When did kids turn into miniature adults? We treat them like they should have the same level of self control and wisdom that adults have. Tantrums are unacceptable; dirty clothes are an annoyance; messy meals are evidence of poor manners. We expect them to sit in desks and box them into what we think they'll be when they grow up.
When are we going to give them a break? There is appropriate time for discipline and lesson-learning, but we have to treat the free time just as sacredly. It's just as important to let kids choose what to do with themselves for an hour, just as important to give them space to thoroughly enjoy a plate of spaghetti, or allow them to get completely lost in play-doh imaginative play. Let's just hold off a bit on the admonishments toward mess-making and let them be! Revel in the magic that only the small window of childhood holds.
If you are nervous about not holding them to the standards you expect of them, then go ahead and set expectations up front. Try: "I know how much you like spaghetti and how hard it is to stay clean with this meal. Let's take a break tonight from table manners and just eat our meals with joyful abandon!"
Watch the joy spark in their eyes as they see you tuck a huge napkin in the neck of your shirt.
We need to start setting expectations that protect childhood as much as we set expectations around spelling tests. If it's a perfect spring day, let's send them outside with a finger-wagging "you better not come back here until you are fully covered in mud!"
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