There’s this wonderful dream that we hold onto about childhood: there’s laughter, bikes, tree forts, adventures, scraped knees, and neighbourhood friends. This may not be the childhood we all had, but we can certainly relate to the nostalgia of “just being a kid.”
“Just being a kid” is an endangered dream – the societal demand to fill every minute of every day with a scheduled activity is the greatest poison facing our children. Children no longer have the time to build forts, to be bored, to get lost in a book, or have time to figure out who they are and who they want to be in the world. Play, which is an integral part of a child’s development, is becoming particularly threatened. In all its forms, play helps a child to discover who they are, to work through fears, to develop mastery, and to nurture social and emotional resilience. There is no time. There is no space. Soon, there will be no childhood.
Structured, scheduled activities (along with screentime) are being introduced at younger and younger ages to our children. In 1970 a typical child begin watching television at four years of age and consumed 3 to 4 hours a day of screens, while the typical child today begins watching at four months of age and is engaged with media for up to eight hours per day (Christakis, 2011).
. All around the globe, we have preschoolers involved in numerous activities priming them for competitive sports, and in an instant, the joy of childhood is stamped out. Although parents are well-intentioned, in the race to arm our children with skills, we unwittingly rob them of the natural work of childhood.
With the earlier and earlier enrolment of children into competitive sports, we are seeing high dropout rates as our children reach their teens. According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, 75% of children quit organized spots around the age of 13 years old due to burnout and lack of interest. This is a devastating number as this is the time that a child is most likely to benefit from sports, which enables them to develop critical thinking skills and grit, learn to work on a team, and hone their physical abilities.
But the reality is that our children are tired, so tired. And we’re tired right along with them! They don’t know who they are or what they want. And many of our children go on to be adults who keep running on the hamster wheel, whose children in turn run on the hamster wheel, that is until someone says STOP.
We need to slow down. We need to take into account the developmental stage of a child and give them ample space to explore and grow without limitations or pressure. The freedom to explore their world without the undue pressure to perform or win some accolade or move to the next level will allow our children the space to discover what they are truly passionate about. The space to make mistakes, to overcome obstacles, and to learn.
Our children need relationships and connection, time and presence, and unstructured time.
And in time, they will want to discover more of their world, they will need us to follow their lead and to expose them to a wide range of activities. A range of experiences through which a child can discover new experiences, is more important than a one-track investment.
Expose your child to art, sports, nature, cultural experiences, and music. See what lights a fire in them. Often, we unknowingly push our children into certain activities because they either interest us, not necessarily our children. Perhaps we feel that we missed out on something when we were younger, so we feel the need to live vicariously through our children. Be mindful of either of these dynamics before enrolling your child in an activity. To help battle this, it can be beneficial to actively involve your child in exploring what interests them. Have them participate in choosing what structured activities they want to enroll in. This also helps empower our children into being more autonomous decision makers rather than passive participants in their lives.
Perhaps, most importantly, you need to deeply honour your role: your child is the leader, and you are the support team. It is important to prioritize relationships over activities. If you or your child are struggling, it may be time to explore if your life has become too pressured and what could be eliminated from the busyness of life.
It is perfectly okay to push back against societal norms, to say “In our family, we prioritize relationships, over activities. In our family, we value presence, over stress. In our family, we say no.”
To find out more about brining calm to your home, watch Kim Payne’s wonderful course on Simplicity Parenting: Simplicity Parenting: https://instituteofchildpsychology.com/product/simplicity-parenting/