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By Mac Bledsoe

During summertime, family life becomes more chaotic and less routine. However, summer presents a wonderful new opportunity for parents who choose to grasp it! As I travel the nation putting on parenting events there is one very common question that keeps being asked… "How do you talk to kids, especially to teenagers?"

Well, let me tell you, I do not believe that there is a simple answer to that question because there are just about as many answers as there are kids! There is one thing that I do know to be the truth about being able to carry on a conversation with a young person; it is almost impossible to talk with a child with whom you do not already have a relationship! It is virtually impossible to discuss important issues with a child who views you as a stranger. Summer gives us an opportunity to build relationships with our kids.

Along those lines, I am convinced that the best way to build a relationship with a child is through the medium of play. A wonderful side effect of playing with kids is that playing is fun for adults too… it is an excuse to extend childhood! Like my grandfather used to say, "You can only be young once but you can make immaturity last a lifetime!"

Play does not have to be complicated nor organized. Look for opportunities to play with your kids daily. On a hot day, pick up some water balloons on the way home from work and start a water balloon fight. Get squirt guns to cool a hot summer evening. Start the barbeque and create your own gourmet burgers. While the barbeque is warming up and the burgers are cooking, start a neighborhood game of baseball in the street using a homemade ball made with a wadded up wet sock (that way no windows get broken.)

Stop by the local Good Will or used sporting goods shop and pick up an old set of used golf clubs. Pick up some Whiffle Balls and then when you get home set up a golf course around your yard or around the neighborhood by stapling or taping paper plates to various trees, light poles, fence posts, corners of buildings, and other usable landmarks. Write the numbers one through nine on the paper plates. You now have a new golf course. To play you start at plate #9 and hit your ball toward the landmark labeled #1. To score on a hole your ball must be hit to within a club length of the object. Count your "strokes" just like in golf. The person with the lowest total strokes after 9 holes is the winner. This game can be a blast when played in a forest, in a yard or it six or seven back yards that join. Enlist the neighbors to play with you. Set "tee times" and develop handicaps. The possibilities are endless. Post scores, make up impromptu leader boards and develop your course ground rules. Follow the lead of the kids.

Create a neighborhood newspaper on your computer. Put kids in charge of publishing it and have them interview neighbors about upcoming events in their respective families.

Get out the video camera and make a music video. Pick a song to use as the theme and then shoot footage to make a statement that matches what the song says. Let your hair down and get into it with your kids. Let them shoot you in everyday life and put music to what they have shot. You might really learn something about the way that the kids see you and your family life.

Get the ingredients for making ice cream sundaes and break them out as an evening family activity. Set the ingredients up in the garage or on the porch and let your kids invite a bunch of their friends over to join in. Sit around in lawn chairs and enjoy the company as you eat the treats.

Set up a Badminton court in the back yard and leave it set up throughout the summer. In free moments challenge your kids to a game. Create new games and set up courts and fields. Take some chalk and create a shuffle board game on the sidewalk using sticks as your implements and slide plastic coffee can lids as your pucks.

Set up a Horseshoe game in the back yard. Get a dartboard and set it up on the back porch or in the kitchen. Start building a big puzzle and leave it set up in the living room; work on it during spare time. Play Cribbage, Gin Rummy, Chess or Checkers. Play tennis, swim, hike, ride bikes, take a walk in a park, go fishing, get creative and find ways to play with your kids.

What will happen when you establish a spirit of play with your kids is that you will find that it will become easier and easier to talk with them. When people are in the act of playing it is almost impossible to be silent. The natural talk that surrounds play will break the ice. Once the talk becomes natural it becomes much easier to talk about important topics. When play becomes a regular part of life in your family then, when feel you have something that you really need to talk to your kids about it will not seem so odd or forced. You will have established a communication channel via the interaction of playing with your kids! In the meantime you will have had a delightful time laughing and playing with someone you love… your kids!



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