The Mother’s Weekly: Kids Need Trees and Conkers
Enjoy our latest edition of The Mother’s Weekly about children needing risks, challenges and the freedom to play.
‘Cotton Wool Kids’
For a while now, I have sat smugly-content with my children playing inside, whilst listening to the hollers of little-ones outside. My neighbour’s children have been out playing for years now. Their son was lost many-a-time; resulting in endless shouting panics in an effort to locate his whereabouts. He was always found; but I arrogantly thought I was a better parent for making sure my children were safe. Don’t get me wrong, I helped them to be dangerous with climbing trees, throwing them down slides and teaching them to somersault into ball pools; but I kept them safe from the evils of the outside world. However, I am starting to realise I was wrong and actually not being the good parent I thought I was.
Kids Need Trees and Conkers
Research is showing us that children in the last 40 years have diminishing amount of freedom. Instead of the endless days playing with their friends that I had, my children have school, clubs or grandparents and then time with us as a family. This restricted amount of free time, I now realise is actually not good for them; they need to be away from me to assess their own risks and get hurt; they need time without a nagging mum who tells them where to go and what to do; they need time to grow.
Yes, they will probably get hurt and in reality it could be fatal. This is why so many of us cling on to them. Letting them play with tethers of love within our sites, so we can intervene if things get too dangerous. We just need to loosen the ties a little and allow them to make some mistakes, lead their own play and have some freedom within the boundaries that keep them as safe as possible.
What Does Freedom Bring?
Research has found that there are so many benefits to letting children play outside.
- Children are more happy
- They are outside getting vitamin D and oxygen which makes them more healthy
- It develops their physical skills and good activity habits
- They develop more confidence and higher elf-esteem
- They learn to take risks and have motivation to learn
- It provides opportunities to learn about mistakes for themselves which makes them less-likely to make similar mistakes
- For most children: they behave better
- It makes children more creative
- They learn about the nature
- They develop their social skills when playing with others
- It helps build their entrepreneurship and enterprise skills
The Risky Way Forward
I seem to have got worse as they have got older and cling tighter; that is probably because the risks are greater and need for them to be aware of risks themselves a lot more important.
I have come up with a number of resolutions to move forward that allow me to ‘set them free’ (ish):
- Walkie Talkies – buy walkie talkies with a seriously long range so you can stay in contact with the children and obviously, they can contact you if anything goes wrong. Be careful if you use a bag to put these in as I found out myself as a youngster, bags catch on branches when you try and climb trees which can be rather dangerous and embarrassing as you dangle screaming for help whilst your friends laugh their heads off below.
- Have ‘free days’ during the holidays and some weekends – we often fill our precious time with the children to make the most of the limited hours we have with them but actually we need to factor in the free time for them to play. Without this planned free time, weeks and months can whizz by without them having the freedom they need to explore.
- Send someone else or close your eyes – when I want the children to experience something without my constant ‘be carefuls’ and ‘bring my baby back right now!’- thus transferring my fears onto them, I send my husband with them. For example, when Child Number 1 was learning to surf in deeper waters, I had to turn away and pretend it was not happening because I wanted to scream ‘stop’ and ‘grab him’ with every wave. I was able to – when hubby said ‘look now’ – turn at the right moment and clap with excitement at the surf dude moments.
So we are trying to let our children free and not tie them with our fears. This will take time but I was able to take my nose away from the upstairs window that it was previously pressed against trying to keep a beady eye on the children as they played with their friends. I managed to sort some washing whilst keeping a hawk-like ear for cries for help with trainers on read to run if needed. Gradually and very slowly, I am building up the time they play outside without me checking on them. It is hard but I realise I have to. Wish me luck!