It seems simple when you say it like that. Let them be children, but how exactly do you do that. When they are just babies, the sleepless nights, the frequent feeding, the constant needs can leave new mothers wishing their babies grew really quickly, only to realise very soon, their babies have grown up way too fast. It’s a constant battle between enjoying the present, hoping for the future and not regretting having lost out on their childhood. Do we embrace the mess, the noise and neediness or do we march right away to raise independent mini-adults?
As a mother of two young children, I’ve often been met with stares when my children have rolled in the sand on the beach, eaten with food all over their mouth, jump in muddy puddles or just wanted to run wild and free. Yes, I respect everyone’s need for space and appropriate behaviour but sometimes I just want my children to be allowed to be children. Have we as a society built up unrealistic expectations of how kids should act and behave? While living in a fast-paced world that heralds everything a little too soon, I often feel our children are also expected to grow up too soon. Although as rapid as the world goes by, children still need time and experience to grow into adults, we just can’t speed up that process.
How do we let kids be kids? Here are a few things that can help you out.
Children are not mini-adults: Sounds pretty obvious when we say it aloud but so often our expectations are in complete contrast. We want kids to be consistently well-behaved, have control over their emotions, take disappointments in their stride, share without hesitating, express their anger appropriately and filter their thoughts and opinions. But children are not born knowing these expectations nor do they have the developmental abilities to handle these big feelings and emotions. Most of all, even as adults, we don’t have a hold of our emotions at all times, so it seems odd that we should expect it from children.
Let them be who they are: and not what you want them to be. Each child has their own personality, likes and strengths and every parent has their own dreams of what their child will be. And sometimes, the two can clash. Often as parents, we have certain expectations of what our child will do, achieve and enjoy. At times, it can be the desire to pass on your personality and often achieve dreams you may have missed out on. But in chasing our children to be something that they are not, we set them up for failure. Enrolling your child in sports while they are keen on art, robs them of being comfortable in their own skin. Spend some time understanding and getting to know your child. Help them nurture their passions and hobbies and you will raise a happy and confident child.
Listen, for real: When you have a long list and a tight schedule, it’s hard to give your undivided attention to your child, but that is the key to entering and being part of their world. While we want to desperately bond with our children, we also miss out on precious opportunities they give us. Give them some one-one time, gadget and distraction-free. Whenever possible, listen with all your heart when they are rambling about their day and what might seem silly to you but in reality the most important event of their day. Enjoy the little things they do and see the world through their eyes and you will enjoy them more.
There’s no race: When it comes to raising children and celebrating achievements, it’s not a race. One child might be toilet trained at 2 and yours may not have even begun the process at 3. Your neighbour’s kids might enjoy exotic tastes and spices while yours is content with cut fruits and plain rice. The more stress you feel around these milestones, the more frustrated it can leave you and no surprise, your child will feel the pressure too. So take a step back. Look at what’s really important. Is it interfering with their health or is it just failing your expectation of what you had to hoped to achieve? Each child grows at their own pace and when you can give them the time and space to be ready, your child and you will reap the benefits.
Play is non-negotiable: Childhood is a time for exploration and adventure and there’s just no replacement for free play. Children need to run, walk, jump and move, not only to expend their energy and enjoy but also to develop physically. Play is the “work” children need to do. It’s what comes to them naturally, it’s their outlet for expression, relaxation, creativity and a way to learn social skills. While it is also great for children to learn art and musical instruments, crowding their day with too many scheduled activities at the cost of free play time does no good. So make play a non-negotiable part of their day. Even better, say yes when they ask you “ will you play with me?”
In her book “The importance of being little” Erika Christakis says “ We seem to be in danger of losing the child in childhood. Instead of imposing adult expectations, she argues, parents and teachers should try to “take their blinders off” and see the world through the eyes of young children—a change in perspective that might allow us to better understand and cultivate their unique abilities.
So take the time to see the world through the eyes of your child and you’ll be amazed how different it is from your own. Children have only about 900 odd weeks over 18 years before they leave home as real adults. Let that thought sink in so you can let them be children when that’s what they are meant to be.