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Thoughts on Childhood

July 20, 2016

cousinplay

This post was inspired by several people.  First, Aunt Sheryl FB-linked to this post, Extraordinary Things Happen when We Simplify Childhood. I’ve had some good, insightful conversations with my friend AF on raising kids in today’s world. I have been studying different theories on family therapy, and this led to me consider the definition of a healthy childhood.

The article linked above lays out several advantages of not over-scheduling kids, and simplifying their lives.  While I don’t agree 100% with everything  that Gillett writes and the boy in the picture does look like he’s about to be kidnapped (but I think that may just be because the light and woods look different in British Columbia), I do agree that we have pushed our American-style busy-ness onto our children. Here are some other benefits of allowing kids to play – just play.

When allowed non-structured play, children learn negotiation and conflict resolution skills.  They make up their own rules to their own games, and create their own consequences. They learn the give-and-take of compromise and negotiating for their wants.  This means that mommies can’t jump in at the playground to intercede with every conflict. Wait it out and see what happens, because  there really is no joy like hitting your friend with a well-aimed dirt clot during a game of King of the Mountain on the dirt pile that the neighbors just had delivered to fill in their yard, and then getting ambushed from behind the dirt pile with the JET setting on the spray gun of their water hose.

With non-structured play, children discover their own limits.  Yes, there may be some bruises and broken bones, but these things teach children to evaluate their own abilities and compare them to perceived dangers.  Think of falling out of a tree or when you swung too high and fell out of the swing. By protecting them from all of these things, they don’t learn to determine a boundary between safe and not-so-safe. The next time you go to your pediatrician, ask him or her about those minor bumps and bruises injuries; the ones I talk to say that normal kids’ bruises and scrapes are almost nonexistent.  When was the last time you saw a commercial for Bactine?  Does this generation of kids even know that you can blow on stuff to keep it from stinging?

Unstructured play also creates mental processing time.  Remember running so fast with your friends (for no purpose at all) that you collapsed, completely out of breath?  That time that you spent catching your breath and looking at a piece of grass, or the clouds, or whatever, you are also processing all of the sensory input of the physical exertion, the ground, and everything else that you see, hear, smell, or feel.  Studies are beginning to show that with simply allowing for quiet processing time like this, many hyperactivity symptoms can be mediated without medication.

Keeping an empty schedule from time to time also teaches kids how to do nothing.  So many kids don’t know how to sit still for a few minutes.  Or be quiet for a few minutes without having a device in their hands.  Enduring the boringness of doing nothing is a skill, and one that they will face many times as an adult.  They expect to be entertained, even at school, and the truth is sometimes you have to do the thing that’s not “fun”; sometimes, you just have to memorize the states and their capitals – there’s no way around it.  This has led in part to a growing trend of discomfort intolerance (and its cousin frustration intolerance) in young people.  Because, really, nothing bad is going to happen and there will be no catastrophe, if your kid gets too hot while waiting on you (his mom), or gets a little thirsty before arriving home, or has to sit and wait for his sister at her friend’s house.  Needs do not have to be fulfilled immediately.

It is demanding on us, the adults, to do this training.  In the beginning, it can require attention, being present, and setting clear boundaries. It is much easier to distract a child than let him or her experience the discomfort, but it goes a long way towards creating durable, socialized (not whiny) young adults.

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