Playing with kids – playing with fire

1 Jul
How sweet, how treacherous...

How sweet, how treacherous...

I did study educational sciences, but this definitely doesn’t prepare you for dealing with kids. I was thoroughly put to the test at my niece’s house, baby-sitting (after the mum-sitting) their 2 lovely but strenuous daughters (6 and 8 years old). As a friend of mine put it (and I couldn’t agree more): “mothers should automatically be granted sainthood once the kids are raised and leave the house”…

  • So what would you do with the kids in the challenging situations below?

When arriving at my sister’s house in the Portuguese mountains, my mum and me were greeted by my niece’s kids with big hugs and kisses (how nice, they still remember us). They must of thought that ‘o tio’ (uncle) was a brand new toy that arrived, and indeed the first few days was filled with fun, play and laughter.

You cannot play horsy all the time

You cannot play horsy all the time

But then the new toy looses its interest and the real life kicks in. One cannot always be on all fours to play horsy, nor can one always be playing badminton (more like picking up the shuttlecock constantly), nor watching TV without end, nor eating 3 bags of candy and sweets at the same time. But kids seem to want just that.

Challenging challenges

My niece still had to work a few days before she had her summer holidays (to be with the kids) and her husband works long days, so I was promoted to be baby-sitter for a few days. Kids are lots of fun, but also very tiring. It felt like a very big responsibility weighing on my shoulders: whatever you do could (potentially) determine the rest of their lives.

  • Too many sweets = obesity & bad teeth.
  • Too much shouting = they imitate.
  • Not enough authority = they get spoiled.
  • Too much concerns = they get too anxious.
  • Etc.

It’s like programming a computer: it is extremely difficult to reprogramme an initially badly programmed application – it’s easier to do it right from scratch… (if you have the energy)

> Challenge 1 – TV

TV & Computer best babysitters ever

TV & Computer best babysitters ever

It seems that TV is the best baby-sitter ever! Put the little screen on and you’ll have peace and quite for the whole day… if you’d want to. Somehow, people think (me included) that it’s not a good idea to be watching TV all day. So the parents set a limit of watching TV from 8 till 10 am. It’s 10 in the morning, they are half way through a cartoon film, and beg for more.

What do you do?

  • ask them to switch off the TV – request
  • tell them to switch off the TV – order
  • switch of the TV yourself – imposing
  • tell/ask them to switch off the TV after the cartoon – lenience/understanding
  • put a timer on the TV so that it switches off itself – external constraints
  • ask them for something in return (eg help with dishes, clean up,…) – negotiate/bargain
  • suggest them to go and play a game outside – provide an alternative
  • if they don’t want, they don’t want, so just let them watch, they’ll get bored of watching TV eventually – saturation

What if they switch on the TV again themselves, without asking?

> Challenge 2 – Stubborn behavior

A cute girl with a mind of her own

A cute girl with a mind of her own

One day we went by car to town. At some stage my niece stops the car to check if there’s a flat tire. One of the daughters also gets out to have a look, but when getting back into the car she refuses to close the door.

What do you do?

  • drive on with open door (hoping she gets scared to fall out) – laissez faire/fear
  • ‘no more sweets for the rest of the week’ – punishment
  • get out yourself, close the door and drive on – ignore/laissez-faire
  • ‘you’ll get a sweet if you close the door’ – bribery
  • loose your temper and yell (or pinch or slap) – brute force
  • ‘mummy won’t love you anymore/will be very sad if you don’t close that (xxxing) door’ – psychological warfare

> Challenge 3 – Cheating

More than only laughter

More than only laughter

We were playing a lovely game of ‘Ludo’: moving pawns across the board according to the number the dice shows, trying to get them into your ‘house’ as quick as possible – and possibility to eat the other pawns if you land on the same spot as them). At one stage one of the girls purposely moves the wrong pawn (basically messing up the game).

What do you do?

  • the fun is in the playing – just move along with whatever – laissez-faire
  • try to explain the rules and what happened wrongly – intellectualise
  • and if they don’t want to see their mistake, refuse playing on – abort
  • start putting your pawn as well wherever it suits you (cheating as well) – revenge
  • vote to change the rules – democracy (I know, a bit too pedagogical maybe ;-)

> Challenge 4 – You’re not the boss

Who's the boss? Mum, Uncle or me myself

Who's the boss? Mum, Uncle or me myself

Invariably you get into powergames with the kids you’re babysitting. At one stage I asked the kids they had to clean up something they spilled. They ignored me, and cleaned up even less. I insisted and told them they should clean up the mess, raising my voice a bit. Reply: “you’re not the boss here”.

What do you do?

  • explain that as a babysitter you actually DO have the responsibility for them – explain
  • take them by the hand and make them clean up the mess (like rubbing the dog’s nose through the puddle he left behind) – force
  • tell them you will tell their boss (the parents) – blackmail
  • call the parents and let them deal with it by phone – authority by proxy
  • leave the mess till the kids get annoyed by it themselves and clean it – laissez-faire
  • ‘they’ve got a point – Tio just blows in for a week and starts putting rules’ so just let them be – disconnect
Games we/they play...

Games we/they play...

And then I read an article on the front cover of a UK tabloid newspaper: “more than 80 Sharia courts in UK”. Take your answer to Challenge 4– and compare it with who should make & enforce the rules in a country (Sharia court = babysitter, Parents = local rules/judicial system, Kids = citizens). Are there similarities? Interesting…

Conclusion of the whole experience:

  • Kids are the most illogical, difficult and fun human beings – parents’ world gravitates around them
  • Mothers (some fathers too?) must have incredible supplies of energy (combining job & kids & household)
  • TVs are the best babysitters ever, followed by computer (games), they should entitle families for tax reductions
  • There’s thousand different ways of raising children, and probably difficult to stick to one approach (variations according to energy level)
  • I surely don’t have the energy to face up to the challenges, so I’ll leave parenting for stronger people

Do you have any other kid-conclusions? Tips? Experiences?

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One Response to “Playing with kids – playing with fire”

  1. Miriel 17 July 2009 at 11:13 #

    Fantástico…

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