Let your kids get dirty and play in the mud. Give them permission to feel the slimy sensation of the mud between their toes. Give them the time to make their best mud pie, then when they share it with you pretend to eat it as if it were the best thing you have ever tasted, all the while never, ever, mentioning the germs it may contain or how clothing may be soiled.
Imaginative and carefree play has many benefits. It promotes problem solving, creativity, social skills and self-regulation. Self regulation - controlling our own feelings and actions - is a very important life skill and can benefit children academically, socially and beyond. With imaginative play, children practice imaginary dialog, they make up stories, problem solve and make decisions. They play house, school, and explore all kinds of creative scenarios and outcomes. Allowing our kids to experience carefree play helps them to gain the skills needed to grow into confident, independent, self regulating individuals, able to make decisions, solve problems, and roll with the many ups and downs of life.
In an effort to organize busy schedules, avoid boredom and "wasted time," today many families prioritize scheduling structured learning and play activities with little time left over for imaginative and carefree play. Other children miss out on experiencing and gaining the benefits of free play due to their parents own worries or repeated warnings to "be careful" and "don't touch." These parents worries and warnings, often times driven by their own struggles with perfectionism, germaphobia, and other fears driven by past experiences, keep their children from ever getting the full enjoyment and benefits of outside activities. or experiencing true free play and mental emotional freedom. Through repeated warnings about getting dirty, making a mess or watching out for "the dangers that lurk around them," these children do not learn to problem solve on their own, to self regulate or listen to and trust their own intuitions and feelings, but instead learn to look to others to tell them what to do, make their decisions for them, solve their problems, and in the absence of these things - fear and avoid life. Putting unrealistic demands on our children to keep clean or free from germs may keep them from soiling their play clothes, getting the carpets dirty, scraping their knee or getting a cold now and then, but at what cost?
The fear is that our children will get hurt or sick, but the reality is that all children get hurt, scrape their knees or get a yearly cold or the flu. Experiencing life's ups and downs, and the consequences of their own decisions and actions, is how kids will learn the lessons and skills needed to help them stay safe in the future when their parents are no longer around. Really isn't that our job as parents, not to give constant warnings that are often and soon forgotten, but to prepare our children for life out on their own where their ability to problem solve and self regulate will not only be the very things that keep them safe, but be crucial to their overall success and happiness? Parents who struggle with obsessive worry or fear keep their children from ever experiencing true free play, mental emotional freedom or their benefits, and their constant warnings drown out their children's own intuition and inner voice, things they need to learn to listen to in order to stay safe and make good decisions in the future.
Prioritizing setting aside free time, and providing an environment that doesn't inhibit our children's freedom, is key to their growing into secure and self regulating individuals. Parents with worries, do well to prioritize conquering their own fears and phobias first, so they don't pass them on to their children. All kids look to their parents as their example of what is normal and right in the world. If their parents are worried and fearful, which is at the base of all perfectionism and other phobias, then that is what their children will most likely become. Children who do not get the chance to experience true free play and it's important benefits - self regulation and problem solving - instead learn to deal with their problems through avoidance and fear, and often become weighed down in life by the same obsessive-compulsive cycles of their parents. Living in a cylce of fear and avoidance will create an environment where the feeling of true mental emotional freedom is absent from their adult lives as well.
Parents who prioritize creating an environment where self regulation and problem solving is taught naturally through play, allow their children the opportunity to learn the important life skills that will not only protect them, but equip them, with every thing they need to take on their futures with confidence, and enjoy a life full of truly playful and carefree days. .
Hugs & Happy Parenting!
Julie L Gibson-Vasquez The Proactive Parenting Coach