When Your Child Says, “There’s Nothing to Do”
It’s enough to drive us parents crazy, especially when we’ve just come through Christmas and the kids have presents galore, have been entertained nonstop by others, and have enjoyed many special events in the last few weeks! Add to this tension the exhausted parents. Come on, we need a break!
Coming out of Christmas and into bleak winter days provides us with an opportunity to reinforce an important principle we are fast losing in this culture of “entertain me” parenting.
In truth, we have a scary problem, a huge misconception:
It is not a parent’s job to entertain the kids. We have been sold a lie that says a good parent, yes a Christian parent, is one who makes sure their kids are always happy and this often means entertaining them constantly. So dad comes in exhausted from a long day in the office and is immediately expected to play with the kids. Mom finds 15 minutes to sit quietly and look at a magazine but is quickly interrupted by a child who needs her to do something … so she jumps up to fill the request. Weekends are spent either over-booking our kids with sporting events or feeling compelled to be entertaining them at home.
But this philosophy is wrought with four dangers.
1. If we constantly entertain our kids we are unintentionally training them to expect others to entertain them as they grow up. Teachers, friends, and spouses will be expected to make them happy. They will never be satisfied and they will always want something more, something else, even someone better. This is scary.
2. If we constantly entertain our kids we will prevent them from learning the joy of their own company and we will stifle their creativity. This is short-sighted and extremely sad.
3. If we constantly entertain our kids they will not learn the necessity of waiting. And they will be less likely to wait for a promotion, for sex in marriage, for a relationship to be healed. It is in the little things in life that we equip them for handling the big issues and teaching them to wait is crucial. They must learn now that they cannot always have what they want when they want it, even someone to play with them.
4. If we constantly entertain our kids they will not learn the value of quiet, or meditation, and this will inhibit their ability to learn how to listen to God and to worship. Meditation and worship are not natural. They have to be nurtured and nurturing the soul of our child begins when they are young.
So what do we do?
:: As the new year begins, institute a new family tradition. Call it something positive, like “Fun Alone Time” or FAT for short! Avoid naming it “quiet time,” or “time out.” It needs to have a fresh, new, fun name. Several times a week and on weekends announce a period of “FAT” time. (Leave your creative names in the comments!) During this time everyone is to play by themselves including mom and dad. Reassure them that dad and mom will play with them later. But they must wait.
:: No technology (TVs, computers, games, phones, etc.) is to be used during this time. Hang tough on this. Our kids are too dependent on technology. They need quiet to nurture their creativity. Separate young kids during this time, otherwise they’ll likely wind up fighting. Occasionally allow two to play together, but don’t forgo alone time.
:: When you explain this new tradition sit with the kids and see how many things they can come up with on a list “to do by yourself” (or sometimes with another person). However no adult is needed. We have a list at our farm with over 80 ideas. Included are: collect worms and bugs in a cup, kick the soccer ball, work a puzzle, look at photo albums, write a song, paint rocks, build a fort, design a scavenger hunt for the family to do later, swing in the hammock, read, make something with wood, draw with chalk, etc.
At the top of our lists it says, “We never say I’m bored or there’s nothing to do at the farm. Here are things to do by myself. An adult is not necessary.” The kids keep adding to the list!
Be patient and firm. You will have to enforce this policy at least five times before the kids begin to learn. It is a radical departure from what our culture is promoting. And dads and moms need to agree about this and support each other. The kids will complain-some more than others. Our kids are packaged differently, but every child needs to learn to enjoy alone time. Ignore their complaints and just do it. As you persist you may see some signs of a unique gift your child possesses that has been lying dormant waiting for time to blossom-gifts in your child which you could have missed: an artist, a creative builder, a writer, a poet, a nature lover, a writer of music, a designer of a new game, etc. You may also discover a lessening of stress in a child who is given space from a noisy culture.
So be a brave parent. When your 8-year-old whines this week and says, “There’s nothing to do!”
You respond, “Oh there’s so much to do and I know the best person to do it with–yourself! You are so much fun and you are so creative so now is a good time for you to look at our list and choose something to do alone with yourself. “
Say this with humor and laughter. Do not let his attitude affect yours. Yes, he’ll roll his eyes and persist with complaints but a wise parent will not be drawn into an argument about boredom. Instead, firmly and positively send him off to be with himself.
Pray that over time he will learn to enjoy himself and discover the blessings of creativity and quiet.