We recently celebrated a graduation in our family as Madeleine and Carter watched their dad receive a masters degree in software engineering. This was a huge event in our family and attending the ceremony easily could have been a real disaster as any parent who's ever had to wait with a fidgety child knows.
Here's how the kids survived (and actually enjoyed) one of the most exciting events in recent Lemen history. We hope you find it helpful for you and your kids this graduation season!
Set the tone. Every kid no matter what you might imagine wants his or her parent to know that they are loved and important. I introduced the event to the kids by explaining that this was a really important day that we'd been waiting for as a family for five years and that their presence was the number one gift that could make their dad happy. Though sobered at the prospect of such a long day, they both quickly got on board.
Prepare your celebrants. There's no child in an America who will cheer when you tell them they'll be sitting in a stadium for four to six hours in the finest dress, but I've found from experience in other waiting situations (airports, long lines) that it's better to be upfront about the challenge than to spring it on them the day of. When we arrived, both kids settled into introvert chill out mode while a lot of the kids around us started to freak out that this would take longer than they thought.
Come prepared. Both kids are avid readers, so we loaded up both Kindles and brought a respectable stack of comic books and some Greek mythology. Don't forget the discreet ziploc full of honey wheat pretzels and the somewhat healthy bar of dark chocolate for myself. I brought wipes for any emergencies and also pads of paper and pens for doodling. We needed every single thing in my bag.
Bend the rules. There's nothing more annoying to me than a tweenager who is always plugged in to an iPod, but for this big day, I made an exception. No earbuds during the ceremony, but for the two hour wait before, no problem. I also gave Carter unlimited sips from my giant size soda (thankfully snacks were permitted at our event) when normally I would insist on something more nutritious. If I had had little children, you bet I would have uploaded the latest greatest toddler show on my iPhone to keep them occupied during the more challenging moments.
Document the experience. I'm a professional photographer, but the lenses in my bag (designed to shoot in dimly lit handmade houses in cramped close quarters) were useless in this situation. I turned my lens on the kids instead, so Dave could see their reactions to what was happening and enjoy after the fact how excited they were to see him achieve this important goal.
Explain the significance. Dave really wanted the kids to see that there is indeed a rewarding finish to a long academic challenge. He made the day meaningful to them by giving them stoles of appreciation which he presented with heart and soul. Seeing their dad so happy and proud because of an academic achievement is something sure to stay with them for years to come. No doubt they'll reference this accomplishment when embarking on their own.
One final note: While complaining is normal in situations like this, I asked my kids to direct any grievances to me, not to their dad, on the big day. I explained that sometimes when you are the center of attention and asking people you love to do something that could be considered long or boring that you can start to feel ashamed or vulnerable about being the cause of all the fuss. I told them that it's actually difficult for the person of honor to sometimes really let the love in when they know someone else is being put out.
When I explained that sometimes complaining to the person of honor was one of the number one things that triggers this kind of nervousness, their eyes widened. I told them they could complain to each other or me all day long, but today was the day to spare Dad the moaning and groaning. They really got it. And you know what? They really did not complain after that at all. They rose to the occasion, told me what they needed when they needed it and made the day magic for everyone--including me!
I bet your kids would, too.
Do you have any tips about graduation success with kids? Feel free to share in the comments below.