Is it just me, or is being busy a badge of honour nowadays, not just for adults but for children too? Parents ferry their children around from one after-school activity to the next. They go to piano lessons on a Monday, tennis lessons on a Wednesday and art classes every Friday afternoon. Already exhausted new mums are putting themselves through the hassle of baby swimming lessons. Parents seem to be afraid that their brood misses out on becoming the next Einstein or Andy Murray and want every free moment in their kids’ lives to be ‘educational’. Otherwise, learning apparently does not happen. And then there is, of course, peer pressure. How about some calm parenting?
Just playing freely without a grown-up in charge almost seems rare in the lives of modern children. Whatever happened to ‘free-range parenting’? Surely, most of us were brought up like that, and it did us no harm. No constant supervision, no constant entertainment, no constant demand to achieve and produce visible results. Freedom to just be a child.
Today I want to make a plea for the return of mindful neglect.
It is almost impossible to arrange a play-date on a weekday, because most kids have extra-curricular activities every day of the week, on top of homework. Why? Does it really set them up to become incredibly good at anything? Develop a life-long love for learning? The full diary in their young lives perhaps teaches them that life really just is a busy to-do-list.
Calm parenting: give the gift of time
When I was little I was a stubborn little girl who didn’t want to do any activity outside school whatsoever. Not that my parents didn’t try and encourage me. They did. I just did not want to do it. No tennis, no ballet, no music lessons. Go away. Not interested. And you know what, for my parents’ attitude I am grateful. They may not have pushed me to take private sports and music lessons, and I was unable to play the piano like fellow twelve-year-olds, but instead they gave me time. Time to play and to be bored. Time to figure out what I like. The opportunity to learn how to feel happy in just my own company.
Natural curiosity, taking action when ready
When I was about 10 years old I eventually asked my parents if I could join the local gymnastics club. I also wanted to do art classes on a Wednesday after school. I chose my own interests, when I myself was ready and motivated. Until that moment I sat quite happily at the kitchen table drawing. No adult intervention whatsoever. I played with Lego and my Barbies, built dens with my sister or played hide-and-seek with the kids next door. As a teenager at fifteen I discovered a forgotten guitar in the attic and taught myself some chords. I have been in bands ever since. I didn’t have to be ‘exposed’ to music lessons from an early age. No, that doesn’t make me special, and maybe I would have enjoyed music lessons at 5, who knows, it just shows a different approach to parenting. Letting things be. I was always going to find the things that interested me. And having time to figure that out, made me love it even more.
So what am I trying to say with all of this? I believe (but who am I but a mother with a humble opinion) that the rise in anxiety among even primary age children, comes from somewhere. Whether it is a crazy busy schedule, too much competition, high parental expectations or watching too much rubbish on Youtube (let’s not go into that, right), I strongly believe in free play.
Keep free play sacred
So much playtime has already been taken away from them in school, with kids as young as 3 years old learning how to write their name and do simple maths. It makes no difference academically if they would start at 6. As parents, we can at least try and make free play outside of school sacred. Have them join football or do ballet, sure, if they want to – but also build in that bit of calm at home. Downtime. No matter if they lie on the floor yelling that they’re bored. Don’t worry. Bored is good. It serves a purpose.
So much research says unsupervised playtime in childhood essential. It is more important for the development of social skills than any adult led workshop or extracurricular class in childhood. Still, as a society and as parents, we believe we’re at risk of falling behind academically. Learning to read and write and count is important and schools have their role to play. But children will struggle to become independent, happy and well-balanced adults at the end of childhood if they never get a moment to themselves. How will they know how to be at peace with themselves without the need for constant reassurance, distraction and entertainment from outside?
As a mother of two boys I try each day to be a good mum. Each day I wonder whether I did and said the right things and not screwed them up. It is not easy figuring out calm parenting and finding the key to motherhood. Still, instinctively I feel under scheduling is the way to go for my family. I want to encourage a calmness in my boys and an appreciation of the little things in life. I want them to be creative, resourceful and contented. Soulful living, right?
Calm parenting and creating resilient children
I hope to see more unstructured play in the park without helicopter parents trying to join in. Unstructured play in the garden without a well-meaning parent leading some kind of Pinterest activity. Building Lego without the instruction book. Making stuff out of rubbish without the help of a grown-up. Letting siblings quarrel without immediately trying to solve their argument. Letting them figure it out for themselves before intervening.
No pressure. Trust. Mindful neglect. Conscious neglect with the sole purpose of creating happy, mentally stable, sociable and resilient children. Kids with empathy. Kids who know the world doesn’t only revolve around them. Good humans. It seems a no-brainer and common sense, but we have forgotten how to put it into practice. Or we are afraid to put it into practice. Because all the other kids…
Children are naturally curious. They don’t need to be taught how to learn. They know. Children have a natural desire to discover the world for themselves. Give them that space. Even though you as a parent may think your child is not learning much at a particular moment and you feel you need to teach them stuff, their brain is working hard. If they have questions, they will ask them (oh yes they will!).
Calm parenting: lead by example and stop over scheduling
Children learn by example and copy our behaviour. What example is a stressed out, tired parent making life way too busy? Instead, show calm. Just be. Say nothing. Trust your child in his or her own learning. Silence and time are essential ingredients for stimulating creativity and imagination, and they are so precious. Childhood is short, please let’s not take away the magic.
An article that really resonated with me: