The Socratic Sitter

5 less common tips to make time with kids more fun.

Wide-eyed with wonder and innocent in nature, children undeniably bring an irreplaceable delight to life. I see it in the eyes of my nephew when he comments on the chipmunk on the side of the trail. In my neighbor when she delivers a small radish at our doorstep. And in the kindergarten basketball players that scream and jump every single time someone scores a basket. But also, undeniably, the same unfiltered free-spiritedness that prompts funny sayings and cute drawings can also compel kids to color on walls or erupt in protest over basic chores. I became more familiar with the latter aspect after college when I worked as a nanny for a season and had the chance to spend time with the kids consistently. Thus, in order to make our days more delightful and less chaotic, I had to master a few tricks. I can’t claim to be a child development expert, but considering that I used to attempt to win obedience from 5-year-olds through complex logic and deductive reasoning, I’ve come a long way. If you ever spend time with kids and want to make the experience more interesting for all parties involved, read on.

1. Practice Piaget’s Theory by Eating Chocolate Chips for Dessert

As a person grows in stature and nutritional wisdom, they start recognizing patterns between their food consumption and their physical symptoms. For example, if I eat an entire roll of tollhouse cookie dough as fast as I can, it won’t come as a surprise later if a sugar coma knocks me horizontal on the couch and I look like I’m pregnant with a gluten baby. But most young children have yet to make that action and consequence connection. If given the choice, nine times out of ten, they’ll bypass the chicken to dive straight into an ice cream sundae. The energy and emotional roller that takes place when a 40-pound body gulps down a 40 oz mc flurry will only wreak havoc on everyone around. But I also believe in giving children choices and hate to deny them the joy of a delicious dessert here and there. And this is when leveraging Piaget’s theory of object conservation saves the day!

During the preoperational stage, children between the ages of 2 and 7 lack the ability to accurately assess volume and quantity. Ask a 4-year-old if they would rather eat one snickers bar or four chocolate chips. Most of the time they ignore the obvious weight discrepancy and opt for numerically greater chocolate chip choice. For an added bonus, toss in a fun challenge question. How long can you keep each chocolate chip on your tongue before it melts? It’s a win-win situation all around. By using choices to empower, you allow them to practice advanced culinary taste testing methods and stave off the risk of a roaring sugar monster sabotaging the bedtime routine.

2Make the Mundane Magical

When kids get bored adults often assume the cure lies in a complex or highly structured activity. At least I used to; that is until enough different kids wowed me with their own powerful imaginations. A couple months ago, a four-year-old and a two-year-old successfully interrupted my original plan to walk them to the park by refusing to leave their own game that they created in the front yard. At first, I tried to coax them into adhering to our schedule. After all, I had already packed snacks and water and had the stroller ready to roll. But after seeing the smiles on their faces I gave up and joined them. Together we jumped over bushes of “lava,” raced in circles around a tree, and collected piles of old flower pedals. Two hours later they returned indoors with  hearty dinner appetites, tuckered out and ready for bed. Never underestimate the ability of the child’s fascinating inner world to keep them entertained for hours.

3. Tell “Invisible” Stories

Hang around children long enough and chaos will ensue. Be it in the form of car seat conflict, or pillow fights turned destructive, it happens sometimes. After my early chaos mitigation strategies  of politely chasing kids around, failed, I employed the long-standing human tradition of storytelling. In minutes, a story can captivate a crazed kid into a state of transfixed tranquility. But in my opinion, it works best when you catch them off guard. When the chaos is in full swing, glance at the clock, and announce in a calm but surprised tone “Oh my, I almost forgot about the campfire!” Then don’t say anything more, but immediately start gathering pillows. Your unexpected response, as well as the ambiguity of the situation, will distract them in a positive way and spark their intrigue. Gather the group in a circle, dim the lights, cue the virtual crackling campfire youtube video, and launch them into a story world of whatever you can come up with. Reading books from their bedroom shelf is always an option, but the novelty of a new story will captivate the crowd all the more. Tell a few good stories, and the kids might actually start gaping at you with such a focused zoomed in look, that you’ll  confuse your own face for an iPad screen. While I did have my doubts venturing into the realm of made-up stories, the kids ended up enjoying it so much, that they refused to hear anything other than “invisible stories” from then on.

4. Use the Socratic Method

Would you rather have pink eyelashes or sparkly feet? Why? If you were a grown up, what would you eat for dinner every night and what time would you go to bed? Okay, I’ll  admit, I like questions a lot. One of my favorite things about children is that questions–no matter how ridiculous or randomly timed–do not phase them. And considering they notoriously drive adults crazy by asking droves of why questions, this makes sense. But questions don’t always have to drive us crazy; on the contrary, they can work for the benefit of our harmony. Reverse the roles by cultivating an honest curiosity about the child’s life, and expect them to surprise you: not only with the depth of their responses, but also solutions to the exact problem that we first tried to silence. Consider this real life example.
Me: Gaming time limit’s up. Let’s do something else. Want to build legos?
Kid: No. Video games are the only thing in the world I like.
Me: What do you like about video games?
Kid:  I like the violence!
Me: Why do you like violence?
Kid: It gets my anger out.
Me: What do you feel angry about?
Kid:  Well, definitely math.
Me: How does math make you angry?
Kid:  It’s just…when I can’t figure out a problem, my brain shuts down, and I feel like I’m not good at anything at all.
Me: Aww math can be tough, but I bet that you’re really good at something.
Kid: Eyes light up. Yeah! Actually, I’m really good at legos. Can I show you what I built yesterday?
Me: What a great idea!
Note: I’ve noticed this works best with ages 7 and up. I did try it with a three-year-old last week, but to no avail.

5. Yawn Before Bedtime [monkey see, monkey do]
Kids require many hours of sleep to function at their best. But ironically, they rarely, if ever, want to go to bed. They cringe to miss out on the night time fun of stories, movies, and snacks, and will devise clever means to squeeze out as much extra fun time as possible. They also know that having an “outsider” in charge highly increases their chances of successfully overthrowing the normal routine. Their elaborate excuses– about how their cool Swedish au pair normally allows them to stay up until 1 am for example–only increase with my number of nagging reminders. Now, I’m sure the real parenting writers could offer some really advanced tips on the bedtime subject. But personally, I’ve found that simply the act of yawning is quite effective.

Here’s how it works and why: Thirty minutes before bed slightly dim the lights, start yawning, and casually mention how tired you feel. Yawning is a contagious behavior and people have a subconscious tendency to mirror one another. In fact, statistics predict that you will yawn before finishing this blog post, merely because I mentioned it. Yawn continuously starting at 8 pm, and by 8:30, the child’s inability to stifle their own jaw-dropping yawns might just leave them requesting a tuck into bed with an invisible story. The End.

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