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Boundaries And Engaging Children


I have been nagging my children a lot recently, pretty much about everything.  It’s school holidays, they are at home and so we spend much more time together than during the school year.

My moaning at the boys is usually triggered by them spending too much time on Xbox/tablet/phone/computer/watching telly, spreading their stuff all over the house and not helping as much as I would like them to.

Electronics are by far our biggest time eater.

During the school year, the boys are not allowed any electronics on school nights at all, so they are making up for it now.

The moment I turn away, they are playing games on Xbox or watching YouTube videos of other people playing  games on Xbox.  I must confess I don’t quite understand the latter – why would they spend an hour watching someone called Stampy play Minecraft on YouTube, just to complain later that they didn’t get to play themselves?  We usually have these sort of conversations when I threaten to pull the plug out of the socket if they don’t get off and go to play outside.

I tend to work in the same room where boys are playing, just to keep an eye on what they are up to on internet, so I have been exposed to hours of Stampy’s exploits by now.  I must say, Stampy is pretty good and thanks to his running commentary, I have a fairly good idea what’s happening on Minecraft, although I wouldn’t be able to play the game myself.

Setting water-tight limits.

Boys have limits on how much time they are allowed to spend with their electronic gadgets and they are usually quite good, but sometimes I have to ban a thing or two.  It turns out, I can’t ban just Xbox, because they will swiftly move onto a laptop to play the same game, or another game on a tablet.  So I have learnt that if I am to ban electronic games for whatever reason, it must be a blanket ‘screen time’ ban,  mobile phone included.

It seems that whatever punishments I have to impose at times, they have to be specified with water-tight precision, otherwise my children will very quickly find a loophole.  I wonder whether at least one of them will become a lawyer or another habitual  ‘loophole exploiter’.  On a flip side, maybe this just demonstrates that children do need very clear boundaries, or they will challenge all they can – so I make the rules and consequences crystal clear to them. Or at least I try.

A small question of keeping things tidy…

Spreading stuff around the house and not helping as much as I would like to see, has started bothering me. Boys have always been helping when asked, but equally, they often make a mess and just leave it. Maybe I have not been asking them to help often enough?

Recently, I’ve got really fed up with picking up after everybody and putting things away.  Then I’ve had this big realisation – it is entirely my fault.  I’ve got it all wrong and I have to fix it.  It is time to ‘house-train’ the children and delegate my household duties – or at least some of them.

The problem is that when the children were quite young, it was much easier and quicker to clean up myself rather than stand over them while they were loading the dishwasher, rescuing occasional plate or cup from being dropped on the floor.  They are now both old enough to perform such tasks unsupervised, but somehow I missed the point when it happened and carried on as I used to.

I am delegating household duties now.

I have decided that time has come for the boys not just to help as they have done, but to take over certain chores.  I announced I was not a domestic slave (and not a domestic goddess either) and expected other family members to participate in household chores to a larger extent.

The children were not ecstatic about this.  Helping out is one thing, taking responsibility for doing something all the time is another – and not much fun.  My requests worded, say  ‘would you sort out the dishwasher after lunch’ were met with ‘do I have to’ or ‘I did it yesterday’ (my response: ‘as far as I remember I gave you lunch both yesterday and today…’), or ‘it’s his turn now’ . Alternatively, good old selective hearing kicked in and they seemingly ‘did not realise’ I asked them to do something.

Two weeks into stepping up my children’s ‘house-training’, I decided to change approach. I am no longer asking nicely, I issue instructions. These go along the lines of ‘as soon as you’ve eaten,  put the dirty dishes away’, or ‘take this laundry upstairs now and put it away where it belongs’.  Boys are not presented with a choice of doing the chores , they are given a task and they know they have to get on with it. Funnily enough, it seems to be working.  They are still not terribly happy about it, but they don’t argue anymore.

In addition to tidying up the kitchen, I have now started delegating the task of vacuum-cleaning as well as loading and unloading the washing machine when the boys’ laundry needs doing. They cope with it quite well. Their hanging things out to dry leaves space for improvement, but I will hold back from my ‘laundry perfectionism’ at this stage.  It is more important that they do things independently, rather than do them perfectly.

Judging by our progress to-date, I am hoping for my children to be fully engaged in the less entertaining aspects of family life by the end of the summer. Won’t that be lovely?

11 thoughts on “Boundaries And Engaging Children

  1. Good for you Beata. Seems like your new approach is working: instructions rather than a closed ended yes/no question? What age are your boys?

    1. Hi Ellly,
      Yes, I’ve discovered that asking children questions involving unpopular choices and giving them an option to say ‘no’ can be quite futile. Now they know and begin to accept what’s expected of them. I should have done it a while ago! One of the boys a ‘new’ teenager, the other one still pre-teen, but trying to copy his brother’s behaviour… 🙂

  2. Awesome post. Thank you for discussing all the steps so nicely that helped me a lot.
    Loved it to the fullest and i look forward to reading more posts in the future. I hope that others will learn from you as I do. Thank you again for all your help.
    Excellent blog, Thanks so much for sharing.

    Jagbir Sandhu

    1. Hi Jagbir, I am really glad you’ve found my post useful, that’s a very motivating comment for me. Thank you for reading! 🙂

  3. those days when children go out in the sun and play and interact with real human…aww. how we wish those days didn’t end. hopefully your kids would appreciate life outside technology. good job on disciplining them. they will one day thank you for that for sure.

    1. Hello Lux,
      First of all, I am delighted to see you come to my blog again, thank you for reading! Yes, in many ways life before technology started taking over was so much more…human, I suppose.We just need to try and somehow try to maintain a healthy balance. 🙂

  4. You make some good points here , engaging the children is the best way to teach them spend quality time and make them understand how things work

  5. I’m left wondering why you feel you have to stop your children doing something they clearly enjoy. Seems such a shame, they will only be on school holidays for a short time and only be at this age once. Why not let them enjoy it their way? How would you feel if someone told you to get off all screens and go outside? The only time we enforce computer bans in our house is when we all ( that includes me, I work online) put the computers away and go out somewhere or have some specific activity to do.

    1. Hi Alyson, thank you for commenting. It has been proven that in a long term, spending long hours staring at a screen leads to a multitude of health problems, with muscular tension and headaches just to start. An extended stimulation caused by bright screens and fast changing images can be harmful to a child’s developing brain, too. Electronics are highly addictive and if I let the children have their way, they would spend 12 hours a day playing their games. I like them to have some balance in what they do all day and learn that exercise is a very important part of a healthy lifestyle. This is why I tell them to go out and play with their friends, whether it’s tennis, cycling or just running around in the park! Plus it’s important to learn to interact with other people in person, not just on-line 🙂

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