Summertime Blues

School is ending across the country, and with it, wails of distress from parents as they scramble for ways to fill their children’s time during the hot, sticky days of summer. I’ve heard numerous parents express dismay at the end of school, and have felt in the minority that I don’t feel as miserable as they do about having my children around all the time.
For families with both parents working, or for single parent households, I can well understand the need to find adequate childcare or camps in the summer. But for families that have one parent at home, summer is a wonderful opportunity for you and your children—and it doesn’t have to mean you are responsible for entertaining them day in and day out.
Fighting chants of “I’m bored,” or “I don’t know what to do,” or “I have nothing to do,” can be downright exhausting if you hear those or similar phrases as soon as your little darlings wake in the morning. But do not despair! I have a solution that, if followed to the letter, will ensure a summer filled with innovation and inspiration, all with just a little bit of work on your part.
First, draw up a list of things your child or children can do on their own. This can be as simple as play with a certain toy or read a book. Tailor it to the age of your child. Write down as many things as you can think of that require a minimum (read barely any) assistance from you. Type it up and label it “Things to Do When You’re Bored” or something equally catchy.
Note: Your summer will go smoother if you limit electronic screen time (TV and video/DVD watching, computer, and hand-held electronic games, etc.). Studies have shown—and, if you have ever interrupted a child involved in one of those activities—that screen time is highly addictive. Better to encourage your children in other pursuits in their leisure time. This is not a popular view, I know, but I think you’ll find it’s worth the hassle to get your kids disconnected for most of the summer.
Second, write down a list of extra chores not included in the daily or weekly list for your children. Cut into slips of paper with one chore on each slip, fold and place into a jar or other container and label “Chore Jar.”
Third, on the first day of summer vacation, sit down your kids after breakfast and hand them the “Things to Do When You’re Bored” list. Tell them that this is what they can do when they’re feeling bored or have nothing to do. Inform them that if anyone utters the words “I’m bored,” or “I have nothing to do,” or any variation thereof, that child picks a chore to do from the Chore Jar. That chore must be completed immediately to the parent’s satisfaction. Failure to do so will result in being confined to his or her room for the rest of the day and to bed after supper. This is called “making them an offer they can’t refuse.”
Fourth, follow through. When I introduced this last summer to my two older girls, they immediately said they were bored to see what kind of chores were in the Chore Jar. After completing a particular onerous task, I didn’t hear “I’m bored,” the entire summer.
For those of you who need ideas, my booklet Boredom Busters has dozens of ideas for children, as well as some chore ideas for the Chore Jar. Boredom Busters is available on Kindle and Smashwords (for the Nook, iPad, and other e-reader devices, as well as in a PDF) for only 99 cents. Leave a comment under this post for a chance to win a copy of the Boredom Busters.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginiawith her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about working from home.

