The topic for this month’s issue of Parent Magazine, family entertainment, got me thinking about the good times I’ve had with my family. I also remember some times that were, well, a little more challenging! Successfully creating entertaining activities for the whole family can be quite an undertaking. If you are reading this, and you have participated in family activities, you can probably recall some great times and a few really, really bad experiences. Have you ever tried to get the whole family to watch a movie together and end up watching it by yourself? How about those times you pay to take the family somewhere, and the kids argue the whole time and you have a headache by the end of the day? I guess what I’m trying to convey is that family entertainment is a great idea, but easier said than done! Let me relate to you some personal experience with good and bad family entertainment. These will be used to illustrate an important point later in the column.
About three years ago, when my daughter was four and my son just turned three, the E.T. movie was re-released in the movie theatres. I considered this an opportunity for some family entertainment. I bought the tickets in advance, and came home to surprise everyone with an evening at the movies. Well, my wife and I had a disagreement that evening just when we needed to leave for the movie. She didn’t think this movie was “appropriate” for the kids. Heather no longer wanted to go, so I decided to take the kids on my own. After taking out a small loan to get popcorn, I took the kids into the theater. I was so excited – this was my son’s first movie in the theater, and it was going to be E.T.!
About 10 minutes into the movie, my daughter started to cry because the spaceship was scary. Then my son had to go to the bathroom. We all left, took care of bathrooms and I tried to assure my daughter that E.T. was NOT scary. We had just sat back down when the scene where E.T. screams in the cornfield came on. Well that did it – both kids were crying. In defeat, I gathered up our stuff and we left. My wife tried hard not to say “I told you so” when we came home.
Last fall, I took my kids down to the pond for some fishing. We didn’t have any worms, but were planning on digging some up by the water. I didn’t take my own rod, because I learned from previous attempts at fishing with my kids that it works best if I just help them. Past experiences where I tried some serious fishing with my kids ended up with me frustrated, my kids tired and bored, and my wife patting me on the back consolingly saying “I’m sorry, honey.” Well this last fall, I just focused on helping my kids have fun. We couldn’t find any worms, so I told them we could just practice casting out the rigs for a while, which was just as fun for them. It didn’t take long before they were really casting well, when all of a sudden my son’s bobber sank! He excitedly reeled in a bluegill – caught with a bare hook! It was amazing, and great fun.
What I want to highlight from these two examples is the power of expectations to make or break a family entertainment experience. It’s so important that your expectations be realistic. When planning an activity for family entertainment, make sure you consider your children’s ability to enjoy the activity. Ask yourself: Is it appropriate for their age and abilities? Is it something YOU will enjoy, even if you’re just assisting the children? Be flexible with your expectations. If you expect that everyone should enjoy the planned activity, you might be disappointed. Recognize that things rarely go exactly as planned. When I follow these principles, family entertainment is much more enjoyable. I hope you can find them helpful as well.