Playing With The Kids:  How Badly Do I Want To Win?

In any family, playing with the kids is something that generally goes to the father.  But do I ever let them win and if not, how competitive should I be?

Playing games is actually important for kids’ growth and development.  What are the rules and how do you follow them?  What happens when you don’t follow the rules?  Can I really do this and win?  Hey, I really can do this!  Now what else can I do?  That is all part and parcel of exploration and maturing and it’s part of my job as a father.  That fact that it’s fun is simply icing on the cake.

I’ve had a few guidelines on what and how I play with the kids.  First, make sure that it’s an activity which provides them the opportunity to win if they play well.  For the smallest children, games of chance – Candyland was a favorite – gives the child an even chance to win even though he doesn’t understand that there’s no real game skill involved.  Second, if Junior wants to play something that requires skill – think basketball – then avoid actually playing for points and just work on the shooting and the other stuff.  Third, never throw a game so that Junior can actually feel some pride for having won on his own effort and talent.  While it sounds immensely old-fashioned, knowing both that you can lose and how to lose really is character-building.

But with the kids getting bigger and older, am I ever in a situation in which I purposefully turn up the heat to the point of embarrassing them?  That’s the question I have now, especially in regards to one of the kids who made it a point of trash-talking me while kicking the soccer ball around.  I’ve had a chronic leg problem for many years and it has affected my ability to physically play with the kids.  When I took Eldest to her soccer practice, Youngest came along and we kicked the ball since he’s back in soccer after a baseball hiatus.  Because Youngest wants – for some unfathomable reason – to play goalie and have the ball aimed straight for his head, he took up a position and I began to shoot on him.  He did a creditable job and I began to shift the shots to either side so that he’d have to dive.  If he bobbled the ball, I’d rush in to finish the goal and force him to scramble to cover.  As he did well however, he grew cocky and began to talk smack and it was then that he shot off his mouth about my age and inability to "run with the big dogs".   That was when I ignored his age and ratcheted up the power of the kicks, but to his credit he still did a decent job and stopped almost all of them.  As I reminded him when he shot off his mouth, he had better be able to "back the smack" that he was spewing on the field and in this case, he did.

What I’m questioning now is whether to take the boy onto the basketball court to teach him some manners.  He’s routinely beaten there in games like "Horse" and "Make it, Take it" by his elder siblings and I can outshoot the lad handily. 

But as I write this, I’m deciding not to do that.  This is a kid who’s found something that he can legitimately beat the old man at and if he shoots off his mouth, it’s because he’s starting to see himself in a position to compete more equally with elder siblings and a father who don’t just let him win because he’s the youngest.  Taking him onto the court to purposefully beat him would be simply wrong of me.  My initial response on the soccer field – if you’re gonna talk smack, you’d better be able to back it – was the best course and it’ll be incumbent upon me to simply remind him of this before other games and practices.  I’m the adult, even when my own buttons are pushed.

And yes, I really didn’t know what I’d do when I sat down to write this article.  Thanks for listening.

 

PracticalDad Solutions:  Uniform Hooks

If  you spend any time talking with other fathers, you can expect to hear the same concerns and irritations about the kids.  They’re disorganized, late, unmindful of the time.  The difficulty is that most of us forget what it’s like to have been kids but if you think about it, you’ll find that you probably weren’t that much different in those regards.  And if you think about it further, you’ll sometimes run across ways to help your kid so that the irritating moments are fewer.  It was the situation that another father – who I’ll call Bill – considered and came across a simple answer for his son’s situation.

Bill is the father of Jacob, a rising second grader playing for a little league team that’s composed of many older boys.  He’s on the lowest cusp of the age grouping for that level but his level of play is such that he’d be wasting his time at the lower level of coach-pitch baseball.  When those situations occur, you expect that the younger player will struggle a bit as he (or she) plays up to the level of boys who might be three years older.  But Jacob is truly a gifted, gritty little guy whose play typically matched that of even the oldest boys.  When I first saw Jacob at practice, I was surprised by his skill level both with the glove as well as the bat.  As the boys were messing around at the end-of-season team picnic, Bill and I chatted and the topic turned to the pre-game household rituals, especially in regards to trying to get out of the door on time.  Bill’s expectations were simple and he understood that laundry meant that the clothing was sometimes out of the boy’s control, but he did expect that the boy would know where his hat was.  It seems a little thing,  but many young boys frequently can’t find their own heads.  After several instances of not knowing the hat’s location – and it is a nice hat with a stitched league logo, by the way – Bill settled on the uniform hook.

