Let Kids be Kids

There’s a lot at stake by bringing a human life into this world. Most parents will ask themselves, ‘Do I know what I’m doing? Am I ready for this? What if I screw this up?‘ There is a lot of anxiety about the right activities, schools, friends, where to live, how much to cushion their mistakes, or how much to not cushion their mistakes. But before you stress too much over how much you may or may not screw up their lives, how about taking a few steps back and just let them figure most of it out for themselves. Be there to nudge and guide them of course, but after all, if they came from you they have to be pretty close to as smart as you were back then.

Adults continuously underestimate children, especially their own. Babies will start playing their parents as soon as they are brought home from the hospital. It’s hilarious that parents can’t see them as having intelligence. They are your offspring after all unless you’re particularly stupid. Society in general is predisposed to treat anyone under the age of majority in an infantile manner. Somehow on the day you turn 18, you magically become an adult. I just relate this silliness to my experience growing up on a farm where I was expected to do the work of an adult at the age of 12 with the commensurate respect. I was also allowed to hunt by myself at that age with a .22 rifle. Imagine the consternation of the typical soccer mom if little Johnny was walking around with a rifle in this day and age!

There are some studies floating around which say the average one year old hears the word ‘no’ 400 times a day. It’s no wonder that’s their favourite word! ‘No, no, no, little Johnny or Susie, mustn’t touch, eat, move, say, or any other action!’ is the typical (usually) motherly admonishment kids hear. All they are doing by the age of two is mimicking what they’ve heard their entire lives. Maybe that’s why my kids never had ‘terrible’ twos since I wasn’t a constant ‘No’ monster.

Another thing parents make the mistake of is teaching their children to always play by the rules. I went through this with my six year old grand-daughter over Christmas. We played simple games like Go Fish, War, Connect Four and I was flexible with her grasp of the ‘rules’. In the big scheme of things, does it really matter if we follow the letter of the law when we’re playing ‘Hungry, Hungry Hippo’ and we’re having a good time? But when her parents joined in, the white sheet of rules comes out and she becomes agitated, upset, bored and no one had a good time. Society sets out to squash children’s creativity. Now of course, if you’re operating a $7 million RCAF turbo prop aircraft like my daughter does for a living, then there are strict reasons for rule following. But if a six year old wants to modify the rules of ‘Trouble’, (even from turn to turn) I’m ok with that. Learn to let your kids colour outside the lines once in awhile.

Children need to be left alone once in awhile with other children to just be children. I grew up with five boys on a farm and had about 20,000 acres as our personnel playground. We played at hunting and were death to anything slow enough to not get out of our way. We travelled solo or as a ‘tribe’ and we were looking to destroy and kill. By destroy and kill, I mean stuff that didn’t matter to the adults. Smart kids realize quick that you can almost get away with murder as long as the adults do not need to intervene. Before we were allowed to hunt with rifles, we were already fashioning bows and arrows out of Saskatoon saplings and ragweed. Plus we were already proficient at throwing rocks, usually at each other for sport. You learned how to duck and how to hide the bruises. (See the note about not involving the adults) Let your children get out on their own. Let them smash things (within reason) in order to get some of those frustrations out. Let them build the self confidence needed as they move towards adulthood.

But nowadays, instead of being out and about raising any sort of Holy Hell or on any adventures with their compatriots, children are playing with computers or are on social media. It’s still children playing with children, but more distant. Kids would still like to run around like little maniacs if you let them but I think society has limited their choices. Children just aren’t allowed to just play without adult supervision anymore. In Canada, Clifford Olson was the serial killer back in the 80’s who terrified Canadian parents into locking their children up. At about the same time, home video games were in their infancy. What else are kids going to do when they’re not allowed to roam the streets anymore? Most of the time wasters like Snapchat, Instagram, or texting emojis are geared towards very base response stimuli and children are an easy market. It doesn’t take long to grow a couch potato especially when Mom and Dad are too worn out to take the kids out for a play date.

We have created a world in which children are almost always in the presence of a supervisor. It drives me crazy to be in the presence of a typical elementary playground when all the mothers are clucking. For some reason, kids need their lives to be continuously structured while harried parents run them from activity to activity. Don’t get me wrong, in my opinion, children should be active. My two kids were on the go all the time with their various programs. But the important distinction is the activity must be driven by the children vice the parents. Within reason, if a kid doesn’t want to do dance, play hockey, ride horses, etc. then as a parent, stop trying to push the rope. Let the kids explore their passions, encourage their choices and help guide them towards happiness and success. Then when they need some down or alone time, let it happen.

Here’s an example where kids have lost any chance of some down time. If you’re a hockey parent, you’re well aware of the 5 a.m. practices, the weekend road trips, the constant fund raising, and the summer camps. A kid can literally play hockey 12 months of the year. They never get a break but if they’re going to be successful and get that coveted NHL contract, that’s the path you must take. Unfortunately, thousands of families get caught up in a stressful, expensive grind.

Raising kids is about balance. I would say there is truth to the notion that children shouldn’t be texting or watching YouTube constantly. Persistently escaping from the reality that is right in front of you to play with your phone doesn’t teach you skills necessary for successful interactions with others. Technology is easily addictive and can become a refuge to retreat to when you should instead be learning how to interact, focus and pay attention. Kids need to learn how to turn the electronics off and that ability to self-limit needs to come from the parents. Take away the cell phones and kick them out into the yard, tell them to go on a hike, read a book, or find some friends to play with in person.

As a parent it is up to you to let your kids muck about , interact with others, and to help them find happiness. Remember that each one is different and there are no handy how-to instructions. Try your best, be there for them and things will turn out as they are meant to be.

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Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.


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