What Should a Child Do All Day?

DSC_0878What should a child be doing all day long? Should you the parent be entertaining them with child focused activities? Should you be scheduling their time with countless educational groups, sports teams or play dates? Should you be buying more toys to satisfy them when they complain of being bored?

No.

None of these things are needed by the child, none of these things is required of you.

A child’s business is simple. It comes instinctively with no instruction necessary. They cannot help but to follow this impulse and do this important work, and that is, to learn how to live in their world by imitating the older role models surrounding him or her.

A child needs to copy us. To work out what we are doing and why. To be deeply involved in all that we do and to feel important and valuable to his or her family.

What this means will look very different for each family. For a parent who is a farmer, this may mean chasing after the sheepdogs on the hills, it may mean pouring a bucket of grain for the chickens. It may mean pulling a brush through the horses mane. For an artist, it may mean having his own canvas to throw paint on, or her own lump of clay to mould and shape.

For a home maker, it may mean having a cloth to wipe the surfaces. It may mean pouring and weighing ingredients for bread. It could be pushing the hoover over the rugs and helping to empty the bins.

In this video, we see a child in a hunter gather tribe, joining in with the family tasks. Already at such a young age, he is aware of the work going on around him, seeking to help and be included in every part of the day.

The big issue for many of us, myself included, is that a lot, if not all of our work is done on the computer. This new phenomenon is one of the few ways of working which a child can neither learn nor benefit from. They see nothing new as they observe you staring blankly at a screen. They struggle to find a way to get involved.

This leads to either frustration and behavioural issues from the child, or else they attempt to lose themselves in a screen too, as demonstrated by you. They watch television for hours or become addicted to video games. This is damaging to their developing minds and steals their right to be actively involved in fulfilling family based tasks.

So what’s the answer?

Well, that is something each family needs to figure out for themselves based on their own needs. Perhaps it is getting a grandparent to come and work in the garden with your child present while you work. Perhaps it is finding time to complete your work in the evenings. For me, the solution has been to earmark Fridays solely for my computer based work, when Daddy is off work and able to be active with the children and I can work alone. I also write with a good old fashioned pen and paper if I have to during the rest of the week, and use the evenings for computer based tasks.

For a lot of us, we need to look closely at our online habits and decide what is really necessary, and what is actually habit and addiction. It can be easy to escape into a screen when reality is proving to be challenging, and that is something many of us parents struggle with as we try to find our feet without the support of a real life tribe.

But what we need to know and be constantly aware of, is that children are watching everything we do as they try to figure out their place in the world. Instead of getting irritated at their need to be involved, we need to find ways they can feel included and develop pride in their own work. We need to make time for them to explore, to make mistakes and to try again. We need to trust that they are capable and that they will one day be just as good as we are at completing these tasks.

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