My parents and grandparents always tell me stories about how they played when they were kids. You know…no electronics, no toys, just imagination. But what stands out in my mind the most, is how they tell about playing outside all day long and just coming home before dark, for dinner.
Most of us only dream of our kids having this kind of imagination and freedom. But more importantly…
most of us dream of having that much of our day free to get our work done without constant interruption.
We all love our kids, but they can most definitely be draining, with their constant needs, questions, whining…you know what I mean.
When my daughter was about four years old, I was so tired I realized I couldn’t keep going on the way I was. My determination to play with her on the floor, answer every constant question (many of which were a form of disobedience), and basically entertain her, was going to kill me.
After giving it some thought, I realized that, basically, she was bored and so was being obnoxious.
There turned out to be a really easy fix to the problem…. structured play time.
It is tough at first, because kids don’t want you to turn your back on them or, essentially, force them to leave you alone and play. Here is how I did it with my daughter (and later, my son).
On day one I told her that she was going to play outside by herself for a half hour. She was not allowed to come in the house or stick her head in the door to ask me anything. She had to play! I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it was. Within five to ten minutes, she was trying to come in and tell me something. I sent her back out. A few minutes later she found another reason to come to the door. I informed her that for the remainder of her outside playtime, the door would be locked. This is where it got ugly. There were lots of tears and begging. I honestly ended up leaving the room so she could not see me. It ended up taking more than the originally planned 30 min of play time before she even began to play.
It is so important at this point that you do not let your child come back in the house before they start to play nicely. Doing so, will re-enforce the bad behavior (since it achieved the desired outcome).
After your child begins to really play, and has forgotten about you, you can go out and tell him how nicely he is playing. Unlock the door and let him know he can come back inside when he is done playing. Make sure you tell him you love him and are glad he played. Let him know that tomorrow you expect he won’t cry (even though he may).
Please be patient. Be consistent and increase the length of play time each day. You won’t need to lock him out for more than the first few days.
In my case with my daughter, it wasn’t long before she was playing for hours and didn’t want to come back in the house. I even had to call her back in for a meal on a regular basis.
In the end, your child will be happier (learn to use his imagination and never be bored), and love you more for your firmness. To this day my daughter has an amazing imagination and can keep herself busy under any circumstances.
Structured play time is also good indoors. Kids who’s parents give them a set period of coloring time, block building time etc. know what to expect from their day and happily comply. They develop skills (building, coloring, imagining, inventing) and are not destructive and obnoxious like kids who are bored and don’t have any structure in their lives.
Of course, it is still important that a certain amount of your time each day be spent reading, cooking, dancing with and just enjoying your children. They should always know you love them. But there is nothing that makes them feel loved like a parent who takes the time to organize and discipline their day. Because….only a loving parent would do that.
In the end, you will be a better parent. You will have more patience, more energy, and more love for your well behaved child. Your child will be happier and more self sufficient.