What a relief! Smart people say that it is okay to be a lazy parent. I have occasionally used the excuse of fatigue because we have too many children, but now I can justify just letting the kids roam wild because studies say it is better for them in the long run.
Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California- Berkley has discovered, through her research, that young children learn more from each other than they do from structured adult instruction. Her assertion is that a child’s brain is wired to develop through free play, and when adults intervene with that process they are actually stunting the growth of the kids.
So, now I have something to cling to when I get the glaring I’m-a-better-mom-than-you looks when I take my kids to the playground. I let my kids play. I let them fight (argue) with each other and occasionally with the other kids they meet. They know better than to come whining to me, because my usual response is..”.you guys work it out.” They have my permission to come get an adult opinion if they have tried all of their strategies first, and there is no middle ground. I let them lose when they are playing games, and if there is an element that they cannot scale on their own, I will often tell them that if they can’t get up it…it wasn’t meant for them. I let them make the mistakes that Gopnik argues they are wired to experience. She has found that the mistakes and the freedom are what makes the connections for kids in their development. Who knew that the experts were the kids themselves?
I’ve never really been that parent who jumps in and controls a playground conversation, and I have occasionally been annoyed by the hovering parent who does. I want to tell them, “they’ll work it out, just give it a second.” Now I know that those parents who jump in are taking a chance to learn away from my kids, and I wonder if I might have to get up off my observatory post to say something; not to the kids, but to the parents. I hope not! As long as there are no punches being thrown and the rocks stay where they are supposed to be, there is no real need for adult involvement, and I hope the word gets out to all the adults that we have scientific permission to get back to hanging on the outskirts. The kids have got it. They’ll be fine…no, better than fine…all they need is for us to get out of their way. They need to play, and we need to let them.