One in four kids is estimated to have anxiety, which has risen steadily since COVID-19. Its symptoms can be baffling from no longer wanting to…
The trend towards early instruction and schooling is alarming and unfounded based on decades of research in developmental science. For example, in my community there are children showing up in kindergarten unable to play, that is, they look at their teacher and say they don't know how when told it is time to. Upon closer examination, their preschool years have been full of instruction, schooling, and structured activities. Instead of hearing parents sound alarm bells about the loss of play (the teacher did!), there was a sense of pride that a child could read or do math at an early age. Earlier is not better - not according to science. We can train and make kids work and perform at early ages but at what cost to their development? What happens when kids are made to work instead of play? Play affords a child a safe space for emotional expression, which is critical to well-being and maturity. Kids go through many types of emotions in play, acting out their feelings in the safety of pretend and make believe. When play isn’t 'for real,' then the consequences of emotional expression are minimized and offer them the freedom to release whatever is stirring them up. The loss of play has been correlated in research with increasing rates of attention, anxiety, depression, and aggression in kids. Play preserves children emotionally. The problem is we don’t value play the same way we do work and outcomes. Play is viewed as something kids do in their spare time and even this has become endangered. Children’s time is increasingly filled with screens, structured activities, and instruction. While screens have become easy targets in bemoaning the loss of play, research suggests that one of the biggest losses in kid’s time is due to the increased amount of time they spend shopping – a 168% rise over a 15 year period. Without play our children cannot grow. There are no shortcuts here, no substitutes, and no pill that can serve as a substitute for what play provides. Parents need to be a gatekeeper to the things that erode time and space for play. Children need to have a song in their heart as Raffi says, because this is the sound of play inside of a child that is seeking expression in the world around them.
What gets in the way of children’s play? One of the main challenges to play is the push towards academics, particularly in the early years.
You don’t have to agree with a child's thoughts or actions in order to help them find their tears either. We can come alongside their emotions and make room for their expression without condoning that immature behaviour is okay. We can acknowledge that something is frustrating for them and welcome the tears that need to drain the frustration that is built up. Saying no is part of an adult's role in a child’s life – and so is helping them find their tears when they can’t change the no’s that are there. If a child can no longer say they are sad, upset, or lose the capacity to cry, it will be the adults in their life that will need to consider how to lead a child back to a place where they can feel vulnerably. When caring feelings go missing, it can be for many reasons including inhibition by the brain in order to preserve emotional well-being. If caring about something hurts too much, the brain simply responds by inhibiting the experience of caring feelings. Sometimes hearts can harden but there is much adults can do to help them thaw.
We just need to show up and be present when our kids need to feel vulnerably and express what they are going through.
A child’s immaturity means they will sometimes behave poorly and express themselves inappropriately. Children need to lean on adults who can lead them through these impasses while preserving their relationship. It is a child’s dependency on an adult that facilitates their growth towards independence. In other words, you cannot stretch and grow towards your own human potential unless you are rooted relationally. There are many ways we can facilitate healthy relationships with our kids including:
What healthy relationships deliver to children is the ability to rest and trust in the care of an adult to lead them.
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