Do Not Disturb the Family Peace

As I sat down at my computer to write a blog post for this site, I heard a ruckus upstairs. Sounds of screaming that didn’t sound quite so happy. With four children between the ages of 3 and 9, one gets used to a certain amount of loudness, but my mother’s radar detected something different in these sounds.
I followed the source to my girls’ room, where the 9-year-old was attempting to drag the 7-year-old out of the room because she “wanted her room to herself.” Never mind that the room was both of theirs, she wanted to be alone. I separated the pair for a cooling off period, thinking that a 9-year-old was a little too young to pull a Greta Garbo.
Sibling conflict can be overwhelming, especially when you have a mix of ages and genders. Most of the time, my children do play well together with a minimum of fuss. But it’s inevitable that conflict will raise its ugly head at times.
The way you as a parent handle sibling clashes can help—or hinder—how your children interact with each other. Here’s how we handle sibling clashes.
We decided that we would not play referee. It was not our job to intervene when the wailing started out of sight. We would not judge who was right and who was wrong. No assigning roles of victim or villain for us. If we happened to actually see the wrongdoing, that was another thing. But we would not participate after the fact in their disagreements. We would give kisses, but would not encourage tattling.
To enforce this, we created a chart and stuck it to the refrigerator. Titled “Do Not Disturb the Family Peace,” the chart outlined what would earn every child a ticket:
  1. Keep it down. (Do not become too boisterous or noisy.)
  2. No hurting each other. (Do not hit, punch, push or otherwise maim your siblings.)
  3. No tattling. (Do not become a snitch on your siblings.)
Clipped to the fridge beside this chart are three tickets, pieces of laminated paper. For each infraction, the entire group loses one ticket. If all three tickets are lost, the entire group goes directly to their rooms for the rest of the day and directly to bed after supper.
This eliminates the problem of trying to figure out what happened. It doesn’t really matter who was at fault, does it? What this system is doing is putting the resolution of conflict onto the children, where it belongs.
When I heard my two girls going at it, I simply walked in, said they were disturbing the family peace and directed one to get a ticket. No arguing, no drama. Then I walked out.
So far, in the two months we’ve had this system in place, they have yet to lose all three tickets. And if they do, I’ll enjoy a nice day without kids underfoot, and a more relaxing evening with my husband.
Now, would it be terrible of me to wish they would lose all three tickets one day….?
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginiawith her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about working from home.

The Myth of Free Time

In the fall, all four of my children will be in school, albeit not all full-time (my youngest will be in a three-day preschool program). Whenever this comes up in conversation, the enviable response is, “What will you do with all of your free time?”
Ah, free time—that mythical land to which every mother longs to go. As someone who currently works part-time from home, I rarely have free time now, and I don’t anticipate that changing once the children are in school.
I think the bigger question is what does this say about the current view of mothering. My mother stayed at home, but her time wasn’t consumed by doing for—or entertaining—me. Sure, household chores ate up some time, but once we were older than three, time spent in childcare dropped considerably for women of my mother’s generation.
That kind of mothering has fallen out of favor, and with it the rise of no time, free or otherwise. I am grateful for my mother’s example, for it gives me the fortitude to follow in her footsteps. Direct care of my children has lessened as they age; correspondingly, time I spend taking care of the household has also dropped as the children have picked up more of the cleaning chores.
In turn, that has allowed me to pick up some of the things that I put on hold when the children first arrived: reading, writing, knitting and sewing, for example.
While I’m looking forward to a quieter house next fall, I won’t have to worry about how to fill my suddenly “free time” since my time has always been mine to fill. I’ll take the 24 hours given to us each day and try to use it wisely—just like I do now.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about working from home.

Merry-Go-Round: Old Fashioned Fun

With March proving to be delightful in the weather department, we’ve been visiting playgrounds recently. On one visit, for nearly the entire half hour or so we were there, my three oldest children played on one piece of equipment: the merry-go-round. Laughter, squeals of pretend terror, sheer joy on the faces of the children hanging on for dear life as other kids ran as fast as they could in the grooved circle—what could be a better picture of childhood?
Nearly every non-preschooler who came to the playground made a beeline directly for the merry-go-round. I sat on a nearby bench and watched the interplay between the kids, and was heartened to see everyone getting along. Chants of “Push us, push us,” were answered by someone leaping off and racing around. When my youngest son (age 3) got on and then decided he wanted off shortly after the rotations began, a kid yelled, “Stop, someone wants to get off,” and they slowed to allow my son to slid off.
What other piece of equipment can teach children how to get along with one another better than a merry-go-round? There’s so many life lessons to be learned while spinning until you’re dizzy.
But we adults have over-reacted to the merry-go-round’s potential harm by suing playground equipment manufacturers, and cities and schools that had parks with merry-go-rounds installed. Sure some kids have gotten hurt on merry-go-rounds, but what I find more disturbing is our increasing desire to wrap our children in cotton wool to avoid any booboos or skinned knees (hence the tendency to make them wear knee and elbow pads while bike riding or rollerblading).
No one wants our children to get hurt psychically, and we should put a stop to obviously dangerous things. On the other hand, giving children the freedom to spread their wings and fly around the world on a merry-go-round can be wonderful to their own development.
Let them see the world outside is to be explored and conquered, not feared and avoided. Let them experience the joys and pains of mastering things like bike riding and monkey bars. Let them view the world from a different perspective by climbing trees or hanging upside from the swing set.
Sure, you might have to stock up on band-aids and kiss a few more hurts, but if you can resist the urge to place your children inside a bubble, you might just find out that they are tougher than you think. Hearing your children describe their outdoor adventures can be a priceless experience in itself.
So keep the cotton wool safely tucked away, and go find a park with a merry-go-round, but I’d avoid jumping on board unless you have a stomach of iron. Some things are better left to the kids.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and editor, and author of Hired@Home, a guide to unlocking women’s work-from-home potential now available on Kindle. Her stories have appeared in previous Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Sarah lives in Virginia with her husband and four children. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com, where she blogs about working from home.

