KIDS: Behavior, Activities, Minecraft & More

September 10, 2019

First of all, G I A N T disclaimer:

My kids are imperfect.

(Sometimes VERY imperfect.)

We have plenty of our own behavior struggles and I think I have kids bordering on the feistier/more active side, so I certainly cannot stand up as a model of How To Parent To Make It All Easy! or some BS like that.

But, some things do work for us and some things don’t, so I figured I would share a few things since they had been requested/asked about.

The Checklist:

So far, the kids continue to be motivated by this list of things. They are earning ‘smiles’ at a ~75% rate which seems just tenuous enough that it does seem to improve their behavior a bit.

last week’s chart (this week’s is a little neater 🙂 )
“Green face” point totals on left stay there from week to week as they can be cashed in later for various rewards

They do have a lot to do. Our local public school is (unfortunately) not light on HW. I’d like the kids to get it done in the after school program where they go 3 days/week, but Cameron needs more individualized guidance and Annabel’s work is at least 50% of the time on the computer (various required programs including iReady, Reflex Math, and new this year, Newsela).

(How I feel about this = another post perhaps, but it is what it is.)

They also have to practice piano (for like 5-10 minutes; I am not Tiger Mom over here), clean up their toys, read (mandated by the teachers), and be reasonably nice (mostly to each other; basic human decency requirement!). I think the list helps them see each individual task as part of an achievable goal and seems to make the whole thing less overwhelming. So far, anyway.

Free play:

It’s true, there isn’t a ton of time for free play on the weekdays 🙁 They do get some, though. The school day ends at 2 pm and 3 days/week they go to an after school program which has unstructured playground/play gym time, an art room, etc. While there are counselors present, it sounds mostly like a free-for-all. Each day they are there, they have one structured activity period (Annabel: Art, Soccer, Drama; Cameron: Soccer, Lego Robotics – which he loves, Basketball).

G seems to be enjoying ‘school’ even though her nose has not stopped running for ~3 weeks now

I did this because a) otherwise 2p – 6p is a large swathe of time and b) picking them up would splinter G’s nap into nothingness (and currently she needs one good nap/day). I would have happily signed them up for a shorter activity period at the school (this was an option at our Miami Beach elementary school) but they don’t have those kinds of after school activities here.

I think it’s a balance. They do get a good amount of unstructured ‘free play’ time on weekends and we try to makes sure at least some portion of that is outside. (We are currently in our ‘gross weather’ phase here — which lasts from May to the end of October — and I cannot wait for it to end!)


So Josh loves video games. Including Minecraft. We finally bought the kids their own tablets this year (cheap Lenovo ones) and are very specific about when they are allowed to be used. Our current policy is that they lie dormant during the week and come out on weekends only when parents have deemed it ‘okay’.

Because Josh loves playing with them, there has been a tendency for the time spent on them to expand to fill an entire weekend afternoon on occasion, and then everyone acts terrible. I came up with 2 hrs as a reasonable goal for ‘total time spent on iPads’ for the weekend, so we’re trying that out. It worked fairly well last weekend.

We allow them to watch a movie on Friday nights and other small snippets of screen time on weekends (rarely during the week unless they are sick). G does get to watch Mickey on occasion we need her to be occupied and MAN DOES SHE LOVE IT. We definitely are more liberal and less afraid of screens than we were with A, but . . . probably still more uptight than average.

I’m Making All of this Up As I Go Along

Guess what? I’m figuring this all out as I go! (And so are most parents!)

Whenever I meet parents of kids older than mine are (especially if they have 3 with a similar age/gender spacing!) I assume they have some superpower that I will acquire with time. Thus far, I have been disappointed that my superpowers have not arrived yet. Parenthood for me has been all about trying things, changing things, trying more things, adjusting, and living with imperfection sometimes (or a lot).

It’s about taking a failed summer vacation once in a while and then not traveling for 6 months. It’s about signing your kids up for nothing for an entire semester, and then maybe doing a little more than is ideal. You keep adjusting, you watch, you learn; every time you master a given phase your kids change and you need a new plan. But I think if your heart is in the right place and you pay attention to what’s happening, it works out okay. At least it has so far 🙂

WELL. Deep thoughts for a Tuesday! Off to run. I feel 937534 times better than I did yesterday morning!

Tomorrow – more planner-related content 🙂


  • Reply Sarah Kerner September 10, 2019 at 9:27 am

    We have a similar homework/activity/Minecraft situation going on in my house, so it’s really helpful to hear how you’re handling it. I announced a “No Minecraft on school days” rule last night to much gnashing of teeth, but I think it’s going to be better in the long run.

  • Reply Beth @ Parent Lightly September 10, 2019 at 10:13 am

    My kids are so funny with electronics. They have tablets (Kindle Fires) that live in a kitchen cabinet and they never take them out except on trips. My husband loves video games and has given them cart blanche on playing the Nintendo Switch but they never think of it on their own. They do get a bit crazy about watching TV but if we do a 2-3 day detox they usually get better. No one has discovered Minecraft yet so I’m going to try to keep that going. This is a great topic because I feel like a lot of the discourse is unrealistic. I like the way you’re setting practical limits for your kids AND for your own sanity. (Mine are also horribly behaved when they get too much screen time.)

