Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Boredom Busters

We've had a few long weekends due to holidays lately and I keep running across this question from working parents on Facebook: "Can anyone give me suggestions on what to do with my kids when there's no school?" Most of the people I've seen posting this question have young children either in preschool or early elementary school and are looking for fun, creative ways to entertain their kids without spending a lot of money. Since I stay home with my boys, I find myself in that same situation every day! Here are some inexpensive but fun boredom busters that have been life-savers for me:

-Libraries always have story time, arts and crafts, open play, or special events for children. I have found that a lot of the activities are grouped according to age and are typically last about an hour. Parents usually have to accompany small children but older children can attend by themselves. Either stop by a by your local library to pick up a schedule of events or go online to see what they have posted.

-Barnes and Noble and other bookstores often have story time as well. The Barnes and Noble near me has live performances once a month as well; singers, dancers, magicians, guitar players, and people doing show and tell. These events usually require advanced registration.

-My kids are fascinated by animals and when the weather is not zoo-appropriate, we head to Pet Smart. We get to see all kinds of fish, birds, hamsters, lizards, guinea pigs, gerbils, frogs, cats, dogs, rabbits, and snakes at no cost! I have even gone so far as to ask for the dog training schedule and bring my kids when I know there will be a few dogs being trained in the middle of the store. Always a good time!

-Mall play areas are free, fun, and a great way to socialize with other kids/parents. The mall near us even has a carousel that my son loves to ride. Make sure you wash your kids' hands well after leaving, though. I am not sure how often these areas are cleaned.

-Certain fast-food restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, and Chick Fil-A have indoor playgrounds and you don't have to eat there to play. I have found that once a child is about 3, he/she can pretty much play on the equipment without much assistance. Younger children tend to not be able to reach necessary steps or can become scared and start crying for mom or dad to come get them down. Again, remember the hand-washing.

-If the weather permits, I love to take my kids to the park or to a lake and feed the ducks. We pack a nice picnic lunch and spend a few hours outdoors in nature. When I had only one child, I used to put him in a seat on my bike and go for hour long bike rides. I'd talk to him the whole time about who we saw and what was happening at each place we passed. How I miss those days! This coming summer I plan to put my baby on my bike and my toddler will ride his Big Wheel alongside us. We won't be riding for hours, I'm sure, but it will be fun nonetheless. :)

-If you happen to live near a boardwalk and the weather is nice, it's so much fun to take the kids and just stroll up and down the boardwalk. Sometimes there is live entertainment but if not, people-watching can be just as exciting. There are a few boardwalks near us that have playgrounds and aquariums for the kids. There are also carnival rides, mini golf courses, train rides, and of course, swimming!

-Home Depot has a workshop once a month for kids 10 and under. Each month the staff members teach the kids how to make something useful for the home. We've seen kids making bird feeders, shelves, race cars, dog bowls, mailboxes, and trash cans. My boys are too young to participate right now but in a few years, I am sure they'll be thrilled to build!

-Places like Gymboree and The Little Gym give you the opportunity to bring your child to a free class to see what the program is like before you commit to signing up. And there is absolutely no obligation to sign up. I have taken my kids to a free class knowing I was not going to sign up that day, but to keep it in mind for the future. The teachers are great and the kids have a ball. Plus, they can put you on their mailing list for coupons and special events that might come in handy down the road.

-Near Christmas time and birthdays, I always take my kids to Toys R Us, Walmart, Target, etc. and spend some time helping them make wish lists. We spend hours looking at all the toys, playing with them, and figuring out which to put on our lists. My kids know that we are not there to buy anything so they do not hound me. I like to do this to get an idea of what new toys are available and to see how my kids respond to them. Plus, it gives me an idea of what to tell family members when they ask what my sons might like for their birthdays. It can turn into an all-afternoon fun family outing!

-Some movie theaters have matinees designed for stay-at-home parents and their kids. They are offered at a reduced price and during a time that is convenient for little ones. A lot of times they will leave the lights on and turn the volume down so that kids will not become frightened. It is definitely worth calling your local theaters to see if they participate.

