Tip #22 – Get Comfortable with Saying No

Oct 12

We live in a Yes culture.  With an abundant society such as the one in which we live, we don’t have much choice.  Back in the day (wa-a-a-ay back) when the family’s dinner consisted of what little food they could scrape together, a parent didn’t have to say no.  Any child could clearly see there were no seconds to be eaten.  There were no desserts to beg over.  There were few, if any toys, to ask for.  Fast forward to today.  Kids are surrounded by a cornucopia of opportunities to eat, play, and purchase till their every desire is satiated (at least for that moment).

That means the burden of self-control falls upon the parents’ shoulders.  Sure, the kids could play video games all day.  Just like they could eat chips and chocolate bars between every meal.  They could own the best digital devices on the market.  And they could update their Facebook profiles every five minutes.  But none of that is good for them, despite their misguided belief that it is, in fact, exactly what they need to find true happiness.

In my home, the screen is the dangling carrot for my kids, beckoning them the second that a sliver of boredom creeps into their consciousness.  ”Mom, can I play computer?”  ”Mom, can I play with your iPhone?”  ”Mom, can we play wii?”  I don’t enjoy saying no.  I really don’t.  However, in my efforts to teach them to entertain themselves as well as instil in them a sense of responsible use of time, I am forced to say no way more than they’d like to hear.

In return, I’ve received my fair share of unkind utterances from my boys.  The most popular among them is calling me the meanest mom they know.  I don’t take it personally, although sometimes it does sting just a little.  But my reward is seeing them outside playing games, skateboarding, bike riding, or building a fort in the woods when they could have been sitting in the basement staring at the screen.  All thanks to that little two-lettered word.  One day when they’re older, I tell them, they’ll realize that it was their reward, too.

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Tip #12 Match Kids’ Screen Time with Active Time

Jul 05

When the country’s most prominent newspaper headlines a story about kids playing outside (or their lack of it), you know something is amiss. This is what constitutes news? Apparently, so. There is even a celebratory reference to a young girl who actually (gasp) climbs trees!  The Globe and Mail article delves into some pretty dismal statistics lamenting the pathetically low amount of exercise that Canadian kids engage in.  Parents clearly need to take action.

Lack of activity isn’t a problem in my household where my only chance at obtaining any semblance of peace is to lock my three boys outside for long periods of time. However, I realize that not all parents are willing to kick their kids out the door without a lengthy negotiation period with the young’uns where they try to explain the benefits of fresh air and exercise. (Something to do with children’s rights and a desire to take their feelings into account.)

So, here I offer a quick tip to end all wasted efforts in such negotiation that will likely end in stalemate anyways. Set a general rule that every minute your child spends on his rear end in front a screen must be matched with time spent outside. Yes, they may complain of agonizing boredom five minutes after they’ve stepped out the door. I admit that is hard to take as a parent (not because we’re so sympathetic, but because it’s annoying as hell). It may require you to take pro-active measures, such as calling a friend to come over once in a while or offering to take them to a park. You can also take another page from my parenting handbook and offer any number of yard chores for your kids to complete if they can’t figure something out for themselves (they’ll stop griping pretty quick).

I realize this tip may not jibe with some parents, as it requires an ability to withstand copious amounts of complaining… particularly when such a rule is first implemented.  Take some solace in knowing that their outdoor time can be replaced with time spent in organized sports, as well.  The key, here, is to make sure that your kids are learning the importance of balancing sedentary time with active time. If kids don’t build these habits into their lifestyles now, they most certainly won’t do it when they’re grown-ups and busier than ever.  And besides all that… playing outside is, um, playing, after all.  I’m sure all parents can agree, we don’t want our children to be in such dire straits that the next thing we need to teach them is HOW to play.  Do we?

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Tip # 9 Set Rules That Both Parents Can Support

Jun 20

In celebration of Father’s Day, which we celebrated yesterday, I thought it an opportune time to emphasize the importance of Dad’s input in the family screen dynamic. Too often, I’ve been quick to dismiss my own husband’s ideas around video games and TV viewing, assuming he’d give them free reign over the controllers if it were up to him (as long as it did not overlap with his football game). Yet I’ve discovered over the years that without his wholehearted supported for “my” rules, enforcing them also becomes “my” job. And alongside laundry, cooking, washing dishes, helping with homework (just a small list of things that are “my” job), I realized that I preferred not to add daily arguments with  kids over screen time to my personal duties.

Besides all that, Dads know a thing or two about screens. As with many households, my husband dedicates a portion of most weekends to lying on the couch watching sports. Is his habit really so bad?According to my husband: not so much. Since we have three sons, I’ve learned to defer to my husband’s knowledge on this issue and accept that time spent with the TV is a valued aspect of the today’s “guy” culture. Who am I to fight it?

Several years back, when my oldest son started begging for a Wii, I was firmly opposed. Allow my kids play video games all hours of the day? No way. They were going to be raised as piano-playing, outdoor-loving, homework-completing robots – I mean, kids. Welcoming a video game console into our home would destroy all my plans! My husband, however, wasn’t as keen on raising total nerds. Bit by bit, he’d sneak in arguments supporting a Wii purchase. My resolve weakened. Not just because I was tired of preaching from my soap box about the evils of video games, or because I was battling ever more feebly one against four (my three sons and husband), but I respected that my husband deserved as much say as I did about how our kids spent their free time. I finally succumbed and before wrapping it up to set under the Christmas tree, we agreed to support one another in the rules – which, it turns out, would take a couple years to iron out.

After much experimenting, my husband and I have formed a harmonious and united front in how and when our kids can use the screens in our home. Still, I have a more say in this simply because I am with them a lot more than their father. (Which is also why I vetoed his recent push to eliminate the Monday to Thursday video game ban. I love that rule!)  Now that we share a middle ground for our kids’ video gaming and TV habits, we can support one another’s efforts to ensure they follow the rules. And, that gives us less to argue about. Or, at the very least, allows more time to argue other issues, right honey?

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