Let them be free!
If you’re overscheduling your child’s life, it’s time you wised up.
RESEARCH shows kids are not supposed to watch too much TV, and too much screen time (computers, video games, Wii, PlayStation) is bad for brain growth. And now you’re not supposed to fill their after-school hours with tuition or school work? What on earth are you supposed to do with your kids? It’s simple, just let them be. Children need freedom in the form of free time to exercise autonomy and develop independence, according to Dr Goh Chee Leong, child psychologist and Dean of the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences in HELP University College, Kuala Lumpur.
There are two key points that need to be driven home: children learn by doing and they have an innate intellectual curiosity from the age of one onwards. Their brains are designed to pick up information when they explore, touch and ask. So this desperate need by parents to “feed” information and knowledge to their child through tuition classes, right brain training, souped up flash card systems, computer classes and more, is not only unnecessary, it’s counter-productive.
Over-scheduling your child may leave a permanently negative impact on his view of learning, equating it with stress, tired- ness and a parent’s unreasonable expectations. Instead of helping him with school, as is the good intention of all parents, it turns him off.
“A child already spends between five to seven hours in school. The rest of his education needs to take place in other contexts – art and craft, reading, playing,” says Dr Goh.
A general rule of thumb is that 50% of the time a child can be guided through structured activity by the parent, and this includes breakfast, a trip to the park, music (singing or dance), reading and arts and crafts for younger kids (ages two to five), and school and tuition for older kids. The other 50% should be playtime, which includes little to no screen time.
For school-going kids (ages seven and above), Dr Goh recommends not more than two hours of school work per day after school. If you are sending your children for extra classes and tuition, keep to this time limit. The rest of the time, let them play, literally.
As a parent, you can still guide your child during this playtime. The younger child may need a little prompting; all you need to do is give him an option of two or three things to do. Would you like to play with your blocks today or colour?
Older kids may need little or no urging, although if they have been brought up on a staple diet of TV and video games, you may have a hard time weaning them off these in the beginning. Be clear that the free time is for them to explore their interests.
If your child is musically inclined, sign him up for music classes. If your child likes to work with his hands and is interested in gadgets, buy him something he can assemble, like a model car kit. If your child has no idea what he likes, now is the time to discover it with him and nurture that interest. It boils down to parents protecting children’s time, and not letting school and society dictate how a child’s life should be structured.
Parents are the boss, not the school or the Government. If you find schoolwork is taking up too much of a child’s time, and the school is unrelenting when it comes to extra tuition and extra homework, perhaps it’s time to rethink. Pull your child out and switch schools if you need to.
“In the (university) alumni, we see people transform from students to successful individuals,” says Dr Goh. “Usually the successful ones have parents who are more holistic and pursue a life of balance for their children. They’re not all about straight As and they treat school as only one pillar of their children’s life.
“They have allowed their kids freedom, freedom to mix with other kids and to pursue interests outside of school. These kids have developed social skills that allow them to carry on intelligent conversation during entrance interviews to Ivy League colleges. They ace their job interviews. They are adept at navigating the real world.”
Now before you go out and sign your child up for all kinds of recreational classes, you should also know you are not dictating to the child what his or her interest should be. It is the parent’s job to open up the child’s eyes to options available. It’s about breaking from the school curiculum and opening the child’s mind to the world.
Your child is the priority. You need to ensure your child has a holistic development.
“This doesn’t mean indulging in his every whim and fancy, but gently and firmly guiding him through his free time. Use your instincts. If your child hates piano and needs to be nagged before every lesson, perhaps it’s time to rethink the lessons.
“However, if your child is being a little difficult sometimes, then understand he will have good and bad days, just like adults. Teach him persistance through the bad days to arrive at the good ones,” says Dr Goh.
Well-rounded: Children need free time to explore their interests and the world around them.