Children Need to be Children


There seems to be so much pressure on young mothers to be constant providers of educational experiences for their children as well as getting their children to read and to write at an earlier and earlier age. Some public school districts across the country have or will soon offer full-day kindergarten and with that comes increased expectations for younger children and that includes their mothers. But is this really better for children?

Children Learn at Their Own Pace
It is easy to get caught up in assumed expectations of what milestones our children need to reach and when. Sometimes, we can be so focused on comparing what our child does to those his age that we can even be hard on ourselves and think, “What am I doing wrong?” In reality, children learn at their own pace, and the recommended milestones at such a young age often do not have anything to do with the kind of person one’s child is capable of becoming.

When asked, “How is your son doing with toilet training?” one mother, Tamara Parker replied, “Oh, I am in no hurry. There are some moms who can’t wait to toilet train but that is just not me.” Then she smiled, “It’s not like it’s a status symbol for me if my son is toilet trained earlier than he is ready to be.” I laughed and appreciated her honesty. Our children are not trophies and our unconditional love for our child speaks more highly of the kind of parents we are than our child’s achievements.

When Parents are Stressed, Children Will Feel Stressed Also
When my son was four months old, we tried to introduce baby food. It did not go well. He gagged and spit up and had a persistent aversion to anything other than formula from a bottle. This continued for months and caused me so much stress and worry. I remember talking to my dad when my son was about two and crying asked, “Is it too much to ask for my son to eat one raspberry?!” My dad wisely said, “Yes, it is, if he doesn’t want it.”

Our pediatrician confirmed to me that you cannot make a child eat. And actually, the more stressed you are and the more you try to make your child eat, the more likely meal times will turn into a battle of wills. I realized that if my son was going to try raspberries, it was going to be on his terms and on his timetable. He is now four and still will not eat raspberries but enjoys strawberries instead. The same is true for learning. You cannot make a child learn and children learn best in a supportive environment rather than a stressed one.

Preschoolers Need Free Play
Recently in the Washington Post, Valerie Strauss wrote an article to the effect that when young children are forced to sit still at a desk all day, they do not develop the core muscle strength they normally would when allowed to run, skip and play and as a result, they feel agitated and restless. Young children especially need to be allowed to exercise and play freely.

The first day of preschool for my son ended in a phone call from his teacher who said she did not feel like he was ready for preschool because he would not sit on his carpet square and listen to her lesson. At the time, I felt like my son was rejected and it was difficult for me. But, I took him out of preschool and kept him out the remainder of the school year. It ended up being the best thing for my son. That school year, he didn’t spend it sitting on a small carpet square; instead, he and I went to every park in my community and explored and played.

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Preschoolers Need Their Mothers
A nurturing mother can do more for her child than all day preschool or all day kindergarten ever can. An article published on reports of a study that demonstrated that children who are loved and nurtured at an early age are likely to develop a larger hippocampus as well as experience less depression as an adult. Although the study was done on biological mothers and their children, the study points out that the effects would be the same with any primary caregiver who is consistently nurturing to the child.

Children need mothers and caregivers who can pick them up when they fall down and reassure them to get up and try again. They need to be told they are good. They need to be told often that they are loved. This not only reaffirms to them their sense of belonging, but it will increase their confidence as they grow. It goes without saying that children who are continuously loved and encouraged will have better self-esteem than children who are often criticized and neglected.

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by writer Alicia Walters, contributor to print and digital magazines.

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