Let’s face it, retro is cool. Even though fluorescent is a tad scary, retro parenting is decidedly not. If we’re going to talk healthy brain development in kids, then parenting the way our parents did has some very positive outcomes.
I know, I know, we don’t want to become our parents! But hear me out.
We live in a time when kids are bubble wrapped so tightly they can’t figure out how to bend over to tie their own shoes by age eight, and for the first time since WWII children are less likely to live as long as their parents due to obesity-related health risks. The more we look around at today’s children the more reasons there are to choose some parenting tools from our parents.
I’m not saying we need to don housecoats and smoke a few menthols while watching soaps and not notice that the kids have just lit the shed on fire. What I am saying is that we need to let our kids engage in more free play.
Basically, “free play” is a fancy way of referring to that unstructured, unscripted, unscheduled play we used to engage in as kids. The cool part is that free play is an evolutionary tool that has crossed the millennia with the human brain and is a natural and healthy way for a child’s brain to map out neural paths and build plasticity. (Have you noticed how many baby animals engage in play?)
Five ways parenting like your parents can help raise happy, healthy kids:
1). Shove Your Kids Outdoors
Seriously, toss those hooligans outdoors. You don’t have to force them to play out there until suppertime rolls around, but getting them to play outdoors for an hour a day reaps all sorts of health benefits.
Currently, the majority of North American kids don’t play outdoors enough to reap the health benefits which include a decreased risk of: obesity; depression; anxiety; stress; and attention issues. And believe it or not, kids who play outdoors have a higher sense of self-worth.
2). Encourage Independence
Encourage your kids to go to the park on their own or with friends, walk to the mail, or to the local store. Encourage them to count out their coins at the store even if it takes way longer. By allowing them independence it creates a feeling of accomplishment which, in turn, increases their self-confidence.
By the way, did you know child abductions are down from when we were kids? That’s right, despite what the news tells us, the world is actually a safer place.
3). Unstructure Their Play Time
Do your kids have days off in the week where they don’t have anything scheduled like games, or lessons, or playdates and they can build their own play any which way that they desire?
To illustrate the importance of unstructured play, guess who makes a better engineer—kids who grow up on a farm or kids who go to extra math lessons after school? It’s the farm kids. The reason is that, over the years, they have trained their brains to look for creative solutions to the problems they encounter on the farm. They have learned that playing with a problem often results in an innovative solution. So while we may think “random” play doesn’t provide results, it does.
4). Unplug Your Kids
There are some scary stats out there on the negative effects of TV viewing and video game playing on child development. Studies have found everything from how television and video games can wire a child’s brain to expect stimulation and change every 30-120 seconds, to how increased TV viewing during the toddler years can lead to increased bullying-type behaviours during the middle school years.
We may fool ourselves into thinking our kids need downtime in front of the TV, and that video games are real play, but the fact is that free play is true downtime for kids. Beading a necklace, stacking blocks, drawing a picture, or following an ant on its quest for food is downtime. That is when children get a chance to listen to their hearts and minds and find out who they are and what they need as well as change up their play to suit their needs, imagination, and desires.
5). Let Them Lead Playtime
One of the reasons kids play is to work through their own issues and problems as well as to gain a better understanding of their world. While it would be lovely to have mini adults running around the house, the truth is, they are far from being an adult. Kids are like little balls of clay taking on imprints everywhere they roll. Every day shapes a child.
The true way to let kids grow in a happy, healthy way is to let them script and lead their own play without adult interference. Yes, it is healthy for your daughter to let those Barbies talk nasty to each other. And yes, it is healthy for your son to roughhouse with his younger brother. Kids naturally know what they need, how to work through their issues via play, and will naturally lead their play to get there.
When it comes to a happy, healthy childhood, and healthy brain development, it is all about play and allowing kids to choose their own adventure. These are five ways I try to parent like my parents did… how about you? If you were going to do one thing like your parents when it came to parenting, what would you do?
Image Credit : ParentDish