The uniform hook is a standard metal coat hook that can be mounted on a wall.  There are two protruding hooks attached to the same base, the upper hook being larger and extending farther than the smaller lower hook.  Bill mounted one of these hooks in the bedroom with simple instructions:  your uniform and hat stay on the hook.  We won’t fold the clean uniform and put it in the drawer with the other clothes, we’ll just hang it on the hook.  And you will keep your hat on the hook, ready for when you have to go play ball.  Yeah, there’s now a hook with clothing mounted on the wall but I think that that’s acceptable given all of the other nonsense that’s in a boy’s room.

It’s a simple and effective solution that keeps things easy for the kids and the parents.  Dad doesn’t have to go upstairs to find the game shirt that’s in the drawer where it belongs.  Junior knows that he’s got a special spot for something that he probably prizes and that even serves as a visual reminder of something that he loves.  And the only words that usually have to be spoken are a reminder upon return from the game to put the hat on the hook.

Kids want to please their parents if given the chance and they especially want to show how they’re progressing as they grow.  Sometimes it only takes a little thought to come up with a workable plan to minimize the angst and help the child show what he can do.

“Do I Have To Go?”  Taking the Kids Along

By the time the kids are in preschool, they’re starting different activities and sports and it’s a no-brainer to take the other kids along.  They’re also young and they have no choice in the matter.  But as they age and finally reach a point at which they can reliably be left home alone – and trust me, I’ve heard some hilarious stories of teens at home – they’ll assume that they don’t have to go along.  And you’ll hear the ageless query do I have to go? when you suggest that they go too.

What are some guidelines on whether to take the older kids?  Here’s what we do.

  • If the child is old enough to be alone and it’s a practice, then we let them stay home.  The proviso is that any homework must be done (and checked) and if there’s a chore to do, get it done.  If you have to stay – which happens with the baseball practice due to distance – then you’ll just be reading or doing paperwork anyways.
  • If the event is an actual game or concert, then we overlook the rolled eyes and have the kids come along.  They might not actually pay attention during the event, especially if it’s an outside sport with room to run, but they’ll usually check in to ascertain how sibling’s doing before returning to play.  If it’s a concert, then it’s another opportunity to learn how to sit quietly and learn the art of patience.  The idea is that they at least become used to the idea as a way to show support, even if they initially – and realistically – aren’t.  But as the habit sinks in and they age, they’ll spend more time watching and actually cheering for one another. 
  • When the child is older and it pertains to a younger sibling, I’ve even provided a rationale that was hard to resist.  There’s years between the two of you and as he ages, you won’t be here to see and cheer.  He’ll miss you and you’re going to miss everything that he’ll do through that time.  But every time that we come to see what  you’re doing, he’ll be along so take advantage of these events nowIn both cases of elder siblings, they’ve nodded and acquiesced to coming; they even cheered.

It’s irritating to have to contend with the deep sighs and rolled eyes.  But it’s important to hold the family line because kids need to know that they indeed matter.  Like many things with children, these practices take considerable time and attention before they actually take root into a deeper sense that holds a family together as it grows and ages.

PracticalDad:  How Do I Avoid New Experience Meltdowns?

Involved parenting means that there are certain things with which you have to become accustomed.  And mothers, who are well aware of the true nature of kids, have learned that you have to look ahead to see what new situations are coming and how the child can be prepared for them.  In this instance, knowing that the child’s going to an activity that requires wearing a new form of clothing that they haven’t worn before.

