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Parenting With Less Stress
Let Children be Children
Dr. William Crain, author of “Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented society,” sees a connection between ADHD and the time spent with electronic media instead of outside in nature, where a child can observe a bug, turn the world upside down, watch, explore, experiment and learn. Dr. Crain says “Children are physical imaginative beings. To restrict play is to restrict a natural development.”
Over Scheduled Children
Many children are busy with structured activities and, therefore, under more pressure today. One reason is that parents are working more and more hours and family systems are too scattered to fill the needs of caring for children. Extracurricular activities promise not only supervision but also enrichment. Another reason for over scheduling is group pressure. Where do children meet playmates or parents meet friends if the whole neighborhood is busy? And lastly, structure seemingly protects children. We feel we cannot leave it to them to “waste” their time on “useless” or “risky” activities.
Many children actually benefit from structured activities. We just need to keep in mind that too much of a good thing can lead to over scheduling and stressing the young.
A 2006 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics warned that hurried, over scheduled children run the risk of stress-related illnesses.
When adults hijack childhood, children miss out on the small adventures, the secret journeys, the setbacks and mishaps, the glorious anarchy, the moments of solitude and even boredom (which force them to think) according to Carl Honoré, author of Under Pressure.
Overscheduled children also lack time for reflection. Urgent matters like, “Where are my ballet shoes? I am going to be late!” come before important matters, such as, “I am going to see Kelly; she is my very best friend. I need to talk to her today.” Reared on someone else’s definition of fun or success, children can end up with narrow horizons and learn to tick the box instead of thinking outside of it. Do we need to raise worker bees yearning for a gold star and a pat on the back or creative thinkers who push boundaries, delve into a problem for fun, and relish the challenge of learning?
Play is Child’s Work
Play may be Mother Nature’s way of making us clever. Research suggests that animals at play are most likely directing their own brain assembly. Play deficit in turn leads to impairment in the part of the brain that controls sensory perception, spatial reasoning, motor commands and language. Through free play, children begin to discover their world—their fears, theories, frustration, interests and passions, strengths and weaknesses and how to handle relationships and other people’s feelings.
David Elkind comments in The Power of Play that “over the past two decades children have lost twelve hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities. Parental angst leads to the overprotection, over scheduling and over programming of today's children, which can manifest itself in physical symptoms. Two-thirds of the children in this country suffer from at from least one health problem. This may be the first generation of American children who are less healthy than their parents.” Consequently, play is an integral part of a child’s day that is necessary for becoming a healthy and productive adult.
Children Have Their Own Rhythm
Finnish children are the third happiest among developed countries. Finnish children also come first or second in PISA scores (Program for International Student Assessment). In their early childhood, play is paramount, and in school they enjoy short days, long vacations and no standardized tests. “You cannot force a child to grow up faster just to fit your system or timetable or your ego; you have to find out how children learn best.
Many countries have forgotten this,” says Domisch Rainer, a German education expert. Children learn best when given time and freedom to explore topics in ways that stretch the imagination. Projects that embraces multiple subjects can deliver richer learning, but teachers need to be well trained and then trusted to do their job without having to explain and justify every move.
Tell a Story
Tell imaginative tales to inspire children. Try to stimulate their imagination with colorful details and by using different voices or facial expressions for different characters. “Feel” the story; visualize the events and characters you describe. This kind of storytelling will inspire your child to come up with his own tales. Encourage your child to think up different endings for stories that you have started.
Boost the Power of Imagination
Having a unique brain and being able to think outside the box by seeing different solutions to problems is a huge factor in academic success. And that advantage is just for starters. Nothing will help your child more in life than being able to think independently and find creative ways to overcome all sorts of obstacles. Make sure your child knows you are there to help – if absolutely necessary. However she should be encouraged to independently choose, manage, fail, try again and hopefully succeed in her own projects. Maybe she will find another solution that you wouldn’t even have thought of…
Nurture Creative Minds
Many modern toys superimpose someone else’s story on children, so children don’t develop their imaginations. “The danger is that children might become addicted to imaginative input from others. What children really need is more time without input, more time to process their own experiences,” says Krister Svensson, founder and director of the International Toy Research Center.
It is possible for a child to figure out how a jack-in-the-box or a wind up toy works, however it is impossible to understand an electronic toy. It is at least possible that our children’s inability to figure out how their electronic playthings work could dampen their scientific curiosity.