Ten Ways to Amaze your Children
by Steve Biddulph, an award winning Australian author, activist and psychologist who is well known for his bestsellers Raising Boys, Raising Girls and The Secret of Happy Children.
1. Spend a little time each day giving full, positive attention, and physical contact to your children
Have you ever wondered why your kids play up? Children play up for one reason only: they have unmet needs. Of course you feed them, clothe them, buy them toys and keep them warm and clean but there are some extra needs which go beyond the ‘basics’ mentioned. Children play up because they are bored so try and give them more stimulation, like taking them to the park, swapping toys with friends, having a secret box of bits and pieces for imaginary play. They also play up because they feel unwanted and it gets them noticed so make sure you give them your full attention and plenty of hugs and kisses.
2. Make sure your kids play in nature as much as possible
Science is on your side in this. Playing in nature, and getting dirty, turns out to be very good for children. For example, researchers think that problems like asthma and eczema may be reduced if your child encounters enough bacteria, bugs and beasties to stimulate their immune system while very young. This may even be the reason that children instinctively put things in their mouths. (If you find yourself flinching at this, perhaps your own childhood was affected by parental anxiety around dirt.)
Perhaps best of all though, muddy and dirty play gets over that barrier so that they grow up feeling at home in nature, and therefore the whole world around them becomes an adventure, not a fear.
There is even some research suggesting that microbes in soil stimulate the brain to produce higher levels of natural anti-depressants! Children who often play in nature also have lower incidence of ADHD (because it exercises their ability to pay attention) and lower levels of obesity (because nothing uses energy like playing outdoors).
3. Don’t put limitations on what your daughter can do
One striking way that limitations are put on little girls, even toddlers, is the subtle message that they have to stay neat and clean. This is closely linked in with the wearing of clothes that are too fragile and “dressy” to allow active play. So while boys can play in the mud, run and roll and climb trees, wrestle and laugh, girls are supposed to sit and be quiet and nice. More and more today, mothers and fathers dress their little girls in impossibly frilly, delicate and often expensive clothes that in effect say to the wearer “watch out!”, “don’t get dirty!”. We think we are making them feel special, while all we are doing is keeping them from doing their most important developmental task – having messy fun. This is a really dangerous message, because it says in effect- how you look is so important that it affects what you are allowed to do.
So, we have to reverse this. And its so simple to do so. You start by making sure your daughter has, and uses, rough and ready clothes, sturdy footwear, and a durable sunhat, as much of the time as possible – and then letting her know – go for it!. Without any worries about mud or dirt, rips or tears – and washing it off afterwards is half the fun
4. Help your kids play in an unstructured way
It helps if we stay out of things as much as possible. When kids play, in an unstructured way, without adults trying to make it a “teaching” experience, but just being nearby to apply the occasional bandaid or hug, they go into the most intense learning.
5. Keep your young children away from visual screens
Looking at screens like iPads and laptops in early childhood alters the visual brain of a child because everything is the same distance away. Playing outside, you are holding tiny things up to your face, gazing rapidly away, seeing into the distance and tracking moving things like birds and animals, all brilliant visual exercise.
6. Help your kids become greenfingers
Kids naturally love living things – whether its growing radishes, or keeping a lizard for a few hours before letting it go free. In fact, give a toddler their own bit of garden, and they don’t even have to plant anything, they just love to dig it, shape it, or poke sticks into it.
7. Don’t spend on your money on expensive toys
Don’t worry about buying expensive toys for your kids. Kids love playing with anything around the home, as long as its safe. Give them a bucket or a few containers, and something to shovel with, a trowel or wooden spoon, and hours of play can result. If its warm, add some water and the real fun begins!
8. Get other kids involved
When there are other kids around, then play possibilities go through the roof. There is then so much learning about initiative, co-operation, and how to get along without adults always stepping in.
9. Be very mindful in the way you talk to your children
When you are stressed out and you say things like “God, you’re lazy”, “You silly idiot”, “Stop that”, “Don’t be such a pest” ‘You’re so selfish” and so on, this kind of talk doesn’t just make a child feel bad momentarily. These put-downs have a hypnotic effect and act unconsciously, like seeds in the mind, seeds which will grow and shape the child’s self image, eventually becoming part of their personality.
10. Be a happy and healthy parent
You can’t amaze your children if you are constantly stressed, tired and overburdened. I often talk with parents who don’t understand why they aren’t coping. They expect superhuman performance without realising that we human beings need ‘fuel’. We don’t just run on food; we need ‘energy’ in the form of love, recognition, touch and talking with others. Look at the people in your life and consider how they help or hinder your fuel resources. Here are a few good ideas to “help refuel your tanks':
- Learn to be boring to your children occasionally so they leave you in peace when you need it.
- Spend half an hour of full attention time with children each day, instead of hours of begrudged half-attention.
- Spend plenty of time with other parents.
- On a regular basis, do one activity that is not concerned with being a parent but is an adult satisfying activity, just for you.
- Play your music and cook food the way you like it.
- Learn that ‘messy is beautiful’ and give up ‘tidy house’ ideals for a few years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steve Biddulph is one of the world’s best known parenting authors. A psychologist for 25 years, he is now retired but continues to write and teach. His books, including The Secret of Happy Children, Raising Boys, The New Manhood and now RAISING GIRLS are in four million homes and 31 languages. They have influenced the way we look at childhood and especially the development of boys and men. Today though, the exploitation and misuse of girls and young women globally are his major concern.He was voted Father of the Year in 2000 for his work encouraging the role of fathers, and is Adjunct Professor in the school of psychology and counselling at Cairnmillar Institute, Melbourne. He has two grown up children, and lives in Tasmania with his wife and co-author Sharon, and assorted wombats. To find out more about Steve Biddulph, please visit his website.