5 Reasons To Parent Like Our Parents

"5 Reasons To Parent Like Our Parents"

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

Jean Oram
She is a big kid at heart, mom and a writer with a manuscript of 1,001 free play ideas in need of some publisher lovin'. She blogs and shares some free play activities and ideas on her site It's All Kid's Play. She also likes to pin playful ideas, crafts, and cool experiments on Pinterest and tweet about play, jokes and other not-so-grown-up things.
Jean Oram

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  1. Meredith Allison @RockTique says:

    I’ve gotta say: WOW did this come at a perfect time! I have raised my 4 year old son from the very start following the examples you’ve written above, however over the last few months I had started doubting a few of these and was on my way to reversing them to the exact opposite. Ie: My son hardly ever plays indoors and seeing him in front of a TV is a rarity.. And when he is playing indoors, he’s violently speeding his matchbox cars into other to crash. I recently started discouraging this play, trying to get him to watch TV thinking he’d learn more (luckily I’ve been unsuccessful and after reading this post I (and he) am free to let him play like the young boy he is) Thank you so much for this. I always took pride in how I’ve raised my son but all parents (I should hope) have doubts every now and then. This was a blessing for me to read!

    • Jean Oram says:

       That is wonderful! I am glad this post came at the right time for you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and story, Meredith. Sometimes, that doubt gets to us for sure. For me, it used to be when my friends would talk about all the wonderful activities their kids were in. I over-scheduled my daughter once. All it did was make everyone more anxious and tired. It broke my heart when she’d want to just play in the park and we had somewhere to go. Lesson learned. (The hard way.)

  2. Meredith Allison @RockTique says:

    I forgot to add my “if I were to do one thing more like my parents”… That would have to be a better SCHEDULE! When I was a kid there was breakfast/lunch/dinner times every day. There was, shocking I know, a set bedtime that was stuck to. I know you wrote a lot about ‘unscheduled’ time but there comes a point where, in my opinion, certain things need to be consistent in a child’s life. It’s so difficult to get my kid on any type of a schedule when so many other parents/family members have no regard for this. Setting birthday parties for mid week at 8pm is incredulous but it’s happening all the time around here. I feel saying no is depriving my child so I’m stuck with what to do here. As well as others asking us to join them for dinner when I know very well that means I won’t have my son in bed until 10pm which in turn leads him to sleep till 9am. I’m (and he) in for a real shock when kindergarten starts next fall and I need to get him up & ready for school by 8am. This is something I’d love to work on this Summer but again, a catch 22 as it *is* Summertime and a time when most kids get to enjoy extra time outdoors due to the extra hours of sunlight the Summer brings. So there, wow. I’ve said a mouthful but that felt great to let out! Thank you again for this post, for ‘stopping’ me in the nick of time and for making me realize my problem in this comment is not going to solve itself (hence I will actively seek advice throughout the internet :)

    • Jean Oram says:

       Mededith, very good point. While I am suggesting unscheduled playtime for kids, a schedule can be important for children when it comes to things like bedtime and mealtime because they know what to expect. Kids like a bit of structure to their lives as well as the freedom to be who they are. For me, it’s about finding that balance as well as the flexibility to work with what is happening in our world. For example, making an exception for a late night party when it is an important event to attend. (Even when it throws everything out of whack.) It can be tricky to figure out what is right for your family (especially as things are always changing), but I have faith that you will figure it out.

      Thanks for your comments,

    • Our kids (now aged 14 &12) have always had a fairly rigid bedtime. It now sits at in bed latest 9pm. (We live in South Africa so school starts at 7:30am which means a 6am start).  Friday (unless there is sport the next day), Saturday and holidays we pretty much let them stay up till they start yawning which is usually by 10pm and they often take themselves off to bed without any nagging. The last three or four days of the holidays we hit the routine again – bed early, up early to get everyone back in the swing of things – including the parents! Late nights during the week or a no-no except occasionally on Thursdays for special occasions. Let your friends and family know that this is how things are going to be for the next decade or so because as you will soon come to realise that an exhausted pre-teen/teenager is no good for anyone! They are so busy during the day with school, sport and studying they are more than ready for bed at a reasonable hour. Good luck!

      • Jean Oram says:

         Thanks for commenting, Lynn. Good point on letting family and friends know the lay of the land for your family. We’ve done that with some friends who are night owls and while it makes things tricky for them (or us) sometimes, we’ve managed to create a nice balance that usually works for both families. Plus, them seeing our kids all strung out and grumpy from not enough sleep helps them see our point of view when it comes to what works for our family.

  3. Jemi Fraser says:

    Love it! Totally agree. As a teacher, I can always tell the kids who don’t get enough time to free play. They say “I’m bored!” so much more often than other kids, they can’t sustain focus during a lesson, they are afraid of tasks where they have to be creative/think outside the box – and they don’t get along as well with other kids. Free play makes kids stronger, happier and healthier. Great post!

    • Jean Oram says:

       Thanks, Jemi. And thanks for stopping by. It’s interesting that you can see those differences in your students. I definitely see the “I’m bored” coming out in some of the kids I know. Heck, even my kids who get quite a bit of free play time say it from time to time. (Today my daughter’s eyes and hands weren’t bored when she was making a bracelet, just her brain. Kids–got to love ’em!) I think it’s good for them to get bored here and there… not sure about eyes getting bored though! ;)


  4. Rix Banga says:

    Great post  – agree with much of your points. Have worked with childcare companies whose primary message is to education children by ‘learning through play’.

    • Jean Oram says:

       Thanks for commenting Rix. Studies have shown that children who go to play focused childcare (playschool or daycares) do better in school (in the long run) and are more relaxed about tests, etc. The power of play is pretty cool!


  5. E. M. LaBonte says:

    Since I live in the middle of the city and work nights, it’s hard for me to get out with the kids to the local park most days. (I work weekends too) But I do set it up so that the kids don’t spend all day with the TV. Coloring, painting, playing with dolls and other crazy toys are the norm most days.  They spend a good part of the morning playing together.  I love the idea of free play, I’d have it no other way with my kids.  Now to have a street they could play on without the constant traffic… I miss dead end streets. *shrug*

    • Jean Oram says:

       Hi E.M. Thanks for stopping by. It’s tough when work schedules and busy streets interfere with getting the most out of free play. It sounds like you are actively seeking opportunities and value that time for the kids to just chill and play. That’s huge. :) The kids are lucky to have you as a mom.

  6. Manov rao says:

    It is really nice and touchable.

  7. Matt says:

    Just saw this post. My girls are 3 and probably have far more unstructured play time than structured. It remains to be seen whether they’ll engineer a billion-dollar revolutionary product or paint counter-culture artwork that pleases them, but I’m glad to know that I’m not depriving them of the creativity they’ll need to do so.

  8. SimpleGirl says:

    This is a terrific start to an important conversation. I think a big part of the problem today is that “mommy’s” are so hard on themselves and each other! We have lost our perspective and our sense of humor. Somehow the bar got set ridiculously high. If Junior isnt participating in structured “developmental” play, while wearing organic cotton and eating a gluten-free, locally sourced snack, then mommy is failing. Bah! Shove them outdoors ( as you so rightly put it) in untied sneakers and let them eat dirt and shoot pretend guns made from sticks. As my mom would say …”if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.”

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