When we make the decision to provide an experience for our children that we feel will enrich their lives and bring them joy, happiness and fond memories, we really need to take a moment to stop and ask ourselves: Who is this experience for really? Is it more about satisfying our own need to see our children engaged in meaningful play? Do we seek to gain more from the experience than our children and if not, have we done everything we can to ensure they will not become too overwhelmed with the nature of the experience?
Our perception that our children need to be stimulated or given extra activities beyond what they experience at home is often unfounded. Many parents seek out extra curricula activities for their young children without any prompting from the child themselves. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Often it helps parents wanting to break up the monotony of their day and seek other adult’s company and it is nice to expose children to a range of experiences. But when children are unsettled or displaying extreme emotions, there is a good chance that the extra activity is just a little more than they wanted or needed in the first place.
It is surprising to many parents to learn that what we consider mundane and boring at home is actually a haven for imaginative and creative play for our children. Children that have not been used to extra stimulation, either from overzealous parents who love to provide amazing experiences for their kids or too much screen time or even too many crazy battery operated toys, do not easily become bored. Therefore, they do not need us to give them more to fill up their days than to create a safe, enriching environment in which they are free to explore.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying you should never leave the house and do anything with your children again, rather I am saying you should not feel that you need to. And sometimes, children are actually better off given slow, lazy days at home so they can experience ‘boredom’ and kick start their amazing imaginations. Sometimes, we find too much for our children to do and fill up so much of their days with extra activities that it sends them into overdrive and leaves them wanting.
When heading out the door with children it is important to think about the following factors:
1. What time of day is it?
Is it nearing a meal time, nap time, afternoon bath/ dinner/ bed routine time? If so there is a good chance that your child may become moody and emotional, particularly if they thrive on routine (which many children do).
2. Have I got adequate provisions?
It is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Always have a full water bottle, snacks, sunscreen and a change of clothes for accidents. This will help keep a family outing running more smoothly and will keep you from becoming frazzled or stressed when your child starts whining for food.
3. What mood is my child in today?
Children are pretty good communicators of their emotions but are not so great at verbalising how they are fairing. It is up to you to determine whether your child’s state of mind is up for an outing be it short or long or in-between. A child not feeling the best will struggle with transitions so the fewer the better. If your child has been irrational or objectionable at home, there is a fair chance they will be the same way at the shops, park or play date.
I experienced this first hand recently when I made a decision to take my children on a grand adventure, essentially reliving my own childhood and wanting to create magical family moments for my three and four year old daughters.
We had all been cooped up inside after a good dose of gastro swarmed through the family. So, with everyone waking up and feeling spritely that morning we decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and scoot to the corner store to get some milk.
Penny had been a little cranky before we left but I put it down to some early morning blues (she finds it hard to get going in the morning) and thought she would be okay once we got started – and she was.
It really was a perfect day. I felt like Julie Andrews, dancing and singing through the meadows on the way down the hill with my children following behind, joining in the choruses. It was a blissful, serene and euphoric feeling.
Not planning to go any further than the store (about 800m away from our home), I was not overly prepared. The children had hats and I had a backpack to carry the milk home but that was about it.
I didn’t really think about that when I enthusiastically suggested we continue scooting on to the local park after finishing up our juices (bought at the shop in a rare moment of Julie Andrews, musical-tinted weakness). The children were keen so off we continued on our thrilling adventure, still high from the frolic through the aforementioned meadow (and the juice).
As we ventured further down hill and further from home, I began to see some cracks forming in the proverbial sounds of our music. We arrived at the park a little weary and without nourishing supplies (unless of course you count the 2 litres of milk in my back pack).
I quickly grew nervous as the reality of our situation began to sink in. We were now about 2 km from home with a mostly uphill ascent in front of us. In all, there were three scooters, a three year old, a four year old, a thirty four year old and 2 litres of milk in a back pack. Lets just say, we were heading quickly up a murky creek with limited supplies.
About 20 minutes after arriving at the park, the girls needed a toilet break. Given that the toilet block was 50m away in the direction of our home, I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity to pack up the scooters and continue on after the pit stop was complete.
We managed to scoot (albeit slowly) most of the way home. We had just under a kilometre left when my three year old, Penny, embarked on a marathon meltdown. She had wanted to poop in the grass after her sister had teasingly stated that she was going to. I couldn’t let her of course and despite letting her know we were nearly home and she was welcome to use the toilet when we got home, she was not interested.
The thing was, she didn’t need to poop, she needed to melt down. The trip to the park was tiring; it was hot and it was now well past time for a snack. It had not been in her best interests to embark on this journey at this time. I had let my own euphoric feelings get in the way of realistic judgement.
We did eventually make it home that morning after an hour long battle attempting to carry two scooters, a backpack and a very hostile three year old under my arms. And as I finally shut the door behind the two strangers who had ventured out of their house to offer their assistance and selflessly help a struggling mother home, I reflected on our harrowing journey.
Penny continued to express her strong feelings and I ensured she knew I was listening and was available to her when she wanted me. I had stuffed up though. I had allowed myself to get carried away with the notion that I was providing life-long memories for my children by offering them such an adventure.
I was ill-prepared and I did not take a moment to consider what was in the best interests of my children. They do not need a long-winded trip to the park to make memories. The scoot down to the corner store was memory enough. Instead, I could have slowed the pace right down, followed the girl’s lead and allowed the adventure to unfold naturally as we explored flowers, stopped to admire letter boxes and made daisy chains in the clover.
We did make memories that day but they weren’t the ones that the children will be fondly recalling when they are older,
To read more about respectful parenting I recommend the following books (Afflliiate Links):