Last summer I over-scheduled my kids with local camps nearly every week we weren't visiting grandparents. By the time school started, all of us were worn out. So this year I didn't plan a whole lot. Now all they want to do is play video games or mess around on the iPad -- otherwise they're "bored." What happened to the days when kids played outside from morning till night? That's how it was for my husband and me growing up. Have things changed that much, or is it just our kids?
Things have changed that much. But take heart! We don't have to cave in the face of our children's complaints that the only thing worth playing with has a battery or a plug. We just have to make a few adjustments -- most of them, between our ears.
Children are immensely adaptable, finding ways to adjust to all kinds of circumstances when necessary. Most of us have observed that when the power goes out and they get excited about lighting candles, or when a sibling is sick and they find themselves actually capable of being gentle and kind.
In the movie, Life is Beautiful, that ability to adapt is pushed to its extreme. A father and son are held captive in a Nazi concentration camp--the most devastating fate for anyone, but soul-crushing for a parent who is forced to see his child suffering in such dire circumstances.
In the film Guido -- the father -- uses his imagination to shield his son Giosuè from the truth of their ghastly situation, suggesting that the camp is a very complex game in which he earns points toward winning an army tank if he carries out tasks Guido assigns to him. Boys who are quiet and hide from the guards earn extra points.
The film was heartbreaking, but it left me with a greater awareness of how powerfully we influence our children as we react to difficulties. Our kids watch us to determine how they should feel about a situation; is Daddy shaking and worried? Then I should be, too. Is Daddy smiling and playing hide and seek? Maybe things aren't as bad as I thought.
If your kids believe that you find "boredom" intolerable, they will complain that they are bored, especially if your discomfort with their unhappiness will yield time with the iPad or video games.
And if you demonstrate faith in their ability to entertain themselves, they will. Yes, they may whine and gripe for a few days, but if you stay the course, they will eventually head outside on their bicycles or set up the Monopoly board.
Still, there will be a period of time during which they will (understandably) poke and prod at you to see if you might change your mind and switch on the devices. If you can find a way to be okay with their boredom, they will, too.
Acknowledge that they wish they had unlimited access to their video games, but let go of needing them to be skip the part where they have to adjust to less stimulating summer days. Eventually, they will settle in and find joy in life's simple pleasures.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.