Good Intentions

During a recent visit with my parents, we all went out to our favorite pizza buffet restaurant, and our four children asked to sit at their own table. We picked a table right beside ours and my husband and I sat with our backs to our children, in order to keep an eye on them.
Near the end of the meal, a woman stopped by our table, obviously upset, to say that, “Someone should tell those girls that it’s not polite to point, make faces and laugh at people.” Somewhat taken aback, I stammered out an apology and then turned to ask the girls what had happened.
The girls in question—ages 9 and 7—vehemently denied having done such a thing, the older one beginning to cry at the accusations. Upon further questioning, it came out that the pair had been engaged in their own storytelling that involved making funny faces and gesturing to the opposite wall, which would have meant those sitting in their path could have misconstrued the situation. Added to their explanation was the fact that we have never seen them behave in such a way toward anyone, we were inclined to believe them. The girls themselves were suitably chastised by the encounter.
But it presented an excellent opportunity to discuss our intentions and how those can be mistaken by others as not good. Their making faces and pointing in public had been misinterpreted by someone as directed at them—and it didn’t paint a flattering picture of the girls’ behavior or character.
We also talked about how the woman must have felt to think they were making fun of her appearance, and how devastated the girls would have felt had they seen someone doing similar things ostensibly about them. Too many times, we forget to talk to our children about trying to avoid the “appearance of evil” in their actions, especially in public or school. While some people will find fault in everything, many times situations like the one discussed in this post could have been avoided if we had curbed our own actions.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, but a vital one that good intentions are not the only thing we need to keep in mind—that we need to have a thought for our fellow man and how our actions might impact him.

Toddler TV Time

Another new study was released this month decrying the side effects of too much television on toddlers. According to an article in the May issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (a JAMA/Archives journal), the side effects of too much screen time may not be evident until the child enters grade school.

Children who watch more TV at 29 months old (2½) seem to exhibit more problems in school and poorer health behaviors when they enter fourth grade.

A study of more than 1300 kids around 29 months old found that each additional hour of TV in early childhood corresponded with a 7 percent unit drop in classroom engagement, a 6 percent decline in math achievement and a whopping 13 percent decrease in weekend physical activity.

It gets even scarier: Each additional TV hour in early childhood is linked to a 9 percent higher score for soda consumption and a 10 percent higher score for snack consumption. In other words, watching TV as a 2 year old contributes to fatter kids.

“The long-term risks associated with higher levels of early exposure may chart developmental pathways toward unhealthy dispositions in adolescence,” the study’s authors wrote.

This research, coupled with previous studies, shows that television programs on a regular basis are not good for toddlers and preschoolers. In my house, the TV is rarely on during the day and only at night when the children are all in bed. Yes, sometimes I do long to pop in a video because the kids are driving me crazy, but I curb that tendency and instead kick them outside for some playtime. With more and more evidence stacking up that TV time is not good for the health and well-being of children, especially young children, I think it’s time we stop our love affair with the boob tube and start realizing the very real dangers even “educational” programming can do to our kids.