Like many 21 century parents, I spend a lot of time (way too much time) reading about parenting. We all want to give our children the best start in life, and there’s an over-abundance of advice (often conflicting) on what is best for kids.
The more I read about what’s healthy for children, the more I realise that the guidelines are true for everyone – adults and children alike.
We don’t ever grow out of the need for play, for creative expression, for strong friendships, and for nurturing environments.
Here are four ways changes that you can make, direct from advice for children, that will lead to a more thriving life.
Kim John Payne in his book Simplicity Parenting makes a great argument for children having less toys and less stuff in general:
“To a child, a mountain of toys is more than something to trip over. It’s a topographical map of their emerging world view. The mountain, casting a large symbolic shadow, means ‘I can choose this toy, or that, or this one way down here, or that: They are all mine! But there are so many that none of them have value. I must want something else!’ This worldview shapes their emotional landscape as well; children given so very many choices learn to undervalue them all, and hold out – always – for whatever elusive thing isn’t offered. ‘More!’ Their feelings of power, from having so much authority and so many choices, mask a larger sense of vulnerability.” [source]
This argument is just as relevant for adults as it is for children. I think it’s fair to say that many of us are controlled and weighed down by the things we own.
We personally don’t own a lot of stuff by Western standards, and yet I find myself overwhelmed and suffocated on a daily basis by the mountain of things that accumulate, that need tidying away, that need decluttering, that need sorting, that need cleaning, that need recycling, that need organising, that just need to be constantly dealt with.
The movement to simplify is popular for a reason. We know, deep down, that all this stuff is not good for us. That accumulating bigger and better things is not the purpose of life and does not give us ultimate happiness, despite the fact that’s what our economic model is based upon.
less Screen time
“I share therefore I am.” [source]
We all know that watching a lot of TV is not so healthy for kids. And a recent article argues that interactive screens like computers and tablets are actually worse for children.
We worry about how much screen time our kids have and whether it is healthy for them. But we should also be worried how much screen time is healthy for us.
While I’m not much of a TV watcher, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve self-medicated with Pinterest and Facebook. They does a great job of providing a distraction. But as with most avoidance tactics, I always feel worse after numbing myself with social media.
Too much screen time is unhealthy for a number of reasons but one interesting reason is the way it’s changing our social interactions, and not for the better.
We know that social interaction is important for our children. That’s why we take them to playgrounds and Playgroups. But while we acknowledge the importance of social interaction for kids, we ourselves are spending more and more energy on virtual interactions and less on real world ones.
If you haven’t seen it, I recommend watching this short video about social media (based on this wonderful Ted Talk). It’s a fascinating theory on how social media is shaping not only the way we interact, but the way we think about and portray ourselves.
more Unstructured, open ended play time
Unstructured, open-ended play is essential for kids wellbeing and learning.
It’s essential for ours too.
“Unstructured play enables children to find and pursue their own interests. It gives them the freedom to be who they are. It allows them to discover their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses in their own time, which helps them master their lives independently.” [source]
Our lives are often busy, over-scheduled and filled with responsibility. We have little time to play and we pass that pressure onto our children. We can feel that if our kids aren’t engaged in some kind of activity, then they are wasting their time.
I worry that we’ve all forgotten how to entertain ourselves. To be comfortable with boredom and find ways to overcome it.
I worry that kids are so used to passive entertainment that they don’t know how to have fun without it. I worry when I read of parents justifying acts of vandalism, drunkenness, drug use and assault amongst teenagers by saying that “there’s nothing for kids to do.” Whatever happened to making your own fun (in a non-destructive manner)? I worry we’ve all forgotten how.
A mother asked on a community page the other day, what games her kids could play at school. They were bored, she said. I was floored and saddened that primary aged kids needed to be told how to play. I want to add ‘how to amuse yourself’ to the list of old-fashioned skills that need reviving.
There’s a wonderful Ted Talk by Tim Brown about play and how it’s important for creativity and design in the adult world.
more Outdoor activity
In his books The Last Child in the Woods and, The Nature Principle, Richard Louv makes a compelling argument as to why spending time outdoors is good for both our physical and mental wellbeing.
He started by researching the effects of nature on children, but realised that everything he wrote about nature and children, applied equally to adults.
Nature reduces stress, it clears the mind, it enhances creativity, it reduces depression and anxiety, it calms, it promotes physical activity.
You may have read the recent article in the news about why Australia has doubled it’s exercise guidelines to make up for our overwhelming sedentary lifestyle. As someone who would choose a good book and an armchair over exercise any day, I can appreciate the need to make changes to the exercise guidelines.
The healthy alternative to formal exercise is less sitting around and more unstructured, physical play outdoors. No screens. No stuff.
What’s good for the child is good for us too. Less screen time, less stuff, more authentic interactions, having fun, preferably outdoors. Just some of the keys for a healthy, happy and thriving life.