I read a really interesting article recently about the behavioural differences of pre-school aged children in remote South American villages compared to westernised societies such as ours. The main differences seemed to be the acceptance of parental authority in the villages, and an unquestioning obedience when asked to do something by a parent. It was also noted that children in the village were carried closely by parents or siblings in their early years, but soon left to play on their own, or to help and observe the parents in their daily chores. The adults in the village rarely set aside time to play games designated by the children, instead interacting by educating the children to the task that they were doing. This opposite extreme to the child-centred approach that many westerners take when raising their children seems to breed obedient, well-adjusted pre-schoolers.
A lot of parents in our society believe that spending large amounts of time with their child in structured activities will be the founding for a great parent/child relationship, and it often is. The concern with this behaviour though, is that we pass control of everything that happens daily over to our child. We work our schedule around entertaining them and making sure they are busy learning, communicating and playing with us all day. While this seems like we are providing the best possible experience of childhood and will likely create happy children at the end of the day, this child-centred approach certainly has its limitations.
- It means we hand a lot of control over the day’s activities over to our child. Small decisions can help our children build independence and develop self-control, but too much responsibility and decision making can affect their sense of well-being, increase levels of stress and anxiety and decrease the respect they feel for you as an adult.
- Your child won’t learn as much through observation if you put your tasks off in order to entertain them. Observational learning is a key factor in children learning and practicing everyday tasks, such as simple housework and food preparation.
- Children need to be bored in order to learn how to play independently, use their imagination and develop their own creativity and skills. Structured craft activities are great, but if you talk your child through every step of an activity and help all the way through they won’t express their personal creative touch, and won’t get the same sense of accomplishment when the task is complete. The best type of play is in the yard or park, with some basic toys, lots of sticks and dirt and some encouragement to create their own game.
- You will become exhausted! Raising a child who depends on you to organise and structure every part of their day is hard work, and will likely wear you out and leave little time for the daily tasks you need to do.
Research has found that children benefit most from short, frequent interactions with their parents, such as a bit of praise when they are playing well, or a moment sitting together discussing something. It is hard for parents to know when to begin to step back and allow their child to learn to play independently, but as a guideline you can begin as soon as your child can move around by themselves. Just make sure that everything is baby-proofed and safe for them to explore, and remember that a little bit of mess doesn’t hurt!