I have written many times before about the goal we have for our afternoons to be productive. I am, once again, at a place where we are intentionally working on this aspect of our days. Over the years our children have needed help in different ways to help them use their time wisely. One thing that parents often struggle with is their children say they are bored (or they act as if they are!) Often times parents just give a consequence – or to be honest, a punishment hoping that will coax them out of their annoying boredom. I cannot see this as a helpful parenting strategy. For sure, it gets the kids out of your hair, but long term it simply stops them from coming to you with their problems.
Their problem at this time is they cannot find something to do, they cannot stay focused, they may even be overwhelmed with choice. I see that my job as parent is to help them use their time wisely, to develop their talents and to find interests in life. This is the purpose behind our goal of productive free time.
The words we use are so powerful in training our children.
I use the word “free” to remind them that ultimately they have the choice over this time slot in their day. I want them to have passions that they develop during this time – passions that come from their heart, not mine. I don’t let them just have ‘free’ time because they start to believe since it is their “free time” they can use it however they like – even be bored if they want to be!!
I also want them to see that our free time – that is the time not required by our responsibilities, is not to be wasted. So I use “productive” to remind them that they need to be purposeful and there needs to be an end result of their efforts.
But…. There are times that the children are unable to make these decisions and they need help. This is where we are at with Daniel at the moment. He had an afternoon last week that was the culmination of a few weeks of not managing his free time well – he was simply bored. I know my mother said such a thing doesn’t exist – but it does, if you don’t have the skills to fill your time productively you will be bored!
Some children will fill their time with all sorts of projects from a young age – curiosity and interests will fill their days. Some children develop skills quickly giving them the opportunity to pursue the things they want to learn. Some children don’t – and that is where we have to step in and train.
Daniel struggles in a few areas:
- He doesn’t have a lot of skills to do creative projects independently and he was bored with the few projects he has been working on for about 6 months.
- He was overwhelmed with the projects I kept suggesting
- He doesn’t learn by reading a book, he learns by watching and helping someone else
- He has a short attention span unless he is completely and totally absorbed by something (but he isn’t absorbed by any ideas at the moment)
When my children don’t do something well – as in developmentally well – I step in, break it down and help them achieve little steps, one step at a time. So my plan for Daniel for the next little while is to structure his afternoon into ½ hour slots. There will be some flexibility within that if his interests are stirred and as always family life takes precedence.
This is our structure for the afternoon – after lunch and chores:
- Reading and reading journal
- Screen time (wii or computer games)
- Something with your hands – to make something
- Something with your mind – to learn something
- Something with your body – physical activity outdoors (at this stage only ¼ hour as he also exercises in the morning)
Which leaves about 1 hour for flexibility, and for him to have some time for his own choices. I am hoping that he is able to handle 1 hour of his own choice – if he can, that is great as we would have found a level where he can be successful, if he can’t then I’ll help him make choices for that hour, and if he gets overwhelmed by those options then I’ll continue to direct his activities until he shows he can do this himself.
The only time I give my children chores as a consequence for being bored is when they can make choices but choose to be bored – this always comes with attitude. The way I see it making choices about how we spend our time is a life skill and I need to meet my children where they are at, and help them from there.
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