It is the chief obstacle to any successful down time for our family, whether on vacation, a weekend, or a random summer day.
Ryan almost always opts to spend his free time engaged, typically alone, in his favorite activities: typing standings, playing NHL2K on the Wii, playing Hockey Guys. His initial reaction to any suggestion of another activity is rejection. He doesn’t consider the offer and then rejects it, he rejects it almost before we get the sentence out.
The problem is, even though Ryan can spend hours engaged in these activities, he gets bored. Worse, the more time he spends doing them, the more likely he is to get be upset by some aspect. It is only then, in the calming period post-meltdown, that we can reason with him and make him understand that it is the repetitive actions themselves that are making him upset. That spending so much time, by himself, repeating the same activity makes him irritable and angry.
He usually nods in agreement. Sometimes he will swear off typing standings. That will last a day, or a week. But he always goes back. Things are fine for a while — before they are not.
The challenge, as always, is to find ways to crack through this stubborn shell and allow for a new activity. For every success, there are many failures. Some of the successes become part of a new routine. Some are forgotten after that one brief moment. Some take the form of a new game, invented on the spot. Others are more of a distraction, that somehow still incorporate one of his preferred activities.
We were struggling with boredom during some downtime the other day. Weather prevented us from enjoying the outdoors. Nothing on TV captured Ryan’s attention. He was quickly growing annoyed.
I don’t know why I thought of it, but I threw out a suggestion.
“Do you guys know how to play the name game?”
The name game. A drinking game I learned in college (all right, maybe it was high school. Sorry, mom and dad). Someone throws out a name of a celebrity or a person known to the entire group. The next person must name another known person whose first name starts with the first letter of the last name of the previous person. If you can’t come up with a name in five seconds you
drink get a point. An alliterative name reverses the order.
This was the lucky suggestion out of 100. Ryan was willing to try. Thirty minutes later, we were still playing. Ryan used a lot of NHL player names, but also surprised me with the occasional historical figure or other person he had learned about in school. Riley named a lot of characters from Nickelodeon shows. All of us named a bunch of recent Olympians.
The next day, with the weather still lousy, Riley suggested to Ryan they play the name game. Once again, he agreed. Another 30 minutes went by, and they were still playing — just the two of them. Engaged. No fighting. No arguing. No inappropriate volume.
Maybe this will become one of our new routines. Maybe it will soon be forgotten. But for two afternoons at least, it was a new activity that served to engage Ryan and break him out of his repetitive behaviors. It prevented a meltdown when he was otherwise bored.
Who knew a drinking game could be so useful?