Have you spent time in your children's classroom? Does it always amaze you that 1 teacher has the entire room of children doing everything he/she asks? It doesn't matter if the children are 5 years old or 10, this teacher has command of the room most of the time. If they start to lose it, they know exactly how to get it back. Four children later and I'm still a little in awe of how well these teachers pull children back when they start to lose focus.
Our kids aren't in school anymore, though, so how do we get our children to listen that well while at home with us this summer? Or even at home during the school year? It starts with structure. I know, I know, structure sounds like an awful thing. What child wants 'structure' in their day? Don't kids want to be kids and run outside to play? Research shows that structure in your house is like a security blanket to your child. Even though children always push the limits, as long as we stay consistent and keep those limits in place, the children feel safer. They may not be able to articulate that, but research shows that they do feel more comfortable, grow up with a healthier self-esteem and are better prepared to face the world in adult life. So how does something as un-fun as structure turn into all these positive things?
- Children need to know they can count on something. They need guidance. Without a parent's guidance, they will seek guidance elsewhere. That usually leads to someone they encounter out of the house. This could be a good thing, like a caring teacher or an adult friend, but it could also mean a bad thing. It could be another older child who doesn't make the best choices. Structure is guidance. We give them their boundaries and though they fight those boundaries, as long as we stick to it, we've given them something they can count on and we've given them guidance.
- Research shows that when a parent does everything for a child (helicopter parenting) or when a child grows up without guidance or structure, the child internalizes and translates this as "My Mom/Dad doesn't think I can do it." This research actually surprised me when I read it, but consider the child that sees all his friends go home after school to do homework. The child without structure is able to stay out and play for as long as he wants. He's wondering what's different about him, why isn't he treated the same as his friends? We know that the child that thinks he's different and feels different starts to suffer in terms of self-esteem.
- Is your boss ok with you coming in 30 minutes late whenever you had a hard time getting up? What about leaving early? Or just being late on your work? What if we don't want to pay our bills this month, would that be ok? What if we were running late and needed to drive 15 miles over the speed limit to get to our destination on time? We know the answers to these questions. Adults have many restrictions on them and if we grew up without structure, we're not as prepared to handle those restrictions. If there weren't rules as children, how would these children handle all these rules as adults? Keep in mind that the consequences to breaking the rules as adults is stronger than breaking rules as a kid.
So what does this mean for summer? There are some really great tips from teachers on keeping order. First, redirection. This is the most important tool in a parent's toolbox. When you see things start to escalate between children, redirecting one can stop a fight before it starts. Second, staying active. There are so many fantastic ideas online to keep kids active and learning all summer long. Finally, keeping somewhat of a routine helps. It's summer, so we should all be having fun and maybe staying up later, but keeping a mini-routine in the summer can help your children feel more comfortable. It may be as basic as: wake up, breakfast, teeth/hair, get dressed, play, lunch, quiet time, play, dinner, play, pajamas/teeth, bed time.
I welcome any thoughts/comments below. What's worked for you?