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7 Ways to Avoid Whines in Lines

Waiting in Lines

There we were: five-year-old Rubin and weary old Mom, locked in a line a mile long for the new planetarium show. The show itself would last 20 minutes. The wait beforehand would have us stalled for at least 45 minutes. Rubin waited patiently for 45 seconds.

''Mom, this line is too long!'' he wailed.

''Yes, darling, it is a long line,'' I soothed. He would have none of it, swinging on a roped partition, nearly kicking an elderly man in the shin.

We quickly moved from sympathy to threats: "If you don't stop whining, we'll head back to the hotel and there'll be no TV and no pool," I said sternly.

That bought me another 45 seconds. After that, I was forced to become resourceful.

It dawned on me that at any given time all across America, millions of children will spend millions of minutes waiting in lines -- for tickets, for food, for roller-coaster rides. How can we parents make it bearable -- not for them, but for ourselves?

The Ring Game
What you need: One ring (or earring, pebble, or any small object).
Time it buys you: 5-10 minutes.
How to play: Slide a ring off your finger. Put both hands behind your back and hide the ring in one of your fists. Present both fists to the child. He guesses which hand is hiding the ring. If he guesses correctly, it's his turn. If he's wrong, you hide it again. My mother played this with us on countless subway rides; today it keeps my kids occupied in restaurants and at other locations.

The Money Game
What you need: Coins and perhaps a dollar bill.
Time it buys you: 10-15 minutes, depending on how much money you want to lose!
How to play: Starting with a penny, and moving up to a dollar, ask children to guess the year of the coin you are holding. If they guess it, they win it, and anyone under 10 will be thrilled. With younger children, you can ask them to guess the last digit of the year (''This coin was made in a year that ends with a number between one and nine''). My late Uncle Stuart, and my grandfather before him, used this game to keep kids occupied at holiday dinners before the dessert made its appearance.

Name That Tree
What you need: Imagination only.
Time it buys you: 10-15 minutes.
How to play: Simply announce a category and ask your child to name three types of objects in that category (such as three trees or three songs by the Backstreet Boys, etc.). Obviously, this needs to be age-appropriate: You might ask a four-year-old to name three animals and a ten-year-old to name three states and their capitals. The winner gets to quiz you! This game from my friend Anita worked fantastically well during lineups at Disney World with her daughter Samantha. Though Sam is now a savvy teenager, the current quiz-show craze makes it clear this game still holds appeal. You can even add: "Is that your final answer?"

The Ugly Shoe Contest
What you need: Imagination only (in a store).
Time it buys you: 10-15 minutes.
How to play: This is another of Anita's "Greatest Hits" from her "Creative Parenting" file. The Ugly Shoe Contest was my way of keeping my daughter Samantha from misbehaving when I was shopping for shoes. I'd ask her to compete with me to find the ugliest shoe in the store. Without insulting store personnel by discussing the contest objectives, 'contestants' were asked to quietly hold up one or more 'nominated' shoes. The winner was determined by democratic process. Both contestants had to agree on the ugliest shoe. We still play it!"

Codes 'N' Clues
What you need: Imagination only.
Time it buys you: 10-15 minutes.
How to play: Tell kids in line that they are detectives about to solve a crime. But since you're in a public place, it's impossible to discuss clues without being overheard. In order to nab the criminal (who of course is standing in line only a few feet away), they will need to communicate in code. First, Mom or Dad agrees to be "The Chief" who has the "description of the suspect" (silently IDs someone in line who "committed the crime"). Second, they must devise a secret language that will help them identify the suspect by clothing and appearance. This eats up a lot of time! A pat on the head might mean he's wearing a hat. Two fingers held up might mean she's wearing glasses, etc.

Once they have their language agreed upon, they use it to rule out potential suspects, with the Chief nodding or shaking her head in response to the detective's code signals. Finally, agree that there will be no pointing at anyone in line once they think they know who the suspect is (they must whisper their suspicions to the Chief instead). The first to correctly identify the suspect wins!

Red (or Yellow or Green) Plate Special
What you need: Imagination only.
Time it buys you: 5-10 minutes.
How to play: When you're in a restaurant waiting for your meal to arrive, ask kids to imagine that all the food on their plates will be green. Ask them to name three foods that would be found on a ''Green Plate Special'' (for example: lettuce, broccoli, and lime jello.) Then ask them to pick a color and you choose the meal! You can make it tougher for older kids by asking them to pick foods from different food groups. This game was inspired by Steve and Ruth Bennett, the highly creative parents of two kids, and authors of numerous activity books, including 365 TV-Free Activities You Can Play with Your Child.

I'm Going on a Trip to Africa...
What you need: Imagination only.
Time it buys you: 10-15 minutes.
How to play: Start by announcing: ''I'm going on a trip to Africa, and in my bag I'm going to pack...'' (something that begins with the letter A, so you might say, ''an alligator''). The second person continues by adding a word that starts with B: ''I'm going on a trip to Africa and in my bag I'm going to pack an alligator and a bicycle.'' The more outrageous, the better; obviously, the longer the game goes, the harder it gets to remember all the items for the bag. A variation for younger kids who don't know the alphabet: Have them name anything, and the point of the game is simply to remember the growing list. Or, pair younger and older kids in teams so they can help each other! This game is great for long car trips.

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