasizing effort (“You must have worked really hard”) gives a child a variable that they can control.  They come to see themselves as in control of their success.  Emphasizing natural intelligence (“You must be smart at this”) takes success out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure. Children praised on their natural ability are fearful of trying harder tasks because they might not be as good at them, and then they won’t look as capable.  Additionally, children who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort – if you’re smart you don’t need to try hard, and if you do try hard you must not be naturally smart.  With too much praise they get the idea that you’re either smart or you’re not, good at math or not, etc. Kids need to be taught that the brain is a muscle: giving it a harder workout makes you smarter.   We need to be sure they know of their potential – that anyone can be good at math/cooking/baseball if they try long and hard enough.

Here are some examples of the correct way to praise.  “I like how you keep trying.”  “You were concentrating for a long time!” “You listened and followed my instructions.” “You worked hard to get the ball in the soccer game.”

*The Lost Hour                                                                                                                       Children need more sleep.  Many studies show a direct correlation between the amount of sleep students get and their test scores.  Sleep loss is especially devastating for teens, who biologically can not go to sleep early.  They are wired to stay up late, and the problem is compounded by early start times for many high schools.  This sleep loss affects not only their performance in school but their mood.  Teens who get more sleep have higher levels of motivation and lower levels of depression.  Studies have also shown that kids (of any age) who get less sleep have higher rates of obesity.  Sleep loss has a stronger correlation to obesity than TV watching.

*Why White Parents Don’t Talk about Race                                                                          Children are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism.  The attribute they rely on is that which is the most clearly visible.  Don’t be surprised when they make comments about their “group” being better than the others, of any sort (skin color, teams, classes at school).  They are trying to figure out the world and how they fit in.  They do this by talking about it.  Rather than stifling that conversation, discuss race OPENLY.  Speak directly to them and help them understand the ways we are all the same, even though our skin colors are different.  Teach them by explanation and example that everyone is equal.  It’s not enough just to raise them in a diverse environment and hope they get the message.  Everyone makes initial judgments, sometimes based on stereotypes, but the key is to acknowledge that those judgments come automatically and take the time to think through them and realize they may not be accurate (and speak about this process with your children).  Talking openly about historical discrimination creates better attitudes toward those of other races and reduces the glorified view of white people.

*Why Kids Lie                                                                                                                         Research clearly shows that children lie early and often, which surprises most people.  Lying is a normal part of their development.   Young children began lying to avoid punishment.  As they age their reasons for lying are more complex, such as to keep secrets, manipulate social situations, or spare someone’s feelings.  You can talk to your children about why lying is wrong, but be sure to include why honesty is right.  Teach them that their honesty is what makes you happy.  Children want to please their parents.  Instead of saying, “You’ll be happy if you tell the truth,” young kids need to hear “Mommy will be really happy if you tell the truth.” Be aware that there are subtle ways you might be encouraging your child to lie, for example, telling them to be polite and say they liked a present they got, or getting angry at them for tattling, which unwittingly encourages them to hold back information.  Don’t ask questions that encourage lies to keep themselves or their friends out of trouble, such as, “Did you color on the walls?”  or “Who taught you that word?”  Find a better way to communicate and get answers.

Other chapters in this book address gifted testing, sibling relationships, teaching children self control and other social skills, and language development.  The chapter on teen rebellion was very interesting and helpful to me.  I will do a whole post on that topic soon.