A Job for Samuel

Sometimes it can be so easy for parents of young children to forget how
simple it actually is to keep them engaged and pleasant to be with.
During Advent I was at my Church helping before the Advent spiral. Some
parents arrived quite early – among them a father with a 6 year old boy
I shall call Samuel. One look at the way Samuel strode through the
doors of the Church and I knew that here was a little boy who needed to
be kept active by adults. Otherwise, he, clearly not a child to stand
quietly next to Daddy while everyone assembled, would find his own
diversions – which might not be suitable for the occasion or the place
we were in.

Sure enough, Daddy found some adults to talk to and Samuel drifted
off. I watched him as he inspected the seasonal decorations (fine, no
problem). Then he looked around. I could see the wheels in his head
turning – “what can I do?” He went over to the Children’s Room which
was actually closed at this time, opened the door and helped himself to
a large truck to propel himself about on. Along with being an activity
which did not help foster the kind of peaceful watchfulness that the
coming Advent spiral procession required, Samuel was also winding
himself up, not down. This is common in children (especially boys it
seems) who while needing useful activity to keep their limbs moving and
their will-senses thus satisfied, usually choose activities which
heighten their restlessness. To me this is a clear cry for adult help.
I could see Samuel was getting agitated.

Meanwhile Dad was clearly trying to decide whether to ignore his
son or to rein him in. He would occasionally go over to him and shhh
him or mildly suggest he put away the truck – and then limply wander
back to chat with his friends. None of this  of course had any effect
on Samuel who continued to drive his truck, now edging closer and
closer to both people and furniture. He was clearly in need of firm
adult intervention.

So I intervened. My philosophy of life includes treating all
children who come within my range as my own. Not all parents appreciate
this – though I have never met a child who hasn’t. So I walked over to
Samuel and said “It’s time to park your truck in its parking spot.
Come.” and I walked toward the Children’s Room. Samuel of course
followed and parked his truck. “Let’s close the door – it’s almost time
for the Advent spiral and this room needs to be closed.” He did so.
Then I said – and this is the most important part – “I need a helper.
Come.” And we walked back to where I had been observing the
proceedings, by the front door of the Church where I was welcoming
parents and children as they arrived.

“Your job is to open the door for people when they come and then to
shut it behind them” I said to Samuel. Samuel, a boy of many noises but
few words, obliged. I looked out the window which he couldn’t reach in
the door and then I’d say things like “Ok get ready here come some
people….open!” We had a great time. During a lull we also inspected
the crack in the door and speculated whether he could see out or if it
was only big enough to let cold air in.

As for Dad, he gave me a big smile at one point when he saw how
usefully and contentedly engaged his son was. It was a win-win
situation. Samuel, who needed to be active was engaged in a socially
useful, peaceful and needed task thus calming him and satisfying him,
and Dad could visit with his friends. And the Church had a very helpful

Be creative when your young child is “playing up”. He or she is
expressing their need to be active. But random unformed activity is not
the solution – children who scream and run about aimlessly do not find
satisfaction from such activity. Activity is key in the first 7 years –
but it needs to be grounded, centered and formed. It needs boundaries,
whether the boundaries of a game or the boundaries of a job or task.
And the more “out there” a child is, the more this is so. This is the
heart of discipline for young children – and the heart of living in a
peaceful way with them. It is the way of health and calm. And it needs
to be anticipated – Samuel was basically quite a centered little boy
and so it was not hard to divert him. But other children are not so
inwardly calm and once they spiral out it can be very difficult to rein
them back in and to divert them to a formed activity. One must  – as
with most things in parenting – be several steps ahead and think
through the various parts of one’s day with thoughts of how one’s child
will best move through each part of the day. Having strong forms and rhythms always helps – we always brush our teeth before bed, we always
sit at the table for snack, we always push in our chairs and take our
plates to the sink – and so on. That is the basis at home. And when you
go out? Lion cubs always sit in their car seats. When we get to the
park, the lions need to run, run, run to the park bench and then wait
for Mama Lion to catch up. Mama always pushes the shopping cart and
Junior always put the fruit and veggies into bags. Keep ’em busy –
imaginatively and actively engaged!

Do consider purchasing our audio recording on discipline or other
recordings about parenting young children if this resonates with you
and you need further guidance.

Posted on January 17, 2010 in Family Life and Parenting

  • Erica Breen says:

    Okay, I really needed to hear this, my son is akin to Samuel and I to his dad. But I have a question. How does this need for structure and limits and guidance and forms relate to the need for free play in the (hopefully) peaceful home environment? When my son is spiraling outwards, it is generally at home in our tiny living room and frigid outside. I am gradually incorporating rhythms into our day, but often I lay my plans aside because I see my children deeply involved with the blocks, the dollies or the cardboard box-turned-boat. Is my formed rhythm “optional” as long as they are contentedly engaged, to be only called forth as needed? Or should I require that they help with the work after breakfast, even if they’ve already gotten into a game?
    Thanks for the insights, and all the support and ideas you give.

  • donna says:

    This is a difficult one to answer….sometimes it is definitely important to allow the children to carry on with what they are doing – at other times one needs to say “ok,all the pussy cats need to come over here now and take their milk dishes to the sink ” (if, say, they were busy being cats or something). The trick here is to try, with young children, to engage their play in the work that needs doing. So if your children are playing with cars, then they might need to be dump trucks and help empty the dish washer. And so on.
    There’s a fine line here – because of course some children will work out rather quickly that when they are playing they don’t have to do chores! Or school work when they older! So one needs to be alert for this. As always, a good solid basic rhythm coupled with a good sense of humor helps!
    Do consider joining our forum, Erica – we talk about things like this all the time and you get to share with others as well!

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