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How Child-Initiated-Play Died The Minute a Mom Stepped In

It’s a nice summer’s day; we are at the pool with a bunch of friends and their children. There’s a good group of children playing together in a game of tag in the pool and as the game gets more exciting, a member of the group starts feeling left out and throws a big fuss over nothing. The group of children rally together to try to comfort the child who is unhappy and just when he was starts to move along, his mom suddenly realizes that her son is upset and storms into the group, demanding to know why he is upset and who made him upset in the first place.


The whole group is taken aback and wonders what’s happening. The game comes to a complete halt and everyone just stands around to watch the commotion between the mom and her son. As soon as the commotion was over, the group of children seems to have lost their interest and motivation to play till the mom in question removes herself from the scene.


So this is a rather uncommon but yet typical scene in many play settings where a parent steps in and all that has been going on prior to that, all the child initiated play, coordination, co-operation, negotiation, problem solving and creativity flies out the window. At times like these, the group of children is robbed of valuable opportunities to function as a group, to help, to console and to encourage each other along the way.


Some people may call this helicopter parenting but I am not a big fan of ‘branding’ parenting styles according to vehicles or animals or fruits for that matter. I only have one message for all parents out there… take a step back and observe your children. That’s all. Just observe. You don’t have to do anything else (unless they are physically hurt). Observe how they handle difficulties, observe how they help someone out, observe how they pick themselves up after a fall and if you feel like you need to say something, wait a few hours before bringing it up, so that your child has some time to reflect and to think about what has happened. Both you and your child need time to internalize your experiences and to make sense of it. And the more you practice this, the more you will be able to read your child’s cues and to find out their needs so that you’ll know exactly when and how you are needed.


This is somewhat a lost art because many parents feel that they are neglecting their roles unless they fly into the scene like super man to save the day. Well, here’s some news, give the child a chance to be super man too, will ya? Let him develop his own coping technique, let him decide for himself what is right and what isn’t, what feels right and what doesn’t, let him find his confidence in managing situations and making sense of his experiences. You can be there for him when he comes to you for reassurance…but only if he comes to you. Being there is the biggest gift that you can give to him, the assurance that you will be there when he needs you is a safety net that children need to have in order to learn to venture out and to take risks. But aside from that, your job is to observe, especially when your child is trying to work with others, together as a group.


Being a parent is the hardest job and I’ve read somewhere that it’s like having your heart walk around outside of your body. But if you really want what’s best for your child, you’d need to do what’s best for him by following his cues even though it goes against your parental instincts.


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