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KIDS CAN LEARN TO COPE WITH SUMMER BOREDOM

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DEAR DR. FOURNIER: As much as my children and I look forward to summer when we can "both" get out of school, I can't help but dread summer also. I have three children, ages 5, 9 and 12. I have them signed up for as many activities as I can find and reasonably drive to. But every summer I plan all these activities only to hear, during a lull, "I don't have anything to do." No matter how much we plan to do, my kids end up miserable. Do you have any suggestions on how to fill these days? - From Memphis

THE ASSESSMENT: Let's examine another question: Are parents responsible for scheduling all of their children's free time and activities? Many parents believe the answer is "yes."In my years as an educational consultant, I have heard two recurring statements that have increasingly become part of what I call the "natural language" of parents: (1) I want my child to be happy, and (2) I want my child to experience as much as he can do so I do not stunt his development.

The first statement reminds me of the cheerful greeting cards we used to buy for birthdays or Mother's Day. The verse inside always ended on a cheerful note like "May today's happiness be with you forever." Nice thought, but it's a wish for the impossible. Who can carry "today's happiness" with them forever? All of us go through good times and bad times. Life asks us to cope with the situation at hand, not grin at it.

Having bought the concept of happiness as if it were a daily vitamin requirement, as parents we easily fall prey to believing we are supposed to "give" this happiness to our children - and give we do.

Enter natural language statement No. 2. The more we give to our children - the more we "expose" them to different situations and ideas - the sooner we may hit on what will make them happy. It's no wonder that our kids learn to be takers and when there is nothing to take they suddenly become unhappy and bored.

COURSE OF ACTION: As we try to give our children everything they need, we often overlook two skills required for life: (1) The capacity to cope when life doesn't give you everything, and (2) the capacity to take charge of your life through critical and creative decisionmaking.

A solution is to give back to our children something we take away when we give too much - the right to be bored. Boredom is something that children must resolve for themselves and cope with the feelings attached to it.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: When a child tells you, "I'm bored," define the term - let him know you are thrilled because he wants you to take control of his life and get rid of that boredom. At my house that means you can vacuum the floor, take out the garbage or clean the garage. My child usually says, "I don't want to do that," to which I can gleefully say, "That's not one of your choices."

Occasionally, you can negotiate by letting the child have five minutes to think about a solution to his boredom. The child needs to come up with a way to put a smile on his face.

Let's get back to the original question: Are parents responsible for scheduling all of their children's free time and activities? I believe the answer is "no."

Parents - and students - may send questions about homework, education or parenting to Dr. Yvonne Fournier, Fournier Learning Strategies Inc., 5900 Poplar, Memphis, TN 38119. Please include your name and address, though names may be withheld upon request. Questions can only be answered in future columns. Fournier, president of Fournier Learning Strategies Inc., is an education consultant to schools and corporations.