Signs of boredom? Put the children in charge!

If you're run ragged trying to keep everyone entertained and only getting sulks and 'I'm bored' by way of thanks, it's time to turn the tablesLet the children organise the rest of the holidays. Put them in charge!

The advantages are manifold: you won’t be chief nagger as you didn’t set the timetable and it won’t be you saying 'no' to another ice cream. Your children will learn a fistful of life skills and you may be pleasantly surprised by your their maturity. And remember,  just as children are more likely to eat a meal they have prepared themselves, nor will they be able to mooch about with long faces if the day's activities were their idea in the first place. 

Childhood is above all time for fun and play. It is also, however, a training for adulthood and our aim, as parents, is to rear rounded, resourceful, independent human beings.  These days – driven by safety concerns and guilt about “quality” parenting – we do far more for them than previous generations from providing meals (so they don’t burn themselves), driving them from A to B (to avoid traffic or pedophiles) to buying every latest gizmo. 

In fact we are in danger of infantilising them and actually preventing them from growing up. 

In addition, if they are merely passive recipients of fun decided and provided by you, the only power they have left is to complain so that not only are you organising every last detail of your family day out – from deciding where to go to packing the car and making the picnic – yourself but you end up screaming because everyone is bored and sulky. 

The following strategies can be adapted according to age. Not only will you fill up hours but children will develop a sense of responsibility and self reliance, learn about making decisions, organising, budgeting, map reading as well as, importantly, considering others and - who knows - appreciating how much you normally do.

Going out for the day:  Gather maps, brochures, internet links etc, and let the children plan either a day, or a series of days out. Depending on their age (and your level of  “guidance” will also be dictated by their age) they should plan a day with something in it to appeal to each member of the family, or a series of days designed to please each person in turn. Get them to present and explain their choices and what is in it for each member of the family. 
Give them maps and get them to plan the route, writing down road numbers and turnings and once in the car get them to guide you (even if you know the way.) Older children can count the miles and calculate journey times and petrol costs and decide what time you need to leave.  
Older children can also budget for the day deciding, for example, between paid activity plus picnic or free activity, eg beach, plus cafe and ice cream allowance.
Make sure they make a list of what needs to be taken and pack the car. If something vital is forgotten that will ruin the day you might want to  suggest adding it to the list, otherwise let them learn by their mistakes. 

This strategy doesn’t only apply to days out but can be used for every day family life:  get them to plan a week’s menus with recipe books and using the main food groups and consulting the rest of the family about their likes and dislikes. Let them go round the supermarket working out the costs and readjusting the menu to fit a budget. Help/let them do the cooking too. 
Set older chillden a challenge of  preparing two days meals made from local produce only, teaching them to check labels and discuss food miles. Or a weekend’s food bought only in the supermarket followed by a weekend shopped for entirely in the market, getting them to compare value for money and quality.  
Friends coming for dinner? Get them to draw up a seating plan based on who might like to sit with whom.  Guests arriving? Get the children to plan sleeping arrangements and decide how to make the   room look welcoming: flowers? Clean windows? Books by the bed? 

Remember, the key is to get them involved and get them thinking for themselves.  Once they understand that they can take some control of their own lives and that their input into family life is valued, they will stop sitting around waiting for you to come up with ideas and learn to fill their own time. 

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