Why telling your child to "have fun" is counterproductive


Each day as we say goodbye to our children many of us impart our wish for them to have fun.

"Have fun" we say, each and every day. We do this because we want the best for our children and we want them to enjoy the things they do. However if you think about it, it's just not possible to have fun every day. And even if it were, is it really what you want for your children?

Creating the expectation that each day, each activity will be fun-filled sets the child up for failure and disappointment. 

Returning home, their experiences are then examined against the harsh, unrealistic measure of the fun scale. "Did you have fun?"

If children are taught to expect each and every experience to be fun they are going to encounter a great deal of disappointment and distress. 

Is that really how you want to teach your child to measure the worth of an activity? To teach them that fun (every day) is what we aim for, that's our main goal? 

What will happen if your child begins to reject anything or everything that's not fun to learn?

A lot of necessary skills and enjoyable activities take effort and perseverance to learn, they are not and can not be fun every step of the way.

Sending your little one off with the expectation of having fun every day puts everyone under so much pressure, the child cannot help but fail and by failing will often feel as though they are disappointing the parent who so clearly wants them to have fun. 

What can we do instead?

Surely there are many meaningful ways to measure the worth of our experiences? 

Using instead the phrase "have a good day" is very different to "have fun. A good day can be (and very often is) one where you achieve something worthwhile, you master a new skill, you persevere and make progress, you overcome a difficulty - it may not have been fun but it was satisfying and rewarding. 

When our children return home at the end of the day we could say something like, "Hi, it's great to see you, how are you?" and leave it to them to report their day as they wish (often you will find out much more by waiting than you will by grilling them).

"How was your day?" is far more open-ended than "how was your day, did you have fun?" which automatically tells the child what the parent wants to hear.

If you ask, 'how was your day?' please be prepared to accept, OK, all right, boring, horrible or good or any other words the child chooses to describe their day.

 Very often if you accept the child's answer, reflect it back and wait, children will begin to spontaneously talk about their experiences in their own way, in their own time. If no additional information is offered up it's a great idea if you offer some of your own, talking about your day. This then becomes a conversation rather than an interrogation.

Conversations, where we are free to discuss our experiences and our feelings, are the basis of a great relationship.


Holidays - your golden opportunity to evaluate family life

If you dread school holidays, thinking there will be more pain than pleasure, then it's time to have a long hard look at your family life.

If things in your family are not as you'd like them to be, what's going wrong?

If you could transform your family dynamics into what you'd like them to be, what would they look like?

It's likely you know how you'd like your family to function but not why it doesn't, or how to change it.

If you are ready to make some changes I would love to guide and support you through a process of evaluation. 

Neutral eyes see more clearly.

Together we can work through the available options and choose the path that's right for your family.  

Contact me for a free chat about what you'd like to change and I'll explain the ways I can help you to reach more of your parenting goals. 

Making changes to be a better parent is not easy, but it's much easier with support.

Become an even better parent

The warm days of Summer are coming to an end and most of us are firmly back in our daily routines.

Often, during a break we get time to think about our lives and the changes we wish to make yet when the break is over and we once again face the day to day reality it's so easy to slip back into old patterns and we realise change isn't always easy.

Having a clear goal, a practical plan and appropriate ongoing support greatly increases the chances of success.

If you would like to make some changes, I can help you.

I have more than 30 years of experience working with young children and their families, experience assisting parents create and implement practical plans to achieve their parenting goals, helping good parents become even better. 

I can help you too.

Paulene Richardson

Parents, you're in charge.

Do you find yourself pleading over and over and over again trying to get your child to comply with your requests?

Do you wonder why it seems so hard and so exhausting to get your child to comply with anything?

Well good news is at hand, you can stop exhausting yourself by pleading with your children and start communicating your decisions and directives effectively and efficiently.

The  foundation on which effective communication with children is built is simple.  As the parent it is your job to decide what's appropriate for your child at any given age and your child does not have to necessarily agree! 

If you seek agreement from you child you are (in most cases) expecting a level of understanding which is beyond them. In any case their goals and drivers are very different to yours. Do you think the young child cares if jumping on the sofa will wreck it, or the older child really understands the long term implications of poor nutrition?

 It is up to the adults in the family to decide the values, behaviours and routines appropriate to that family.

What is central to effective implementation is the credibility of the parent. Does the parent really mean what they say and how is this obvious to the child?

Do the parents appear to give the child a choice when really they are giving a directive? Unfortunately that is very often the case.

I often hear parents asking things like "Would you like to hold my hand while we cross the road?" Is that really what the parent means? What happens when the child answers 'no' ?

"Would you like to put your shoes on so we can go to the shops?", "No I don't want to go to the shops"... what next?

As caring, considerate parents we want to give our children some autonomy as they grow, we can do this by giving a limited though real choice which still meets the needs of the adult. "We're going to the shops so which shoes are you going to chose to wear?" "Which hand would you like to hold to cross the road?"

It's important that when you give a directive or impose a limit you follow up. 

For example a young child begins hurling pieces of Duplo around the room. "Please stop throwing the Duplo." Child continues to throw Duplo. So the parent gives the child a choice, "you can  stop throwing the Duplo or the the Duplo goes away for today, you must not throw Duplo.". Child tests parent's resolve by again throwing Duplo. To be effective the parent would give no more warnings or discussions, just pick up the Duplo and put it away. Once it's put away the adult tells the child, "we'll try again tomorrow". 

If you state a limit, stick to it.

Stories, for example. Decide how many you are (happily) prepared to read and state that up front. "You may choose two stories (chapters or such) tonight." "I want three". Here is where it's really important to be clear about your decision. "I understand you want three stories however I am prepared to read two, shall we get started?" If the child begins to focus on the fact they want three and not two again be quite clear... "I'm prepared to read two stories tonight however all this arguing is using up story-time and If we waste any more time arguing there may be only time left for one story, shall we get started"?... again if the child continues arguing it's important you make it clear you mean what you say "I'm sorry you've used up so much story-time arguing now we only have time for one story tonight, shall we get started, which one shall I read?"

If you find yourself asking and asking the same things again and again (or variations thereof) and even saying things like "how many times do I have to tell you not to..." it's time to step back and examine what's really happening.

What happens when your child doesn't comply with a directive? Are there any consequences? Was the directive given in the form of a question, did the child think there was a choice?

If you are mixing choices and directives it's very confusing for the child.

  • As the parent you decide what's acceptable in your home.
  • If you want to have any credibility don't make statements you can't/ won't follow through ("right, no TV for a month!")
  • Give a directive as a directive and ensure there are simple natural (where possible) consequences of non-compliance.
  • Follow through.
  • If you ask a question you must be prepared to accept the answer 'No".
  • Don't press your child to agree with your directives, they don't have to like them they just need to comply.
  • Make your expectations clear.
  • Follow through - that can't be said often enough. 

When you give a directive and the child does not comply state pleasantly and clearly the consequence of non-compliance and follow through. When you do this children soon understands that actions have consequences, there are choices to made and parents mean what they say.