As a parent, I struggle personally when my children don’t have enough structure. Therefore, I become very excited when my children are occupied. Birthday parties, sports outings, and family events are all things that provide children with a sense of structure. Among other goals, homework and nightly assignments also provide children with a sense of structure. In this article, I wanted to discuss the reactions of both children and parents when there seems to not be any work to do. This may include nightly respites, weekends, or even longer break periods such as winter vacation.
A night or two of no homework may be a welcome change for parents and children who may spend a lot of time with their children working on homework. It can provide a refreshing break and respite to engage in other activities that may be more relaxing and less stressful. However, I have spoken to many parents that have expressed concerns about providing structure for their children; whether on specific nights of the week, weekends, or periods of vacation. Let’s address a couple of these questions:
‘My child has no homework but I am not home in the evening until 7:45 p.m. How can I structure the evening so that they are not going to be watching ‘screens’ all night?
My child comes home from school and tells me that his friends are allowed to watch on their Ipads as long as they want. He even told me that his friends are permitted to take their Ipads to their room, where it lays charging all night. In the morning, his friends wake up and will often watch movies before school starts. I am feeling very pressured, but I don’t want to give in! What should I do?
As I often mentioned to families, there are certain family dynamics that can be controlled and modified, while other dynamics are more difficult to modify. Parents working late is not something that can be changed. Both parents working late is also something that may be an inevitability in certain families. However, providing structure and planning for days that may be more unstructured is something that can be implemented and adjusted.
Let’s list a few examples:
1) Planning and providing advanced notice to children that you may not be home is a great start. Once they know that you may be home late from work gives you the opportunity to plan with them activities for the evening.
2) Providing children with alternative choices is also a great way to structure your child’s evening. Kids may look for the easiest thing to do (which may be screen time), so they may need alternative choices.
3) Helping our children to make a schedule of their evening.
4) Providing limits for ‘screen time.’
Providing children with unlimited access to their Ipads (or other devices) is something that has become a very difficult dilemma for many parents. However, I believe that the choice to allow your child with access to their technological device, perhaps even allowing it to charge in their rooms, provides too much control to children. Children, who don’t necessarily think long term, may not necessarily be able to avoid the temptation of watching the extra movie or checking for the extra text message. Even the most studious student who wants to do well in school may not be able to avoid these temptations. Proper planning and preparation for school is something that parents should control. Perhaps over time, as children grow up and become more independent, we can provide them with a little more control over things, including their technological devices. In the meantime, if you are not doing so already, I think that it is a great idea to have all of the Ipads or phones be in one central location each evening. I hope to explore some of these issues further in subsequent articles.
By Mark Staum
Mark Staum, LCSW is a clinician at The Center For Anxiety in Monsey, NY. In his private practice, Mark provides counseling services to children, adolescents and parents. Mark specializes in working with children dealing with anxiety, mood difficulties, life transitions and social skill difficulties. Utilizing CBT, DBT and ERP allows Mark to blend behavioral techniques with interpersonal connection to build skills and resilience in children. If you wish to contact Mark, he can be reached at [email protected] or at 201-952-4436.