I hear it from friends and read about it all the time: anxiety over whether or not children are prepared for success. Are we doing all we can to prepare children for success? What should we be doing to prepare children for success?
When my friend Hillary, at The Cole Mines, shared her thoughts about not giving her girls chores, her post truly gave me pause. (Ok, so before I was given pause, I sucked most of the air out of the room…) How could children learn responsibility or be successful if they aren’t given any age appropriate chores? But now, I’m reconsidering my thoughts on the issue. She included a touching quote from her mother:
“…the reason I have never given you chores is that, from where I sit, your job as a child is to BE a child. To enjoy the simple things. To play. To laugh. To have fun. To enjoy this carefree state for as long as you can. To focus on school and extracurriculars. To find a hobby you love. To encourage your passions in life. To own the responsibility the world will throw at you even from a young age. But not to throw more at you by creating mundane lists of things you need to “do” at home.”
That is the mother I want to be. Hillary feels that giving her children chores will thrust them into an adult world devoid of magic and filled with responsibilities that they will be required to enter soon enough. And once you enter, once you cross over from childhood, you can’t go back. Think: Hotel California.
As I think about how I’ve approached mothering, teaching my boys the harder lessons has been my approach to everything. The world will provide the rest soon enough. As an example, my son’s first birthday cake was his first ever taste of refined sugar. I assumed sugar is easy enough to like – it’s my job to teach him to also like broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus. The world will take care of cake.
As a result, I find myself worrying less about how “prepared” my children are and more about how quickly everyone wants them to experience adult responsibilities and complexities. But the truth is, I can address both concerns by giving my children one simple thing. Letting my boys hold on to their childhood with five easy strategies gives them exactly what they need to be prepared for their next steps in life! So here are my suggestions for helping children be prepared for satisfaction and success:
Free Play to Prepare Children for Success
Free play, not organized play, is the cornerstone of learning for all children. Free play is declining both in our schools and in our society as a whole. Free play isn’t an organized soccer game or activity or even play date “organized” by parents. Free play is the opportunity for our children to decide upon and direct the play themselves.
By depriving children of opportunities to play on their own, away from direct adult supervision and control, we are depriving them of opportunities to learn how to take control of their own lives. We may think we are protecting them, but in fact we are diminishing their joy, diminishing their sense of self-control, preventing them from discovering and exploring the endeavors they would most love, and increasing the chance that they will suffer from anxiety, depression, and various other mental disorders. – Peter Gray
Boredom to Prepare Children for Success
When my boys come to me and say they are bored, I don’t feel that I have to jump to entertain them. I feel that it is their job to problem solve and to find something to do. My boys are hardly lacking in things to entertain themselves with. They just need to develop their problem solving abilities to find a solution. I actually find that, as the saying goes: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When they are bored, they rarely turn to their toys. They typically invent their most interesting and exciting games as a solution to boredom! Admittedly, their games involve catapults, or weapons, but that’s ok!
Stillness to Prepare Children for Success
Children need the free time to be able to find their passion – to hear and listen to the stirrings of their heart’s delight. But how can they find that passion, that fire, if they don’t have any moments of stillness to listen to themselves? Encourage them to have quiet moments throughout the day so they can start to hear this inner voice. (Quiet time isn’t a bad deal for you, either!)
Imagination to Prepare Children for Success
I admit, I have a hard time doing imaginative things like turning acorns into an army of people to play with. But we’ve always tried to foster an environment where the boys are free to learn to do just that. I love to hear them talk about their ideas when they are collecting things. I often think of my parents who grew up during the Great Depression. They didn’t have the luxury of toys, so they learned to be creative and inventive. They learned to take things that were basically nothing and turn them into the grandest of toys using only their imaginations. And this is how new ideas are born! Nothing can ever be invented unless it is first imagined. Give your children the gift of imagination.
Limited Screen Time to Prepare Children for Success
Groan… I know you’ve heard this until you can’t hear it any more. I have one really simple “rule” about screen time. You aren’t allowed to “use” it for anything. If you are “using” it because you are bored, then no. If you are “using” it because you’re lonely, then no. If I’m “using” it as a distraction or as a babysitter, then no. It’s simple and the boys typically understand it. It helps them to be more aware of when and why they ask to watch something. And it helps them to be more aware of themselves and their motivations.
So back to whether or not you are doing all you can to prepare your child. Believe it or not, these are the very things that will prepare your child for all the life and academic lessons that she needs to learn later. Almost every teacher out there will tell you that they would much rather have a child in their classroom who has learned self regulation, cooperation, and empathy than one who can write her name.
Allowing my boys to maintain the innocence of childhood for as long as possible – letting them see all the magic and love in the world – prepares them better than anything else to be contributing, thoughtful, loving citizens of the world. So, the innocence of childhood is alive and well in our home!