Kids are creatures of habit and while some don’t care about what they wear, others will roar their terrible roar over having to wear something that’s beyond their experience.  Kids want to try sports but it doesn’t occur to them, especially with sports that don’t require football pads, that there are necessary protective items that aren’t seen.  More than one child has fretted and whined about having to wear shinguards for soccer.  They aren’t visible under the long socks – which are also outside the norm – and trying to get a whiny, recalcitrant child moving for the first practice is setting things up for failure.  The socks are too long.  They itch.  This plastic guard thingy on my leg doesn’t feel good.  Why do I hafta wear it?  The coach won’t see it, so she won’t know!  Why?  It’s fruitless to blame the child, who in most instances is behaving like most normal kids.  They don’t have the experience base with which to make comparisons – hey, it’s not as bad as this or that event – nor do they possess the patience.  And they don’t have the attention span and ability to focus so that they can concentrate on the coach and learning.  Instead, they put on a show for the crowd by doing some snazzy Bossa Nova moves trying to relieve the itch from the sock.

The frustration level ratchets upwards until the stage is set for a repeat performance of PsychoDad.  And yes, I’ve been PsychoDad.

So what do I do differently to avoid this and set up the child for success?  This season, youngest will be playing soccer like his elder siblings and have to wear shin guards.  But several days before the first practice, I’ll have him running around outside with the shinguards on for the first time in order to get used to the sensation of the device.  He’ll also wear the long socks and we’ll play so that he’s used to the feeling come that first practice next week.  It will be, in a sense, like taming a wild colt until it’s broken and ready to accept the bridle or saddle.  Except that through this period, if the whining continues, I’ll keep talking with the child and emphasizing the need for the guards.  And while I don’t think that it’s going to be an issue in this case, I’d rather take the time now than lose it a half-hour before the practice starts.

So think ahead to what new experiences face your child and what you can do to set things up for success.

PracticalDad Solutions:  Frozen Food for Ice Packs

Kids play and that means bruises.  Little ones, big ones and the occasional goose egg that resembles another shoulder growing out of the forehead.  Icepacks are a reliable treatment especially for the whoppers since they keep the swelling under control.  But when Junior’s wailing in the moment, creating an icepack out of ice cubes and a plastic baggy and tie is a cumbersome and nerve-wracking effort.  It’s better if you have something available quickly.

We learned early on that the best alternative was to use a readily available bag of frozen food.  Why?

  • A screaming child requires immediate attention and the steps involved in creating the ice pack can lead to spilled cubes and angst as the child wails.  Grab the bag and run.
  • A frozen food bag is typically larger than the baggy with ice and will cover a larger area.
  • If the bag is filled with a larger number of smaller items – peas or blueberries – it will more readily mold to the form being covered and distribute that cold more evenly.
  • I found that it created more opportunity for distracting conversation; gee, does that feel like a blueberry bruise or more of a green bean bruise?  When they were a little older, the kids would even label the bruise as fruit or veggie and I took to keeping a bag of each sealed in separate freezer bags, lying flat in the freezer.
  • The plastic bag is sealed and does a better job of not leaking than a baggy.  That said, we keep ours in ziploc freezer bags since a blueberry leak will lead to stains.

Like many things, it’s something that I stumbled upon in the cold of the moment. 

Disposable Gloves

Guys love action flicks with lots of blood and gore and taking care of kids will provide you with lots of that, so you have to be prepared.  This doesn’t mean that you have to garb for Level IV decontamination, but you should take a few basic precautions if your kid is sick.

One of your foremost defenses against catching what the kids bring home is to thoroughly wash your hands.  After you leave the child’s room, take a moment to wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.  This will help prevent the spread of germs and cut down on your taking ill.  But something that you should also have available are disposable pairs of latex gloves.

I’m prone to dry and cracked skin in the winter, which leaves my hands a mess; pile on the typical scrapes and cuts and my hands are a waiting recepticle for infection.  When your child is sick with a stomach or intestinal virus, you’re likely going to have to clean up body fluids in quantity and the mess is laden with germs and bacteria.  So I’ve taken to keeping disposable gloves in the house for those times that I am cleaning up such messes.  I pull out the gloves to address the situation at hand and then dispose of them in plastic grocery bags which I tie up and deposit in the trash.  I’ll also use them when I clean the child’s bathroom, wiping down the surfaces that I’ve had to disinfect.

But remember that the gloves only come out when you’re cleaning up because a sick child will be sick enough without feeling like a leper.  So take care of the child and then break them out.

