Many military families look forward to their next permanent change of station (PCS) move to start over, whether that means starting a new stage of life like homeschooling or starting a new job. When you start over in a new place every few years, you have a unique opportunity to try new things.
For those not PCSing, summer is also a great time to start something new. And since summer and PCSing usually line up, you're in luck.
I recently listened to this NPR Life Kit session that talked about how entertaining children is an American thing and that other cultures allow -- and encourage -- children to entertain themselves.
I was blown away. You mean that I don't have to entertain my children all the time? I think I knew this already, but having someone else say it and share examples of how it worked for her young child was encouraging. I was gung-ho, until the doubts settled back in.
My kids span from 12 to four years old and have had several years of me entertaining them, bribing them to sit quietly so I can work from home and mediating their fights. Is letting them entertain themselves something I can really do or is it too late to start?
Here are ways to start teaching your kids to entertain themselves.
1. Give them clear parameters. No matter the age of your children, they still need parameters and boundaries. Saying "go play" will not get you the results you want. They may go and play, but they may not return home on time or play safely. Try something like, "For the next 30 minutes, you may play with anything in the house or in the backyard." And then stick to it.
2. Start with short periods of time. Ideally, our children will eventually be able to entertain themselves for hours on end. They'll read books, play with their toys and maybe even play with each other. But you can't go from cruise director to sipping coffee on the back deck in silence overnight. Start with 15 to 30 minutes, depending on their ages, and work your way up.
3. Let them be. Once you let them loose, you have to let them be. Yes, messes will be made and it may be loud and they'll probably test your patience, but that's what you want. You want them to figure it out. You want them to entertain themselves, which means they need to know you're not going to dictate what they are doing. Obviously, there are household rules that need to be followed, but messes are part of life.
4. Consider the 15/45 rule. When your children are at school or day care, you have time to yourself, which is important. And then they are home, and you have family time. Summer often feels like full-on family time -- which, if we're being honest, makes it harder to enjoy. If you go ahead and spend 15 minutes of time completely with your child and then encourage them to spend 45 minutes entertaining themselves, you will enjoy the time and be productive.
You'll notice most of these techniques are things our parents used. When you think back to your childhood summers, where did you spend the most time? What were you doing? That's what your kids can be doing too -- without you hovering over their shoulder or planning out every second of their day.
Give these tips a try in your new house, or just start right now and see how it goes.
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