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Step away and let them play

For the past half an hour or so, I have been pottering around my house doing various bits and pieces that needed to be done on a rainy Monday morning.

Meanwhile, my youngest son has been left to his own devices and is currently lost in a world of Playmobil Vikings and Pirates. There are ships sailing across the living room, there are conflicts occurring between characters, there is narrative and there is even musical accompaniment, as he hums a little tune to himself.

He has not said a word to me – I’m not even sure if he’s aware that I am here. I will not interrupt him nor ask what he is doing, because I do not want to burst his delicious bubble of pure childhood play.

Stepping away from my children and enabling this to happen has not come easily to me, and it has taken a long time, and three children, to recognise the real value of doing this, both for myself, and most importantly for my children.

It’s hard as a parent, to resist the urge to butt in, to question them and ask what they are doing, or to enquire what they want for lunch. It is hard – but it’s not impossible.

As a parent, I have often felt that I am expected to provide and be the entertainment and education for my children at all times. I felt that if I just ‘left them to it,’ even for a short time, I was being lazy, and a day of doing ‘nothing’ at home was a total waste of a day - parenting guilt would always set in. How wrong I was. As a family we had done plenty on those days, jobs had been completed and the children had played all day, the benefits of which were immense.

I believe that as parents today, we place ourselves under far too much pressure to give our children as many opportunities to learn and develop as we can, in the belief that this will teach them valuable life skills. It starts from birth with structured baby and toddler classes and phonics and numeracy being taught at nursery. The quest for academic achievement continues on throughout the school years, accompanied by after school clubs, homework clubs, music lessons, sports fixtures, drama clubs and on and on and on.

I have no doubt that each of these activities hold incredible value for children, but maybe picking out one or two at most is enough, for both child and their exhausted parents who are constantly delivering their overwhelmed children to all of these structured activities.

I often observe frazzled parents on a Monday morning telling friends that they had been to gymnastics at 6am on Saturday morning, then a rugby tournament at 12 noon and two birthday parties on Sunday. If this sound familiar to you, I want to tell you something right now and you may feel it’s controversial, but here goes… It’s perfectly okay not to do ALL of these things. Nothing bad will happen, in fact, something good may happen.

Giving our children the time and freedom to play, without interruption develops so many life skills. It supports the development of things such as:

· Independence

· Social skills

· Conflict resolution within themselves and with others

· Problem solving

· Risk taking (Sometimes I can’t watch! Obviously if it’s really dangerous I step in.)

· Creativity – at play we get lost in our own subconscious and this allows for much more creative thinking.

· Learning new skills without pressure

· Narrative and language development

· Musicality

· Physical activity and special awareness

Not only this, but as a parent it gives you some time to do all those bits and pieces that always need doing, or time to just catch your breath and sit down with a hot cup of tea. What a treat! It’s alright you can do that – I’ve written an entire blog post and my son is still totally engrossed in his play.

Of course there is also great value in playing with your child, if they invite you to and I’m not suggesting that you make yourself inaccessible to your children. However, sometimes stepping back and giving each other space to get on with essential tasks, self-care and play is just the right thing to do and I highly recommend it.

This post was originally published on The Play Well Trust Website on 6th June 2020

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