Childhood.... a time filled with laughter, fun, play, and the outdoors. Ask most adults of their fondest memories of their childhood and these are the things they longingly recall, yet in our own children's lives these elements are all to distant of a concept.
Today's world is one that is filled with things like academic testing, homework, after school programs and activities, and organized sports. These concepts, while acceptable to many, are foreign to our children's true developmental calling.
Children, by design are quite different from adults; not just in size, but in the way they contemplate, investigate, and process the world around them. While organizing a child's world with structure and routine is beneficial to many ends, doing that to their "free time" can be detrimental. Children use free play to learn. Play is the way they enhance their physical, emotional, and mental functioning. Play is where stressors are diminished. Play is where relationships are formed. Play is where social norms are decided and practiced. It is where imagination and creativity thrive.
So many benefits are derived through regular, child created, unstructured play and yet it has all but disappeared. In schools, children often do not get out for recess, and if they do, it is a mere 20-30 minutes. Children need a minimum of 1 hour to let the natural process of play begin to work its wonders. So what can we, as parent do about this? How can we promote an environment that enables our children to play?
As with anything that is important to you and your family, it begins with a decision and a commitment. Decide that play matters and find the time and space to offer it to your children. Go to the playground more, run around the field playing tag, kick the can, or any other game that your child suggests. Let your children choose what to play and what the "rules" are if any. Invite neighborhood friends over, or better yet, have a standing day where you get the children together to play. Children do not need to be told how to play, they just need to have the time and space provided for them and they will flourish.
Well, it's official.... Summer is over. As if that wasn't already abundantly clear for our children. With the start of the school year, everything seems to change for families. From the early wake ups, full days of school, afternoon slump, homework routine, and earlier bedtimes; life has been looking a lot different these past weeks.
Transitions are hard on everyone. Whenever we experience an ending or a new beginning it offers challenges to our routine, our mindset, and our physical selves. We as adults usually recongnize this and find ways to accommodate for it, however to our children such transitions can be monumentally devastating and leave them at a complete loss.
While the sometimes "minor" adjustments that children must make during this time of year may not seem to us adults as something that would derail us, to a child it can be paralyzing. Once we parents are able to realize just how many changes our children are experiencing and the ultimate stress that it causes, we are on the road towards improving their security, comfort, and happiness.
It is especially important during these times of transition to continue to maintain a consistent routine and encourage healthy sleep habits, good nutrition, and make it a priority to spend good quality time together in order to keep things working as smoothly as possible.
Carve out some time for some free play, whether that is throwing a ball around, pretending to be superheroes, or building legos. Sit down in a comfortable spot and read a book together. And make sure that you have dinner with one another, electronic free. Parents who have dinner with their children consistency have better relationships with their children and show that their family time is important.
Try not to "sweat the small stuff" and focus on making your child feel good about themselves through positive praise. Highlight the goodness that you see in them and the community around you. Try offering gratitude through a "Gratitude Jar" or simply by stating the things you are thankful for.
Most importantly try to relax and take care of yourself. Even if for only 10 minutes a day. If we are able to carve out just a little bit of time for ourselves, we will have more energy, more patience, and less stress, Only then can we be the best parents that we strive to be.