Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Gratitude Game: A Solution to the Grumbles

This was originally posted on my other blog, like the previous post was. But I thought it would go well on this one as well since it deals with parenting, so forgive me for posting it in two places.

So yesterday I wrote a response to some of the complaining and grumbling I had seen around facebook due to a second cancelled day of school on the heels of Christmas break. It gathered a few comments and reactions (oddly, none were directly on the blog, but all on my facebook link to it).

Admittedly, my children had been getting at each others' throats for a few days.  My wife connected it to when they found the old Super Nintendo, lugged it upstairs from its box in the basement, connected it to the television, and started playing. One controller was broken, so they could only play one player at a time. The non-playing brother would sit close by and offer "helpful" suggestions during play. Which inevitably led to sore feelings and inappropriate comments toward one another.

I pointed out that it didn't matter if they were playing video games or not. They were getting to the point of verbal combat with one another over the simplest thing, electronic or not.

And I understand that this is why some parents hate an unexpected day off from school. Especially on the heels of sixteen previous days. Especially when we've been in the midst of this "polar vortex" with -50 degree F windchill.

Thankfully (that word is about to come into play) I remembered all the writing I've done and all the conversations from friends about the importance of gratitude in one's life. So yesterday, on our drive to the YMCA for a little swimming (and to get out of the house) after a morning that wasn't completely pleasant around the house at times I made up a little game. It went like this:

"Okay, boys, we're going to play a little game (groans emerge from the back seat). Each of us is going to think up something that completes the sentence "I'm grateful for...or I'm thankful for..." (more groans). I'll start and then I'll count to five and then Anders has to share something before I finish counting. After he shares then it's on to Nils who has to share something before I count to five. Then it's back to me and we keep going. But if anyone doesn't think up something before I count to five, they're out. I'll give you a few seconds to think up at least two things your thankful for before I start."

By this time the moans had diminished and they were beginning to take it seriously. So I started. And the gratitude kept going around.

Some were serious: I'm grateful for a warm house; I'm thankful that the gas tank is full so I don't have to pump gas in this cold; I'm thankful for our Y membership right now; I'm grateful for the food we have to eat.

Some were more frivolous: I'm thankful for root beer; I'm grateful for candy; I'm thankful for Legos; I'm grateful for that I won Milles Bornes (the card game).

I had to mail a package at the post office on the way, so I had to pause the game then. We had already done nearly a dozen shares each. Now part of our bedtime routine is sharing something we're thankful for each day and then praying. Some days they have trouble coming up with something. But this format made it possible for them to keep going.

So I offer up a solution for those days of grumbling, fighting, and complaining: the gratitude game.

It can't hurt to give it a try. You might just be grateful you did.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Trying Not to Complain About Another Day with my Kids

Confession: There have been times the past few days when I've yelled at my children.

We've been home for two days with no school because of the sub-zero temperatures and dangerous windchill that has hit our area. This is on top of Christmas break, so we're looking at nearly 2 1/2 weeks at home with the kids. Yesterday's windchill dipped to -50 degrees Fahrenheit. It's cold here. We've been trapped inside. We all need to move a little more.

I could participate in the trend I see on facebook: complaining about having to be around my kids these two extra days because we're all going stir-crazy. Yes, I'm tired of their complaining--especially when asked to do a chore. Yes, I'm tired of their arguing with each other--especially when one is playing a video game and the other is trying to be "helpful" (yesterday they were each allowed 15 minutes of video game time and even then it resulted in tears). Yes, I'm tired of being inside, too, feeling like there's nothing to do even though there is plenty.

But complaining only breeds contempt. And while my children aren't on facebook right now, they will be someday. What kind of message would that send to them? Yes, kids, we brought you into this world and love you dearly, but I can't stand spending time with you...

Do they hear my grumbling or do they see my gratitude?

Gratitude? Of course. At least I can strive to have more gratitude than grumbling in my life...

Gratitude that I am able to be home with them on these cold days and not struggling to find child care to shuffle them off to. Gratitude that they had some time helping their mom bake cookies and getting to learn some kitchen skills. Gratitude that we had a little extra time together. 

Yes, we may get cabin fever and get a little stir-crazy, but how about using that extra energy toward some creative things to do together (and I fully admit that I don't always do this--that sometimes it's easier to do my own distraction and let the boys do theirs)? We did some cold experiments yesterday (along with half the facebook population in the Midwest). We threw boiling water in the air to see what happened (it was cool, but not as impressive as we thought it might be). We put a plate of dish-soap bubbles outside. We tried blowing bubbles to see them freeze (most popped before they froze). We had friends who froze a t-shirt and broke it in half and who played ice-bowling. It's too cold to be outside for long, but it's perfectly fine for short periods of time.

How about teaching children a new skill in the kitchen? Or having them help with a project that requires tools? Or simply doing some household chores together? Our boys enjoyed simply pulling off the blue trim tape after a painting project.

So many people are on pinterest, that I'm sure there's plenty of great things to try with children there (I haven't opened up that time-distraction--I've got enough as it is!). My boys have filled up several pages in the sketch books they received in their stockings at Christmas. My youngest is creating things with duct tape.

We haven't really had much screen time (mainly because they've lost some of it from bad attitudes; if we hadn't been coming off a two week break, we maybe would have considered a movie marathon, but we'd already watch several movies at night in the past few weeks), but we've played plenty of board and card games. And of course, there's plenty of reading adventures! Sometimes we take a break and all read together (last year we read through The Hobbit during one evening a week).

Maybe a good project together is to make a collage of things you are thankful for. Gratitude might just be a better way to spend a day rather than grumbling.

With that said, we're about to try and get the car started so we can go to the YMCA. My youngest will complain about the temperature of the water in the swimming pool (the child has zero body fat which is to his detriment for swimming time). But I'm grateful we have a car we can travel with, I'm grateful that we have a few months of Y membership, I'm grateful we can exercise together, and I'm grateful the gas tank is full enough that I don't have to stop and fill it in the cold.

Hopefully I can pass some of that gratitude on to my sons.