*This was an article I wrote for Milestones magazine. I wrote it several months ago and reading it now has made me realise we have actually come such a long way regarding the issue at hand. At the end of the article I will share some tips that have worked in our favour and encouraged free and imaginative play between our kids. ♥
Hi, I’m Leigh, and I’m addicted to entertaining my kids. I think I’ve always been aware of it, but have chosen to ignore the nagging sense of concern in the back of my mind. But now that my kids are growing up, I’m finding it harder to simply ignore.
This need to constantly entertain my children has reached an all-time high. It may well be a by-product of the times we are living in, but I have a rather strong suspicion that I am partly to blame.
It’s a difficult one to accurately express because we are all naturally inclined to want to spoil our children and to offer them new experiences, which is okay. To be a good mom, being present and giving my children my undivided attention where I can is vital.
Spoiling kids with toys and outings is one of the many facets of motherhood that offers moms a sense joy and pleasure in the midst of all the serious demands of raising children – the truly consequential parts that ensure we are raising socially acceptable little human beings.
But what am I teaching my children by always making sure they have something to do? More concerning is when those experiences come to an end and I resort to TV to do the entertaining, because heaven forbid my children just play on their own for longer than 10 minutes.
On a visit to India (before my kids were born), I vividly remember watching many children sitting and playing in the heaps of construction sand along the roads. They didn’t have toys or gadgets, yet they would play together in the blazing sun, drawing in dirt, playing with stones, and giggling, while their fathers worked their nine-hour days.
In spite of their poverty, these children were able to entertain themselves. In the
simplicity of their world they were able to experience joy and connectedness as they played together. Thinking back on this has made me realise that my children rely on too much. They have lost the ability to entertain themselves; to simply PLAY.
Toys certainly have their place, but it seems as though they have taken over our children’s ability to pretend and to develop their imaginations. We are constantly on the look-out for the newest and latest editions as their demands grow to want it bigger, better, faster. When will it ever be enough?
Like most things with parenting, it’s so hard to know where to draw the line. How much ice cream will it take to compromise their immunity? How much screen time before they fry every cell in their innocent little brains? How many outings and treats before they adopt an unhealthy sense of entitlement and forget how to entertain themselves simply?
I don’t think there is a one-size- ts-all solution to the problem, but I do know that something needs to change. I want my children to know how it feels to rely on nature and their surroundings, to occasionally explore their world without the help of gadgets and toys.
I want them to know what it feels like to make mud pies in the garden and feel the earth in their hands. I want them to know a childhood full of wonder and adventure, where their imaginations come alive to the world around them; a world where they are happy to do what kids were born to do: play.
While reflecting on this, I have realised two very significant changes I have made since writing this article. Things that have made a tremendous difference overall.
- I don’t interfère with my kids all the time when they experience conflict among themselves. I wrote this post recently about being a helicopter mom and often suffocating my kids by playing referee. By allowing my kids the space to work things out on their own, it has taught them that they can get over frustrations and conflict and carry on paying happily. So often after one to many little fights I would separate them or resort to TV. This is the worst thing to do. Not only does it stifle their creativity by not giving them a chance to problem solve and learn, it teaches them them that the mindless activity of watching TV will solve that conflict – even if its only used a s a distraction. Now days, I let my children work things out (sometimes that involves getting up in their faces, but sometimes they actually figure it out on their own.) Either way they get to the bottom of the problem and learn to play better together – this enables them to enter those worlds of imaginative play that much easier, knowing they are in it together.
- We spend every waking hour where the sun is out outside. This past weekend we literally sat outside from 12pm- 7pm. They rode bikes, jumped on the trampoline, built forts, played on the jungle gym and even, could you believe it, played in the mud!! We ate oranges on the grass and did mini concerts. They went inside to shower with dirt in every crack imaginable but they were happy – the kind of happy that doesn’t rely on screens and entertainment. the kind that has you glowing from the inside out! So now, when my kids start complaining they are bored or have nothing to do, I simply open the front door and tell them to scram.
And they always, ALWAYS come back with smiles not their faces. Now that the warmer days are are making a comeback, there’s really no excuse. Let’s get the kids outside – nature is after all their perfect playground.