Paying The Price For Our Parental Panicking
Anxiety and depression; even suicide is increasing and it’s all because children feel their sense of control over their lives has decreased according to Peter Gray, a psychologist at Boston College and author of ‘Free to Learn.’ His research links the rise of emotional and social disorders with the decline of play.
Peter recalls growing up in the US in the 1950s. “By the time I was five, I could go anywhere in town on my bike. I could go out of town as long as I was with my six-year-old friend. If we deprive children of play they can’t learn how to negotiate, control their own lives, see things from others’ points of view, and compromise. Play is the place where children learn they are not the centre of the universe. And in case you’re not sure, when there’s an adult there directing things, that is not play”
David Whitebread, a psychologist at the University of Cambridge, also explains how kids deprived of playtime can’t learn how to “self-regulate”, which means they are unable to control their own emotions and behaviour. This, he says, is so important for children’s development that the Government’s obsession with getting them to read and write ever younger is a “complete waste of taxpayers’ money”.
His message is simple: “The big job is to teach parents that they must spend time doing things playfully with their children if they want them to do well. Self-regulation is a better predictor for how well children do later in life than reading and writing.”
Play is in danger of becoming a lost ‘art’ for families across the UK, as 21% of time-starved parents admit that they have forgotten how to play and struggle to engage their children in creative and imaginative activities that will help their development according to a new report.
Lots of research has shown that brain connections develop during periods of play so it is vital to emotional, physical and intellectual development.
Parents don’t always understand the importance of play however, and in today’s competitive world, the temptation is to stop your children “wasting time” and to put the time to what they believe is more constructive use.
For a child, however, there is no more constructive activity than play. When analysing the importance of play, particularly if you’re tempted to introduce a more “worthwhile” activity such as flash cards, educational computer games or dancing or karate lessons, you should take into account the following points:
- Play allows a young child to be “in charge.” Often children are constantly being told what to do and how to do it in their everyday lives, they’re small and powerless so play let’s them explore their world free from adult interference, without an adult around, they’re running the show!
- Play also helps children learn about the world in which they live. They can investigate and discover, test their theories, explore spatial relationships as well as cause and effect, and they can enjoy role play and exploring your family values such as kindness and patience. Such is the importance of play, that there’s virtually no area of life about which it can’t teach a child something !
- Play builds self-esteem. Children will often play at something they know they can do well, at which they can be successful.
- Play builds social skills. Children will begin playing with inanimate and non-threatening objects, like cuddly toys, bricks etc, so they are practising their interactive skills. Later, playing with other children will build on this foundation as they learn to share, take turns, assert themselves and begin to empathise with others.
- Play with parents shouldn’t be underestimated either, as research shows that children whose parents play with them ultimately develop superior social skills.
- Playing with your kids builds up great family memories, bonds you together and makes life fun. It also builds bridges not walls between you and shows you love and care enough about your kids to spend time with them doing fun stuff.
- Playing doesn’t have to be hard work, complicated or boring – it can be doing simple and inexpensive things like riding a bike, playing on the swings, playing cards or a board game.
- Play also provides the opportunity for children to work out their feelings. The importance of dealing with difficult or unpleasant emotions is immense. A child who’s worried about going to the dentist, for example, may deal with the anxiety by setting up a clinic for dolls with toothache.
- Play helps with language development. Think of the vast number of words a child uses during play, many of them repeatedly, enhancing their language skills.
- Play allows children to grow beyond their years. They can pretend to be all sorts of things in play – a doctor, a surgeon, a teacher, a plumber, a chef, a fire fighter!
- Don’t forget to consider the importance of stimulating your child’s creativity and imagination – making a castle in the sand, or a car garage out of a shoe box, taking an order in their own (imaginary) café or dressing up as a king or queen – these all allow children to stretch the limits of their world and experience the fun in make-believe.
So never underestimate the importance of play whatever your kid’s ages.
We had great fun playing cards when we went camping a few weeks ago with my teenage kids and I laughed so hard I had a tummy ache!
If you think your child’s holidays or weekends will be long, full of whining about “being bored” and stressful …… guess what … they will be . Just as if you think time spent playing will be fun, exciting and an opportunity to create lasting, long term happy memories for your children to grow up with ….. they will be too! It’s a choice!
Just take a moment to ponder your child’s wedding day one day and the memories you have built, nurtured and created for them throughout their childhood – how do you want them to describe growing up with you and the summer holidays or weekends?
It’s all about your mindset as your children take their cue from you.
Playing with your kids can be an opportunity, not something to be endured, and if you take yourself back to the vision of why you wanted to have children in the first place it will make you connect to the bigger picture again and get you focusing on the love you have for them.
But while you are pondering that bigger picture here are some practical ideas to make life more fun in the mean time!
One of the many great tips I picked up from Raising Playful Tots is the idea of a “I’m Bored” Jar. It takes a little time but it is totally worth it.
- Write down all the games and activities your children love to do and then you cut up the list (which you can continually just keep adding to) and pop them into a “I’m bored jar” to pick out on those days and moments when they say the dreaded words ….. “I’m bored!”
Go to this great website to explore and sign up for their helpful newsletter and podcasts for ideas for playing with toddlers.
- Have a car picnic when you are out and about that you pack yourself to save money and pop the radio on to liven things up a bit!
- Play Around the Table games to get you all chatting, laughing and learning new things about each other . http://www.aroundthetablegames.com/about.php
- Make cards, paint mugs, plates or oil and vinegar jars with special paints that you can buy from your local craft shop or online from http://countryloveceramics.com/
- Get your older kids volunteering in your local charity shop, or clearing an old person’s garden or garage – teaching the value of serving others is a really valuable and fun lesson to pass on.
- Listening to Chris Evans great BBC Radio 2’s Show while I was stuck on the M25 was a guy who has started his own business called Super Jam, wonderful jam without all the sugar so why not grab a bowl, go out into the garden or local “Pick your own farm” and pick some fruit and have fun making your own jams with unusual combinations of fruit? Who knows you may be the next entrepreneur!
- This is a fun game I used to play with the kids when I was teacher. Throw all your shoes into the middle of the room into a Shoe Minefield and then blindfold one person to walk across the minefield while the other person has to guide them across using only their words to get them across! Great fun, but also a brilliant way to improve your child’s language skills.
- Get your digital camera out, or borrow a friend’s video camera for a day, and have fun making your own video or musical and load the results via your computer onto your own CD. You can even make and design the labels then send them to Grandma and the video will be a valuable treasure trove of memories to keep for the future.
There are hundreds of different things you could do – lighten up, get away from the telly and build some happy, funny and memorable memories!
What are you going to do differently just for this week?