How do you choose the right programs or activities for your kids? Sometimes it’s clear, sometimes it’s not. Lots of agendas can get involved when schedules and locations are important.
When choosing activities, consider:
- This is for your child, not you. Of course it must work for you, but try not to project what you loved as a kid, or what you wish you had gotten to do.
- Do not sign your child up for something you think she will like and then inform her what she will be doing.
- Make suggestions but not directions. “What about…? If I were you, I would love that – but that’s me.”
- Go over general categories—day or sleep away camp, sports programs, theater programs, horse camps, art or music programs, etc. Then include your child (if old enough) in some of the research. The more your child is involved, the more engaged he will be and the less you will be blamed if it doesn’t work out.
- For teens old enough to work: Job-aged kids need your help and support during the job search, but not your leg-work. Acknowledge the difficulty, share your experiences, be open to hear the griping, offer suggestions, but do not do the work.
Many children change their minds, and fears arise about teaching commitment. This is not limited to summer activities. What do you do when money has been spent? Or children who begged for a program dig in their heals and refuse to go after a couple of sessions? Others start off resisting but with gentle prodding find that once involved they love it.
This is normal and shouldn’t be cause for worry that your child will never be able to make commitments. This is their time of learning what they like and don’t like. Taking responsibility for being a counted-on team member is not necessary until a team really does count on its teammates.
You may never know how far to push and when to back off. Trial and error is often your only guide. After a situation does not work out, talk about it with your child. Never place blame for a change of mind or heart. Discuss ways to evaluate a program for future planning. What worked, what didn’t. Get your child in the habit of looking back, learning from experience, and moving forward with new self-knowledge.
In the process of deciding on summer activities, voluntary school trips, after school activities, play the “what if” game. “What do you think you would feel like if…? When it comes time to do…what do you guess that might be like? What would you do if…happened?” Be careful not to steer your questions or tone to lead in the direction you want.
When money is involved, let your child know you do not want to spend money if he will soon leave the program. Discuss how much time involved is acceptable to you. Ask him if he feels sure enough to risk staying with it for that long if he doesn’t like it. Then it becomes about keeping his word rather than commitment to a team he doesn’t really care about.
The Benefits of Boredom
If you’ve decided that your kids have had enough structure, and you choose to give them a welcome stay-at-home break, you may come up against the “I’m bored” syndrome. Resist the temptation to yell, “I’m not your camp counselor. You should be happy you get to do whatever you want. Now leave me alone!” Generally “I’m bored” doesn’t mean, I’m ungrateful and I hate being here. More likely it means I don’t know what to do or I want you to do something with me. Children are so used to their parents fixing their problems (a habit to get out of), “I’m bored” comes with the expectation that you will quickly solve the problem. Don’t fall into this trap.
Let your child know you get bored sometimes, and you’re sure she will think of something. It’s her problem, not yours. Make a list together of all the things she likes to do around home. Then post it so when you hear, “I’m bored”, you can point to the list. If nothing on the list appeals at the moment, chances are your child needs to be bored. Let her be. It is out of boredom that creativity emerges.
Engage Your Child in Decisions
Engage your child in the decisions that affect her life. Ask, “Do you want me to speak to your teacher about that?” instead of just going to the teacher. Never second-guess what your children will want. Ask their opinions and encourage negotiating to be sure all are heard and then find what works for all of you. There is nothing wrong with a good argument from your child. It doesn’t mean disrespect; it means your child feels safe arguing with you. That’s a good thing. Then you will get her in the habit of thinking carefully about the choices she makes so she learns that she is in control of what she chooses and what she doesn’t.