Child Caring

Mom dreads the end of school

I am the mom of two, boy and girl, fourth and second graders. Can you give me some advice? Every year, there is a week or two (this year,almost two) after school ends and before day camps kick in and I take some time off to keep the kids occupied. I always think, This will be fun! But I always end up hating it! I hate to say that! But it's true! They don't want to do any of the things I suggest (go to the lake! Go to the library! Visit an amusement park!), they just want to sit in front of the tv or some other screen and I end up being the mean mom and then they bicker and pick fights with each other about every little thing and it's awful. I never hear anyone else complain about this particular problem! Is it me?!

From: LTMc, NY state

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Dear LTMc,

Most elementary-age kids -- no matter how much they've complained all year long about school -- are sad and lonely, some more than others. What they tend to miss most is the lack of routine and structure. Some miss the activities, the learning (yes!), and almost all miss the socialization with both classmates and adults. Not knowing what to do with themselves, how to express their feelings, or how to get on with things, they get plain old cranky.

On the other hand, some kids also just relish the idea of down-time and doing what they normally can't do, like stay in pj's all day and eat breakfast in front of the screen. Sounds like this might be your kids, so use that as a starting point. Suggest that this year, you want to do things differently. You know they've worked hard all year and you know they love just vegging out, so you want to give them one (or two) days of just that: vegging in front of the tv, not getting dressed, eating (some of) what they want. Here's their side of the deal: They have to work out together what they watch (unless you have some other way around that) and, after the two days are up, they will be ready for other activities.

But change the way you do that part, too. Intead of you proposing activities you think would be fun, ask them to each write five things they would like to do and five things they would be willing to do. (You might want to put some kind of price tag on this, or other control elements.) The idea is not for day-long, involved activities, just something that gives focus to each day. Then put the ideas in a jar, and have them take turns pulling them out, one a day. Give them suggestions to get them started: a bike ride; creating an obstacle course in the neighborhood or at a local park; planning a scavenger hunt for friends; using the computer to write a book about the school year that just ended; creating a do-good project, like fixing up an elderly neighbor's garden or picking up neighborhood litter; planting a vegetable garden; starting a collection (wildflowers? insects?); creating a neighborhood newspaper or video and interviewing neighbors about their summer plans; teaching the dog some tricks. Then involve them in the planning. With any luck, a walk in the woods could open their eyes to the different kinds of leaves, which could lead to a collection,m which could lead to the library, which could lead to a scrapbook. Not only do you have a summer-long project, but a life-long interest!

Here are other (some personally) tried and true tips, in no particular order:

Make plans for them with class mates in the first days after school so it doesn't feel as if everyone has fallen off the end of the world.

Put a schedule on the 'fridge, dividing the day up into activities much like a school day. You don't have to be rigid about it but some kids do better having those "boundaries."

Lunch is a social time for most elementary school kids. Make it special at home, too -- a picnic lunch under a tree, taking a packed lunch to the playground. Acknowledge what they might be feeling: "Boy, our house must be seem so quiet compared to the lunchroom at school."

And I bet you will have more success with this by giving them the time they want first.