Warn­ing: don’t tell your chil­dren how to play

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - OPINION - Jim Smart Of All Things By age 5, the kid­dies who were told what toys to play with or how to play with them were less able to reg­u­late their emo­tions and im­pulses. By age 10, those kids were mess­ing up at school. The ar­ti­cle didn’t give de­tails on how

A mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle re­cently re­ported on a study in which the studiers found that lit­tle chil­dren whose par­ents had con­stantly told them what to do were likely to be strug­gling aca­dem­i­cally and show­ing a bad at­ti­tude in school.

The re­searchers, who were in the United States and Switzer­land, a com­bi­na­tion not ex­plained, ob­served more than 200 chil­dren from age 4 to age 10 and their moth­ers. and the Swiss par­ents used Ger­man, French, Ital­ian or Ro­man­ish; you never know with Swiss par­ents.

If I in­ter­pret cor­rectly the re­sults of the study from a terse 125-word ar­ti­cle about it, the child who has the rules and reg­u­la­tions of ball-play­ing and other lit­tle kid ac­tiv­i­ties heav­ily ex­plained to him by the old folks “loses out on an im­por­tant learn­ing op­por­tu­nity,” to quote the lead re­searcher.

And the kid who had to fig­ure things out for him­self does bet­ter in the fu­ture, if he didn’t get hit by a truck.

I’m not pre­pared or qual­i­fied to make strong judg­ments based on a short ar­ti­cle about a pre­sum­ably ex­ten­sive load of re­search, but it seems to me that good par­ents (and I hope you had and/or are one) have to be a lit­tle of both kinds of par­ent and know when to be which.

I think of my grand­fa­ther, my ma­jor su­per­vi­sor when I was of preschool age while my par­ents were at work and my grand­mother was han­dling the house­hold ne­ces­si­ties.

He had to teach me to play check­ers. I could never have fig­ured that out my­self. Once I learned, I was on my own. He oc­ca­sion­ally cheated a bit to let me win, but I usu­ally caught him and com­plained bit­terly.

He smoked his pipe qui­etly while watch­ing me work on a col­or­ing book. He might men­tion that it wasn’t quite ac­cu­rate to color a cow blue, but he didn’t crit­i­cize.

I wasn’t told what toy to play with or how to do it, as ap­par­ently many of the kids in that study were. My fa­ther and grand­fa­ther did have some ideas of their own about how to de­ploy toy soldiers, but, hey, lit­tle kids have to in­dulge old folks some­times.

I was given rules more than in­struc­tions at that ten­der age. I could go alone any­where I wanted, as long as I didn’t cross a street.

Maybe I was just lucky that I wasn’t a mi­cro­man­aged child. (Or maybe I didn’t turn out as well as I thought I did.)

The ar­ti­cle ended by say­ing that the re­searchers sug­gest that hov­er­ing par­ents give their tod­dlers space to play in­de­pen­dently and only in­ter­vene when a task be­comes un­man­age­able. I hope my chil­dren think I was that kind of dad.

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