-When all else fails, I call up a friend with kids and invite them over for an in-house playdate. It can become a little chaotic with a bunch of children in a relatively small area but all the smiles and giggles are worth it. Plus, I know my friend will return the favor next time. ;)

Good luck and happy boredom busting!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Dying Art of Discipline

Discipline seems to have a strict negative connotation but if you look it up in the dictionary, you'll find this: activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill. When you think about it, we discipline our children to teach them a lesson intended to improve their understanding of a concept or behavior. We want them to comprehend why hitting is wrong, why running into the street is dangerous, why stealing is punishable, why name calling hurts, and why the baby cries if knocked over. We strive to answer why in the hopes that if the underlying reason is understood, the negative behavior will cease.

All fine and good in theory, but when dealing with toddler shenannigans, all theories go out the window. With toddlers, understanding is possible as long as they are not tired, hungry, thirsty, bored, excited, busy, sick, hot, cold, hurt, mad, upset, or teething. So that leaves maybe a half an hour per day. With toddlers it's important to act quickly (especially in a risky situation) and explain later. Toddlers don't require long, drawn out explanations; something short and to-the-point is sufficient. I think the problem lies in the fact that some parents simply act and don't explain, thereby leaving the toddler to guess why his/her behavior was wrong. As parents, we often assume that certain concepts are just known, when in fact, a toddler really does need to be briefed. Another part of the problem exists when parents do the opposite; they spend too much time belaboring the point when the toddler is in the middle of meltdown.

I was in Walmart this afternoon with my kids (ages 2 and 1/2 and 6 months) when I noticed a mother and her daughter (toddler age) arguing. The daughter wanted a toy and the mother had originally said "no" but was now going back on her word. She told her daughter she could choose between three toys but the daughter wanted something else and was whining that she had to have it. The mother then added another toy to the selection but it was not the one her daughter wanted. This continued and the whining turning to crying and the crying turned to screaming and the screaming escalated to all-out shrieking. The mother started to plead with her daughter, explaining that everyone was watching and she shouldn't be drawing attention to herself like that. I left the store before I could find out how the movie ended up I'm guessing it wasn't pretty.

Karma has a funny way of humbling me. I had been so thankful that my toddler wasn't the one acting out in Walmart but ended up kicking myself because it was he who began tantruming at our next stop, CVS. My son lives and breathes cars so naturally, as we passed a few cars in the toy aisle, he asked if he could have one. I had actually planned on buying him something small anyway, as a reward for doing so well with potty training, but I said, "We'll see how you behave in the store." Boy can my son behave if there is a Matchbox car involved! As we headed to check out, I asked him which car he wanted. He hemmed and hawed for a bit, examining each one, and then decided on a shiny black sports car with a spoiler. A second later, he shook his head, put that one back, and grabbed a red and blue race car with a 49 on the side. Still feeling dissatisfied, he put that back and picked up a red pick up truck. Finally my son turned to me and said, "None of them. I don't like any of them." I told him that was OK and that we'd find a car he liked another day at another store. Seeming content with that idea, we walked to the front of the store.

Then all hell broke loose.

My indecisive toddler started yelling, "I want a car! I want a car!" I reminded him that he was given the option of picking a car but that he didn't like any of them. Did he want any of those cars? No. Did he want something simply for the sake of having something? Yes. In my book, that's not a good enough reason. He was told he'd pick out something at a different store and I was sticking to it. There is no mandatory purchasing rule at every store we enter. I knew a tantrum was inevitable so I left my cart in the middle of the aisle, picked up my toddler and left the store. Sure enough, he screamed for most of the ride home. When we got home and he had calmed down, I took a few minutes to explain to him that when I make a decision about something, it's final. If I tell him he can't have a toy, he can't have it. Crying won't change my mind. And if I tell him he can have a toy, he needs to pick one out and put it in the cart. If he doesn't like anything there, that's fine; we'll go somewhere else another day. He doesn't get to stand there for two hours pulling each and every car off the shelf. And he certainly doesn't need to buy something just for buying's sake. Had I tried to explain all of this while in CVS during his whining fit, I would have failed miserably. He was in no shape to hear it at the time. But he did need to understand (after he had settled down), why he left the store with no car. Hopefully next time he'll be able to pick something out in a timely fashion and be satisfied with it. I'd add that he ought to be thankful that he's even getting something in the first place but that might be asking a little too much from a 2-year-old... ;)