 

PracticalDad Solution:  Preventing Even More Housework

The more involved you are in something, the more that your perspective changes.  Especially in regards to what you find important.  In this instance, what’s important is keeping the housework that’s generated by three kids, a dog and three cats to a minimum. 

Case in point is my returning home from an errand and noting a toy jutting out from under the family room sofa.  There’s no material that obscures the area under the sofa so that I could see another toy further back when I reached down to get the first item.  I put my hand further under the furniture and as I moved it towards the back, felt a jagged pain as a protruding spring gashed my right hand open.  The laceration was like a bible school song – deep and wide – and it bled freely.

And my first thought was, blood’s gonna ruin this carpet!  So to save the carpet while getting up and running to the kitchen sink, I raised my arm in a symbolic oath of loyalty to the carpet and let the blood flow down my arm and into my leather jacket sleeve.  It’s easier to clean a leather jacket than to have to try to remove copious blood stains from carpet; and the blood only stained the inside of the sleeve so that it really doesn’t show anyway.

And that’s one less thing to worry about with a stitched and bandaged hand.

PracticalDad Solution:  Re-evaluating Christmas

I believe that children want – more than anything – to spend time with their parents.  And since Dad is typically involved with play, they want time with you.  Stuff is nice, but they’d rather have your undivided attention.

When each of my children was born, I made a promise to that infant that I wouldn’t buy her or him a lot of stuff.  Requests for things would largely be met with No.  However, I would give unstintingly of my time, since that is what is what I – as a cancer survivor – find most precious.  I have managed to live up to that promise for years but I now find that the press of life with three children and schedules leaves little time for what we took for granted in earlier years.  Requests by Youngest for gametime, wrestling or reading a book are increasingly met by refusal because of other commitments.  And last night I considered what I’d read with the older kids, and played with them, that I haven’t done with Youngest.

So I’m considering something different for a Christmas gift this year.

Instead of figuring out all of the presents that a kid should get, I would make my time my primary gift to each.  Each would receive a printed coupon book with each coupon claiming time for a different activity – movie nights, reading hours, wrestling matches and the like.  It won’t be as cheap as you might expect since some of the activities will require tickets or evening "dates" for dinner out.  Yes, there will still be wrapped presents under the tree but each will reclaim time from me that has become lost in the shuffle of daily life.

 

 

PracticalDad Solution:  Basic Math with Graph Paper

Education matters, and don’t be surprised to find yourself working with the kids on spelling, science, history and math.  Especially math.

For many younger elementary kids, it isn’t necessarily the actual addition or subtraction that gets them, but the constant inability to keep digits in the proper columns.  It’s something that made me crazy for awhile until a teacher shared an idea that I still use years later.  Math problems on graph paper.

This gentleman suggested that when the kids are doing math problems, they do so on graph paper.  Each numeric digit gets a single grid on the graph paper and the next number goes into the grid immediately below it, so the kids can see that all digits in the ones place line up, as well as those in the tens and hundreds place.  The result should be a decline in errors made by carelessness and haste.

And it was, which is why I keep a pad or two of graph paper available.

PracticalDad Solution:  Handling Abuse of the Plumbing

A life raising kids is full of trials and tribulations.  One of the unexpected tribulations of kids is the stress to the household plumbing and you’ll be amazed at what is going to go into the pipes.  Excess wads of toilet papers, paper and cloth towels, clothing and toys – Daddy, he threw  my bunny in the potty! – will gum up the works.

So what helps in the plumbing department?  Surprisingly, just two plungers.

Wrap your head around the fact that as a father, you’re going to experience about every bodily fluid and will develop a stomach for most of what comes your way.  But any other kids you have will freak when they see the same plunger used for the toilet used in the sink.  So take the opportunity to purchase a separate plunger solely for non-toilet uses.  You can label it with a sharpie to distinguish it, but you should consider getting one of a separate color; smaller kids might not understand the lettering and bigger kids will simply not pay attention to lettering.  That way, there’ll be minimal fuss over using the sink/bathtub after it’s been plunged.  You should still clean the sink or tub after plunging, but the kids’ squawking will be largely eliminated.