Child’s Play

Mishka asked me the other day: “Mommy when did you stop playing?” Wow! What a question because as we all like to claim we never stop playing (at the risk of sounding boring to your kids). It got me thinking about this question a little bit more in depth because is there a age you should stop playing, or at least worry about what you play with?

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I played well into my high-school years because I had younger siblings, but this may be different for Mishka because she is an only child.

What is play? Well it is defined as: “what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way, and for their own reasons.” I just love that! Because now I can answer Mishka much better: I am still playing, I never stopped and never will!

Thinking back to Mishka’s baby years I was quite tuned into the different types of activities at the various ages for developmental purposes but now that she’s a bit older I guess we just let it happen as it happens because of course now she has her own little personality and preferences.

However, there are good guidelines to makes sure that while your child is developing physically, toys and games are adjusted accordingly. The ways in which children are able to coordinate their gross-motor skills such as increased mobility opens up new ways to use toys. A higher level of fine-motor skill permits greater manipulation of objects.

Mishka is now at a very interesting stage where soon she will fall into a next age group and certain activities she enjoys now will very soon become boring and predictable. Research shows that chidren aged between 8 and 9 (Mishka is turning 9 this year) continue to enjoy outdoor play, seeking to master specialised physical skills. Because she is much stronger she prefers riskier games and particularly more complex games involving set rules. Problem solving, organizing, riddles and collecting all kinds of things are particularly favoured at this age.

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Dress by Trendy Tots Hermanus

Games for 8 to 9 year old children may include: complex hand games, jacks, snapping fingers, tying a bow, constructing models, operating hand puppets, needlepoint, sewing, weaving, and braiding, hide and seek, tag, and sports of all kinds.

Her next stage will most probably involve much more advanced motor skills and thinking. I better get ready for some serious creative activities such as woodworking, staging plays and generating computer graphics.

Well, that brings me to my list of reasons why play is important, whether it is with toys, friends or outdoors:

Children who play:

  • increase their self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-respect
  • improve and maintain their physical and mental health
  • give them the opportunity to mix with other children
  • allow them to increase their confidence through developing new skills
  • promote their imagination, independence and creativity
  • offer opportunities for children of all abilities and backgrounds to play together
  • provide opportunities for developing social skills and learning
  • build resilience through risk taking and challenge, problem solving, and dealing with new and novel situations
  • provide opportunities to learn about their environment and the wider community.

I hope Mishka continues to be so curious about exploring her backyard, I find myself learning again and again because she collects all kinds of different leave shapes and shells and ask me loads of questions. This I think is why giving a child time to play is so important in stimulating thinking and learning.

Gentle Parenting – how we apply it

So many things are shared on our family Whats App group, but lately I really cherish the openness of my parents about their experiences as children and parents. My dad told a story about his first experience at a barber shop and how different it was from what my nephew experienced when he had his first hair cut at the local barber. It came down to the way children were seen and ‘handled’ – without empathy and very rigid rules of acceptable behaviour: mostly shut up, sit still and behave!

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It made me very emotional to think about my dad as a little boy, not only did he experience this hostile treatment in a public place but also at home, the lack of understanding and compassion, the lack of comforting and emotional support, especially for boys of his generation. But that’s just it, a generational thing, what they thought was necessary to raise unspoiled, well-behaving children is totally opposite of what we believe, all the while not knowing the impact it would have on their children’s emotional intelligence and confidence.

Some of that trickled down to the way he raised me, strict and without affection. When Ian and I discussed our parenting style while we were expecting Mishka we disagreed about a few things but we were very clear about one thing, we will raise her to have a strong emotional bond with us. This means we will guide her with warmth and acceptance, not judgement and preconceived rules. Our main aim was to break the cycle of emotional deficiency in the parent-child relationship.

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Later I discovered that there actually is a name for what we thought would be a cool way to raise our kid: Attachment Parenting, and it has 8 principles:

  1. Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth, and Parenting
  2. Feed With Love and Respect
  3. Respond With Sensitivity
  4. Use Nurturing Touch
  5. Ensure Safe Sleep, Physically and Emotionally
  6. Provide Consistent and Loving Care
  7. Practice Positive Discipline
  8. Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life

Sounds easy! Not so easy!

Every day I realize that my little girl is growing up. She challenges me on new levels, she is strong-willed and definitely has her own set of ideas about how things should work and it is not the same as mine. So responding with sensitivity seems very low on my list when I want to get her to do what I want her to do. This is the fine line between letting it go or practicing positive discipline.

Especially when I know we are going to disagree a lot going forward because we are both very strong-willed, and this is part of the problem, too much alike!

My aim is to focus on building our relationship and loving her unconditionally, I don’t want to transfer my own unhealed pain onto her so I make a point of distinguishing between what is mine and what is hers when it comes to emotions. This is striving to provide consistent love and care, regardless of my past experiences.

Gentle parenting asks us to consider how we make our children feel. It is the foundation of all other relationships: does she feel safe with us, or does she feel she has to hide her true feelings from us?

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I think about the 8th principle, to strive for balance, then I know for sure: rules are not what will win her heart. Yes it is important to provide her with a set of skills, but the deal breaker in a parent-child relationship in my mind is respect.

Balancing discipline and love is probably my biggest challenge. That’s why I bring in another element, inspiration!

I ask myself daily, do I inspire her to be a good person, to feel safe, to feel she belongs.

Making a lot of mistakes along this journey always brings me back to this: do I lead with love?

For me to respond with empathy, I have to first acknowledge my own fear and pain, I struggle with this sometimes and can project my own lack of emotional control by trying to control her.

I want her to grow through making mistakes and sharing with me and learning from it.

My thinking is that if she feels safe and reassured, she will behave because she will not feel the need to prove herself or seek attention. This underpins everything for me, she must trust her own heart, and the only way for that to be an option is if we guide her. So yes, when she makes poor decisions I will listen and figure it out with her, that way she will learn how to trust her own judgement.

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This sounds very grown-up for a 7 year old, but in reality it is applicable to small things, for example to do her homework halfheartedly or with all her potential capacity. The consequences will be clear, either she will do well or poorly, and given her competitive nature she will question the outcome and I will be able to lay out the facts, with compassion.

“Connection is a child’s greatest need and an adult’s greatest influence.”

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“Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that she is exactly the person she is supposed to be. And that if I am lucky, she might be the teacher who turns me into the person I am supposed to be.”