Busy Time: The challenge of being an ‘entertainment director’

Posted under Practical Advice


As you know, I’m an advocate for the idea of ‘balanced parenting’.

I’m never going to set down a list of rules or advice that expound one set of lifestyle characteristics or virtues over another.  The golden rule when it comes to parenting is that each parent has the right to make their own choices over what is ok, or not ok, in their families.

But lately, I’ve had an experience that does warrant some discussion.

It is the idea of ‘busy time‘.

As a parent, one thing we want to do is to ensure our children have the skills and capacities to make their own fun.  Children need to learn that parents won’t step in to provide ‘entertainment’ in every moment they plead ‘boredom’.  They also need to learn that good things take time.

When we put out a selection of puzzles, games, crafty materials, drawing stuff, or toys on the table, the choices can be overwhelming and children can’t make a choice at all.  Too much choice, in my experience, equals a lack of engagement in any of them. This leaves you with children who buzz from place to place, never settling into any game or activity for more than a few seconds.  (My tip: put most of their games and stuff in the cupboard out of view and cycle one or two things out each week to encourage their enthusiasm and engagement with these things.)

Far better, we can have regular places for their crafty tools and supply children with the knowledge that they can access these things, by their own volition (free will), at any time.  Or set up ONE regular rhythmical activity they are familiar with, such as breadmaking, or having a set drawing or painting time.

Regular activities too, help to build children’s interest in the activity (what can we make with the bread today?  can I make that tricky plaited bread like mummy did last week?) and offers a platform to develop self-regulation, self-control, time-management, and self-determination in the task.  It also helps to lengthen children’s attention spans, and support them with staying on task.

If there is one thing I know to be true, regular rhythmical activities become the touchstones that a child looks forward to, and can’t wait to join in, sit with, and grow their own skills and capacities.

In contrast, change, change, and more change, seems to do the opposite.  Many children won’t engage at all, as they don’t know what to expect or what to do, so they avoid the task at all costs.  In my experience, rather than excite or engage the child, too much change just opens up the discussion for why they don’t like a certain something, or activity, or how it is too boring… or hard… or ‘can’t you do it for me?’   I certainly don’t see a self-determination to overcome a challenge, or stick with the task long enough to ‘get it’ or develop the tricky skill.  Too much change can seem to make (some of the) children lazy, or appear ‘over it’.

So, with the goal of balanced parenting in mind, I’d like to make a suggestion.

Why not introduce some regular ‘touchstones’ into your week and see what happens?

  • A regular opportunity to draw at the table while waiting for dinnertime?
  • A regular ‘cooking together’ event such as Saturday morning cake-baking, or Friday night pizza creations?
  • An arty or crafty day?  Just open up a well-stocked craft cupboard, cover the table with a wipeable tablecloth and set a time limit of how long this will be open for- perhaps from breakfast until morning tea, or from morning tea until lunch.  And then jump in there and create alongside your little ones!

What do you do in your home?

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