Sunday, February 01, 2009

Mama, Daddy, Let Me Play!

How true Madafo was when he ended our recent holiday children's story time saying gently: Children listen to your parents. And after a long pause he said assertively: And parents listen to your children. This was the lesson we, as parents, learned yet again this week.

After travelling for a week and returning home after 10 hours in the car, we started our week chock full of our regular activities. Our son it seemed was hitting us and pulling my hair constantly - needless to say, it was very unpleasant. We had thought that it was another developmental phase toddlers go through. Then our son got a cold and cough. We decided to cancel our activities for the rest of the week and stay home. While he slept one day, I read very appropriately The Power of Play:

Overprogramming is stressful and sometimes we may not be able to judge how much a child can handle... When young children are overprogrammed, they show it in physical symptoms, including stomaches, headaches and hair pulling... The symptoms disappeared when parents cut back on the activities and allowed him more time for free-self-initiated play.

- David Elkind, Ph.D. in The Power of Play, author also of The Hurried Child and Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk -

Although our son directed his frustration at us and not at himself, we realised that the hitting and hair pulling had indeed stopped after we decided to stay home to recuperate. More importantly, he was very happy to have the free time to direct his own time and just PLAY as he pleased. Needless to say, we have to learn how much our little man can handle.

More excerpts from the book The Power of Play:

Parents with fewer children are more emotionally invested in each child. They have more time for each child and consequently get more involved in each child's education, social life and extracurricular activities. They take each child's successes and failures to heart and feel responsible for them. Over investment in our children can lead to a kind of intrusiveness in our children's lives. If this continues, it can lead to resentment and rebellion...

... because parents are proud of what their children are learning, they often want to showcase this in front of relatives and friends... But this puts a lot of pressure... and takes away from the fun of the activity and from her sense of accomplishment... When play becomes an obligation it is no longer play.

Overinvestment is not necessarily a bad thing and can reflect a healthy love and commitment. It only gets us into trouble when it leads to hyperparenting, overprotection and overprogramming.

... Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons argued that as societies become more advanced, social roles become increasingly differentiated and specialized... physician... are now specialists for almost every part of the body... Teachers... The role of parents has become differentiated as well. When we were an agricultural society, parents provided for the health, vocational training and education of their children. The establishment of free public school education in the 1830s effectively removed that function from the parental role.. The provision of free school lunches and busing removed additional parental functions. Schools now also teach sex, drug and character education. Day care facilities, sports, art and music coaches and teachers have absorbed still other parental functions. Recognizing their limited input into many of their children's activities is a form of stress of parents.

When children played on their own, there were many opportunities for innovation and invention... When we played on our own, we also learned to related to one another and resolve our own conflicts, even if this sometimes involved fights. Protecting children's innocence did not affect our outdoor play. In contrast, our contemporary fears about children's physical well-being does affect their play. Children are not allowed to play on their own to the extent that they once were. And much of the play they do engage in is organised and run by adults. This robs children of the opportunity to innovate and learn from their risk-taking behaviour.

Play is the young child's dominant mode of learning. When we take away time from that playful learning, we deprive the child of self created learning experiences.

Children are not naturally motivated to learn from formal instruction... Formal instruction is work. For it to be effective, play and love need to be made part of the process.

... all happy families resemble one another in that they have found ways to integrate play, love and work into their child-rearing practices. They can accomplish this by using humor to socialize and to discipline, by sharing their passions, and by establishing patterns of family play, games and experience sharing. Parents who use lighthearted techniques make child rearing easier and more fun, as well as more effective.

When we discipline lightheartendly, we accomplish three important goals. First, we manage our own negative feelings in a positive and constructive way. Second, we provide our children an effective and constructive way of handling their own emotions. Third, we provide a healthy model of parenting for our children to use when they themselves have children. We have to remember that while our children's unacceptable behaviour is short lived, how we handle that behaviour has long lasting consequences.

When we make a sacrifice, when we give up something that is important to us in order to be with our children, we give them something that is invaluable - the assurance that they are important in our lives and that we care about them deeply. If children are secure in this feeling, we have given them the best preparation we can to cope with anything life throws at them later.

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