Question: My children, 3, 6 and 10 years old, have a difficult time occupying themselves. It's almost like they always want me to entertain them, take them to exciting places and keep them busy. I'm constantly hearing "we're bored!" or "what should we do, now?" What would be reasonable to expect from children at this age? Do I need to be a full-time comedian/entertainer or should they be able to occupy themselves for some time on their own, with me nearby keeping an eye on them? I need some help in learning how to make them more independent!

Answer: You have really handed me an open-ended question. The point you have made is one of the central themes of our times. Has all parenting become a process of keeping our children entertained and amused? Is all a parent really supposed to be doing is to keep his/her children happy until they are old enough to live on their own? The answer is no. We, the parents are supposed to be teaching our children how to be a fully functioning part of a family in order to teach them the lessons they will need to cope in the world as well as raise a family of their own. To do this they must learn by doing! Not just watching the process or being told about the process but actually experiencing it first hand, by being part of the process. What does this mean? It means they must be active members of the household as early as possible!

What this means for you and your young family is that they are supposed to be by your side helping you as much as possible, throughout the day, according to what is age appropriate. For instance, your three-year-old can help set the table. I encourage all parents of young children to invest in a cheap set of plastic dishes so that young children can help and if they drop some dishes, it's no big deal! Your six-year-old can peel carrots and run to get you most things, help you in the garden, dust, pick up things and more. As for your ten-year-old, he can do almost anything except drive the car! This includes laundry and cooking!

Everyone is on a learning curve and it will take them time to gain any proficiency at their jobs. But if you don't start, you will never finish. In the beginning you will say to yourself that you can do it faster and better so it seems that it's not worth the effort, but then they will never learn. Think of yourself as a supervisor, teach them to do anything that they can and praise them specifically for the jobs they have done; this specific praise for real accomplishment leads to real self-esteem. Be specific not global in your praise and let them know that what they have done was truly helpful to you and you appreciate it.

The underlying point that they should understand is that we are a family and we pull together and that's what makes a family stronger. If this concept of the family working together is what is really behind this new initiative, then your children will grow to understand that this family unity is normal and positive. A gradual change will occur, when thinking of the family, there will be less of the "I" and more of the "we" in their outlook.

Also don't forget that with every move they make to help you, they are in fact fulfilling the fifth commandment, "honor your father and your mother." The positive spin-offs in personality, respect and peace in the home are beyond measuring.

The other thing I would suggest is to bring your children into your "sphere of influence" whenever possible. While you are doing tasks that only involve your hands, you can still communicate with them and often that's all they want—just to be near you and have you notice them. They seek your attention. Don't fight it, instead use it and give it to them as positively as possible. That also includes getting them to help you, as long as you're communicating during the process they will find it to be a positive experience.

Example: You are getting ready for supper and bring your children into the kitchen to help you. Your three-year-old is given some crayons to work at the kitchen table, your ten-year-old washes some vegetables and hands them to the six-year-old to peel them with a peeler. Your ten-year-old is busy getting down bowls and helping you with other things, measuring things, breaking eggs, mixing things. (Your six-year-old likes to mix things too!) As it gets closer to supper your three-year-old is given the plates and cutlery to set the table, with either your help or the help of an older sibling. During the whole time they have been in the kitchen, you and your children have been either singing or you are relating an experience you had as a child or a story or even asking them about their day. This then becomes true family time. A similar situation will take place for the end of the meal when you are cleaning up with the help of you keen work force.

They want to be with you. Let them. I personally would get rid of the TV, severely limit the time spent on the computer for any thing that is not homework and focus on helping your children read better. I've seen this work wonders and it releases the mind to be more creative.

Think about this, sit back, plan your moves and how you will present these changes to your children. You can say, "I realize I need some help and the best helpers I have are right here!" Start with one point in your day and expand as you get your routines down pat. With a little work, keeping your children busy will no longer be a problem. They will be helping you and you will be together singing and communicating about your day and just having fun as you work together. Times they need to be "entertained" will be at a minimum and planned into your day.

Your children are about to enter the world of mastery where they find out how capable they are and if you thought you were proud of them before, you are just going to burst now! Wishing you and your family all the best!