Let them be free!

If you’re over­schedul­ing your child’s life, it’s time you wised up.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PARENTING - By ELAINE DONG

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.

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