By: Shannon Ralph
Tom Hodgkinson, British parenting writer and philosopher, is the author of a new book entitled The Idle Parent. The book encourages parents to adopt a hands-off approach so that their children become more self-reliant and capable. Both experts and parents agree that children need unstructured play in order to harness their creativity, imagination, and sense of self. It is through creative play that children learn.
Why then do modern families, my own included, feel the need to program our children into oblivion? Music lessons, soccer, play groups, swim team, ballet, art classes. By the end of the day, when do children have the free time to simply be children? And when do we, as parents, have the free time to simply enjoy watching our children be children? It seems to me that we have become our own worst enemies.
Hodgkinson’s book encourages parents to think of the benefits of doing nothing for their kids. Hodgkinson says he tried to keep a favorite quote by revered English novelist D.H. Lawrence in mind when raising his own children, which is “leave the kids alone.”
“This means leave the child alone and they will become more self-reliant and more capable; do lots of things for them, ferry them around and put them in little outfits, then they get used to being mummied,” he says, “and become fairly useless.”
TIPS TO FREE UP THE FAMILY:
1. Eat together as a family in the evening. It promotes easy conversation about everyone’s day.
2. Limit your child’s activities to one or two per week —or whatever gives you the right balance as a family.
3. Check in with yourself to assess if your routine is making you stressed, and make sure you have enough time to give your children unstructured play.
4. Get creative. Leave a box of random household items in your child’s room and change the objects regularly, or leave random objects (an old hockey stick, a tennis racket or a ball) in the garden, or kitchen utensils in the sandbox to encourage creative play.
5. Turn off the TV or computer and send the kids outside instead.
6. Prioritize sleep (especially if you have younger children). All families are happier if the parents are feeling good.
7. Go camping. There will be no distractions and plenty of time, space, and inspiration for some good child’s play.
8. Don’t apply the same rules to all kids. They’re often very different.
9. Let your children choose the activities they want to do.
10. Don’t be afraid to say no to your child when it comes to activities, or tell them they need to compromise.