Kids will be kids: so why not let them?

It’s been quoted that ‘childhood is a short season’.

Yet despite the short season, many children today are being pushed and rushed through their childhood like there’s no tomorrow. The pressure to excel at learning, sport, and other extracurricular activities means that some children simply never get off the merry go round long enough to be kids.

“Successful life-long learning”, says Education Consultant Kathy Walker, “is about showing initiative, making decisions and choices, and thinking laterally and creatively. Parents need to realise they are not failing their children if their young ones are not enrolled in numerous activities each week.”

Childhood is a time of wonder, discovery, play, imagination and creativity. Children need ‘space’ to grow – the kind of space that allows for quiet time, daydreaming time, mucking around at home time, or time to finish a jigsaw puzzle. Giving a child space to grow, gives them the opportunity to get to know themselves and others.

Most parents want their children to be happy, healthy and successful. “But”, says Kathy, “if we view success as simply performing well academically, we forget what other key factors are involved in success, for both adults and children–the ability to communicate effectively; articulate and express feelings appropriately without causing hurt to others; accept diversity and difference; be a good problem solver; take risks; feel good about yourself, and to be able to form meaningful relationships with others.”

Kids need time to absorb their world. Developmentally, capabilities happen over time, learning happens over time, and acquiring skills happens over time.

For parents, childhood is about nurturing, encouraging, supporting and modeling. For children, childhood is their right and one that needs to be protected and encouraged.

KidsLife asked four leading Australians working with parents and families and/or writing on aspects of parenting, to nominate one facet of childhood they feel is crucial to kids being kids.

Here’s what they had to say:

Ian Wallace (Consultant Psychologist and author of You and Your ADD Child)

Kids need to be kids in creative free play. Too often kids are in structured, organised or competitive environments. However, the need to play freely and creatively, to really develop imagination, creative problem solving, fluid reasoning and adaptive thinking skills, is critical.

Kids need to play outside, without parents’ influence, even if they make mistakes and don’t get it all right. It is more about experimentation and free play, than being taught.

Maggie Hamilton (writer, publisher, social researcher and author of What’s Happening to our Girls? and What’s Happening to our Boys?)

Childhood is an endangered species. Today’s tweens are particularly vulnerable as they have been actively marketed to from birth, so they’re already anxious about looks and possessions before they reach the tween years. It’s important that we help put on the brakes, so they can slow down and experience life where they’re at, and not feel the pressure to behave like mini teenagers.

This means time for spontaneous play, for creativity, time in nature, time around the kitchen table laughing and talking, and enjoying meals together, one-on-one time with each parent, friendships across the generations. All these elements help build an inner self, the foundations of much more secure teenagers and confident, energised adults.

Anthony Gunn (Psychologist and author of Raising Confident, Happy Children)

Being allowed to make mistakes is crucial for kids’ brain development and building confidence. Children learn most through making mistakes, but we as adults inadvertently encourage them not to make them.

Keeping safety in mind, and when time permits, let kids choose the way to do things even if you know they won’t like it, such as, them wanting to try a vegemite and strawberry jam sandwich, or have orange juice on their breakfast cereal instead of milk, or mix their paints into a horrible colour.

Confident kids make mistakes because they know both that it’s okay to make them, and that they provide valuable learning. The message you want to be sending to your child is not ‘be perfect’ but ‘we love it when you try, and when you learn by making mistakes.’ What’s something new that you and your child can make mistakes trying?

Dr Janet Hall (Clinical Psychologist and author of Super-parent Survival Guide, Free Families, Fear Free Children and Stop Bedwetting)

The one facet of childhood, which is crucial to kids being kids, is teaching them to be proud of their efforts rather than results, encourage them to ‘have a go’ and learn from mistakes. Overcoming negative self-concept in children is one of the most challenging problems facing parents and educators today. It is especially difficult in Australia in the face of our nemesis–the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome.

Kids rapidly learn that it’s not okay to be your own champion. If they say “I’m proud of the work I did”, they’ll be mocked and derided. “Who do you think you are?” is a common reaction. They also learn that if someone praises you, you need to get your minimisation mechanism ready immediately. Make an excuse and apologise–”It’s only luck. I didn’t really deserve it. Anybody could have done it”. 

With the fear of being criticised for being a tall poppy, children rapidly become conditioned to ‘be their own scapegoats’. The unconscious belief is that ‘If you don’t put yourself down first, someone else will do it for you’.

It is astounding how negatively focused our culture has become. The focus is on what’s wrong with something or somebody rather than on what is right with them. The result is incredible pain and waste. A study done with university students asked them to list their strengths and weaknesses. They listed six weaknesses to every strength! Their positive self-regard was almost nonexistent.

Parents and educators must foster kids to delight in their efforts and not outcomes if they are to be successful in building children’s self-esteem. We need to coach them past their mistakes, so they see them as valuable feedback (learning experiences). 

Our children are indeed our future and we are their best models, so we need to model positive self-esteem for them. We need to be the people we want them to be. We need to teach them to safely say out loud “I am loveable and capable”. Can you do that?

More:

Raising Confident, Happy Children by Anthony Gunn, published by Hardie Grant Books

What’s Happening to our Boys? and What’s Happening to our Girls? by Maggie Hamilton, published by Penguin Australia.

Stop Bedwetting (Five Mile Press) by Dr Janet Hall, and Fear Free Children

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