What Will I Do With My Children All Day Long?

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Today's moms ask this question often, especially during the summertime, but it's a question that wasn't given much thought by moms of yesteryear. They considered the responsibility of keeping a child occupied the responsibility of the child. 

It's not that adults didn't play with children or read to them or engage with them; they did, but as children grew more independent, they became capable of knowing how to entertain themselves for significant periods during the day, and that's what they did. 

Today's children often times get bored, and rely upon technology for entertainment or adults to find them something to do.

Yesteryear's children had a lot of freedom to explore their surroundings. They were curious, and they were engaged in the business of being alive.

Children are natural doers. Yesteryear's children naturally kept themselves busy playing make-believe games, discovering the unknown, and developing new skills. 

Sometimes siblings, like my younger brother and me, would take a break from our child's work and just sit by the side of the road and talk to each other. Both under the age of five, we even crossed the road by ourselves. 

It wasn't that our parents were neglectful, it was just that they were a lot less hovering back then than parents are today, and our parents gave us much more freedom to develop our growing independence. 

The point is that children back then figured out for themselves what to do; no one assumed the responsibility for them. 

The answer to the question of what do you do with your children all day is this: let your children figure out what to do with themselves. They are perfectly capable of deciding how to spend their time, and they will spend it doing things that will facilitate their growth and development. 

In an uncanny way, your children know exactly what they need to do, and they'll do it if the circumstances are right. 

And that's the question you really want to ask yourself: Have we created an environment for our children which is conducive towards their healthy growth and development? 

For many parents today, the answer is no. For starters, there is far too much technology in children's lives. Children under two spend twice as much time in front of screens than they do reading books, according to Common Sense Media. This is a shocking fact given that the official pediatric recommendation is to keep children under two away from all screens, all the time.

The solution to the question is a simple one: create an environment for your children that encourages the use of their minds, their creativity, their curiosity, and their imaginations as soon as they are born. You can't wait until they are three or four years of age, you have to set the stage at birth.

The first rule is to let your children roam freely as soon as they can crawl. Childproof your home to avoid accidents, and use your judgment about how far they can wander. Leave  enough things within reach for your children to exercise their natural curiosity and their innate desire to know.

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They will push chairs, climb on tables, open drawers, and play with pots and pans. If you have a yard, then that's even better. Within earshot of yourself, they'll play with mud, arrange rocks, dig holes, and they will have a blast! 

Children are happy doing these kinds of activities. They don't need lots of stuff. They don't need you hovering over them. They are perfectly content to do the work of children which looks very much like play to us. 

They'll figure out how to do things like open and close drawers, turn on and off lights, and invade cookie jars. They'll also stick things in electrical sockets, so you have always got to keep these covered. 

The second rule is to resist the temptation to help your child. Give them the space to figure things out for themselves. They are exercising and strengthening their mental capabilities, and you don't want to hinder this. 

Remember how you feel when you solve a problem, grasp a concept, or conquer a new skill. You most likely feel anywhere from relieved and pleased to elated; and you usually experience a sense of resourcefulness and competency. It's the same for your children. 

If they grow frustrated trying to figure something out, let them learn to deal with their frustration. Frustration is something your children will often encounter in life. They need to learn to tolerate it and to keep pushing forward in spite of it. 

I can promise you that your children will express more frustration if they know you are nearby and ready to come to their aid. 

It's natural for you to want to help your children, but you don't want to get into the habit of interfering with the processes that support their healthy development. It's not that you should ignore your children, but you want to give them enough room to develop self-reliance and resourcefulness. 

The third rule is to handle multimedia, and all forms of technology like you would treat the devil if you found him lounging in your living room or your bedroom.

Technology is arguably the worst influence in children's lives today. It is not the only negative influence, but it has got to be at the top of the list because it can cause long-term harm. 

We know that normal human brain development requires a balance of environmental stimulation and human contact. Deprived of these, neuronal firing and brain cellular connections do not form correctly
— Gary Small, Neuroscientist

Technology overshadows the light of children's curiosity, and it inhibits their physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth. 

If a child isn't moving a lot, his physical development will be delayed; if he isn't engaging with other people, especially loved ones, his emotional development will be delayed or thwarted; if he isn't using his mind, his intellectual curiosity will dim. 

"I'm bored" is the mantra of children who spend a lot of time in front of screens.  And you the parent will be left with the exhausting task of figuring out what to do with your children all day long assuming you don't want them in front of screens the whole time. 

To prevent this unpleasant and disturbing dynamic in your home, remember to incorporate these three rules into your children's lives from the very beginning:

  • Give your children the freedom to explore

  • Don't interfere too often with their activities

  • Keep technology out of sight.

It's not that you'll be able to ignore your children all day long, and I know you don't want to do that either, but they'll occupy themselves for 30 minutes, an hour, maybe two hours depending upon their age, and then they'll check in with you or you with them.  

You'll have your daily routine for your family but during the times outside meals, chores, reading time, and family time children will keep themselves very busy if they are raised in an environment that preserves their love of doing.

As a side note, if you've got a technology habit in your home, cold turkey is the best way to kick it. Smash the screens and allow for a short period of frustration as your children learn to adjust from children who are easily bored and need entertaining to children who are capable of entertaining themselves.

Keep your cell phones and computer out of sight of your children, and discipline yourself to use them only before the children wake in the morning and after they go to sleep at night.

All right, you can take a peek midday but remember that monkey see, monkey do. 

If you like this post and you're thinking of homeschooling, or you'd like to become a better homeschooler, please join the waiting list for my upcoming course: How to Homeschool the Smart Way.

You might also like my free download Ten Books Every Well-Educated Child Should Read.

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