  • Reply Megan September 10, 2019 at 11:22 am

    I feel like this sentence is genius and applies to my entire adult life:
    “__________ for me has been all about trying things, changing things, trying more things, adjusting, and living with imperfection sometimes (or a lot).”
    (Insert: parenting, work, running, marriage, friendship, work/life balance, cooking, my faith, etc)

  • Reply Nikki September 10, 2019 at 11:36 am

    My daughters are similarly spaced to your oldest two and I can totally see them headed in this same feisty direction. Am noting all of this for the future! My 3.5 year old is already keeping track of who I ‘cuddle’ more and my 20 month old can spot her older sister sneaking into my lap from a mile away and come running and yelling with arms up ready to push and hit – the competition is no joke! Intensified last week because the 20 month old had a fever for a couple days – this morning they both acted much more sanely finally, which is a great reminder that these behaviors ebb and flow. We’re all in this together, thank goodness for the moms who take the time to blog and share 🙂

  • Reply Ellie September 10, 2019 at 11:44 am

    “You keep adjusting, you watch, you learn; every time you master a given phase your kids change and you need a new plan. But I think if your heart is in the right place and you pay attention to what’s happening, it works out okay.” Deep thoughts but so right! You nailed it perfectly. I came to the same “epiphany” after almost 4 years into parenting. It has been hard for me to accept this constant change as someone who is very structured. I felt I was doing it wrong but then indeed understood that there was not one right way. It changes depending on the age, it changes depending on the child, it changes depending on your own mental state… What matters is to keep awareness of what doesn’t work and to try to do better. All in for embracing imperfection! 🙂

  • Reply Kipper September 10, 2019 at 11:50 am

    We are in a similar situation with electronics. Weekdays = no electronics (except for homework apps). Friday night = movie night (or more typically 1 show each kid). Saturday and Sunday they get a little tablet time in the morning (after getting dressed and brushing teeth) so mom and dad can sleep in a little. If we don’t have a full weekend and there’s downtime at home they can earn more tablet time by cleaning up, helping with projects, etc. Half the time they just start playing again and forget about the tablet!

  • Reply Susannah Williams September 10, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    Loved this post and your honesty and your parenting approach. My boys are late to the Minecraft party-they just started playing it in the last month–and wow, they’ve never been so “into” something screen-related before—they’re obsessed! We set limits and use it as a reward as well. I couldn’t agree more about just watching and adjusting constantly. All four of my kids are different and respond differently and have different needs. It cracks me up to think about how, before I became a parent, I’d just think, “oh, well I’ll just say x and they’ll do x. End of story.” Humbling as always!

  • Reply Emily September 10, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on homework apps/computer work. We just switched to public school (I have a first grader and a K) from Montessori and although my K has no homework except for reading nightly and doesn’t use a tablet or computer at school, my first grader uses Splashmath, Starfall, and I think one other one I’m forgetting right now. I think they use them a fair amount at school as far as I can tell and are now starting to have them for homework at home as well. Part of me thinks they might keep him a little more engaged but…I’m not sure. I also have misgivings about turning homework/school into screen time in itself! And my son has ADHD so that is an added complication. Since Annabel is in second it sounds like you’ve had some additional time with these homework apps so I’m wondering how you feel like they have been, learning-wise.

    • Reply Taryn September 11, 2019 at 11:15 am

      Our school is like that too. For the past 3 years I have just told the teacher that we don’t do screens during the week and they have so far been very understanding. They both do the screens enough at school that they don’t “really” need to be doing that at home. This year my oldest is in 3rd grade, and I have heard certain homework on the computer at home is mandatory. I will talk to his teacher at conferences. It’s such a struggle! On one hand you want them to be computer savvy, but on the other hand it definitely affects behavior (or at least it does for my kids).

      • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger September 11, 2019 at 2:50 pm

        Wow Taryn – I never felt like this was an option but I am impressed with your boldness! I sort of wish I tried that approach but I’m not sure how understanding the teachers would be. I am grateful at least C doesn’t seem to have computer HW for now.

  • Reply Chelsea September 10, 2019 at 3:42 pm

    I’m curious about how all the “no screens during the week” families handle multiple kid needs. Sarah – particularly for stuff like when A and C do piano practice. I feel like if I tried to manage piano practice for Scott, the other two would be too distracting without a decent distraction, and if I didn’t manage him, he’d just mess around. I want to cut down on our screen time during the week, but I’m often solo parenting in the evenings, and I end up giving up and letting them watch TV or do tablets when I’m trying to get dinner ready, help Scott with his homework (he’s in 1st grade) or get the toddler to bed.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger September 10, 2019 at 5:10 pm

      On nights when I’m alone, I just don’t do much active managing of piano. She does her assigned thing (she’s still at a beginner level) independently and C too.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger September 10, 2019 at 5:12 pm

      And same for HW. If I do need to provide more in depth hw help I’ll wait until G is in bed.

    • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger September 10, 2019 at 5:13 pm

      Oh and I do sometimes let them watch a show or part of a show while I put g to bed!

      • Reply Chelsea September 12, 2019 at 12:41 pm

        I just finished Cribsheets, and I think for right now I have to let myself be okay with the screen distractions (because I realize “no screens” is 100% a personal ideal). Scott can be kind of self directed, but the younger two are straight-up purposefully distracting, and TV is certainly a better alternative than me raging at all of them.

        • Reply Sarah Hart-Unger September 12, 2019 at 1:15 pm

          We are not 100% either. I do find that Minecraft in particular seems to make Cameron act insane. So we try to avoid mostly on weeknights. I was so anti screen w A and have definitely loosened up.

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.