Wonder in the Woods

Living and Learning in the Pacific Northwest

Dangerous Play is Essential

From this article, “Free Play is Essential for Normal Emotional Development:”

In play, children practice many skills that are crucial for healthy development.  They practice physical and manual skills, intellectual skills, and social skills. I have written about all of this in previous posts.  They also practice  emotional skills. In play, children learn how to regulate their fear and anger and thereby how to maintain emotional control in threatening real-life situation.

Our children spend much of their day playing with each other. I let them work out their issues or coach them when they need help.  They play rough, they take risks, and they role play using their imaginations.

We do spend a lot of time reminding Chandler to use his regular voice.  Whining and yelling is not the way to work things out.  The boys have a good relationship and I credit the book “Children: The Challenge” by Rudolph Dreikurs for helping me know how to parent siblings, and how to help children manage fear and anger.  I love knowing that play is a big help for this too.  Play is NOT a waste of time.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if we put Hunter is school at 5 years old?  Would he sit still in class?  Would he lose his spark?  Now we have a happy, curious child and I do believe the hours of free play and freedom to learn in his own time has helped him tremendously.  He is helpful around the house, caring toward his younger brother, and considerate of others.  He learned all this from play and parenting, not from hours at a desk or waiting in lines.

I shudder to think of the long-term effects of medicating children.  I realize that some kids do need medical intervention, but most children mature in their own time with patience and practice.  Free play, role-playing and storytelling are the best parenting tools.  This is not new.  These tools have existed for generations.  Yet, look at what medication is potentially doing to our children (from the article above):

In one set of experiments some otherwise peer-deprived young rats were allowed to interact for an hour per day with a playful peer while others were allowed to interact for an hour per day with a peer that had been rendered non-playful by injection of the drug amphetamine.[4]  Amphetamine—which is essentially the same drug that we use to “treat” ADHD in human children–knocks out the play drive in young rats without knocking out other social behaviors.  The results of these experiments were that rats that had experience playing with a peer behaved much more normally in adulthood than did those that had the same amount of exposure to a non-playful peer.  Apparently, the crucial interactions between young rats for normal emotional and social development occur in play.  In other experiments, play-deprived young rats showed abnormal patterns of brain development. Without play, neural pathways running from frontal areas of the brain—areas known to be crucial for controlling impulses and emotions—failed to develop normally.

I wonder how many children would be helped by the freedom to play, freedom to climb trees, freedom to play outdoors, and freedom use real tools and build real things?  It doesn’t mean we turn them loose to run with hammers, but we let them discover their abilities and limits.  It means modeling how to use the hammer and patient supervision with fewer words of caution (save it for the big stuff).

It also means not boosting them higher in the tree, but letting them learn to climb alone.  Generally, if they can climb up they can climb down.  Encourage this, please.  Instead of saying, “Don’t fall!” or “You are going to break your neck!” (which I do want to say sometimes) please say, “Watch where you are stepping so you can find the same spot on the way down,” or “Larger branches are stronger than the thin, flexible branches.”  Give them helpful tips that encourage instead of discourage.

So you might have to ask someone to help you get your child down, or the child might cry in fear from doing too much and need extra coaching.  This might be embarrassing but never trying is worse.  Reassure them, help them and tell them they can try again when they are ready.

Confident kids are what we want:

Mother Nature has designed our children to play in all these “dangerous” ways because she knows that such play teaches them not just the physical skills they need for dealing with emergencies, but also the emotional skills they need.  In such play, children dose themselves with just the level of fear that they can tolerate, a level just below the threshold of what might cause them to freeze up.  In this way, they learn how to manage fear, how to prevent it from incapacitating them.  They learn that fear is normal and healthy, something they can control and overcome through their own efforts.  It is practice such as this that allows them to grow up able to manage fear rather than succumb to it.

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This entry was posted on June 22, 2012 by in Methods, Play.

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