Not down with the kids?
Don’t feel guilty… read this, the first in a new occasional series of thoughts on parenting from one who’s new to the front line.
Parenting in the 21st century is a full time job.
A 21st century full time job I mean – where your inbox is always pinging with play dates, your phone never off as you taxi from school to sport to music and your whirring mind asks you at 3am “Did I play with the kids enough today?”
The answer is probably yes. But just in case my say so isn’t good enough, a new book by Julia Deering explains why parents should back off a bit.
The Playful Parent isn’t one who’s on their hands and knees all day long, one step behind their child. Thank god, we all need to get things done. You don’t even have to be – 21st century term alert – “engaged” with your child all the time. Take that sigh of relief now. The playful parent, Deering says, “facilitates” play.
Yes, add facilitator to your expanding list of credentials. You may not have known it, but your hoarded egg cartons, neatly nested lego and garden sacrificed for sand pit is actually building your child’s personal play portfolio.
A crucial point to take away is that play doesn’t have to be useful. New parents often feel that every spare second of their “free” time (when not glued to the baby monitor) should be usefully occupied. Children, on the other hand, need some time that is completely unstructured and their own to do as they will.
When you do have things that need to be done – the old dishes, sweeping, cooking – use work as play and convince your child these are fun activities – you can see the obvious advantage in that! Allow them time to imitate you or join in, going at their own pace. Children will find the playful aspect of any task you set them. By breathing deep and letting them play at chores you’re setting a helpful pattern for you both.
Deering is clear that adults have a responsibility for creating the conditions for play, but that then they should step back. She also emphasises that times such as school holidays don’t have to be endlessly catered for with outings and amusements. She points out that while there is a general decline in children simply playing outside with their friends, this is one of the best ways for them to build confidence, learn and play. And it’s free!
Play is the first language of babies. Your children may now be multi lingual –but don’t let them forget the importance of that first communication.