Among the many things that parents dread hearing from their children’s lips are these two words – and for good reason. Most parents go immediately into rescue mode, with mental lists of activity options running through their minds on an instant treadmill, or frantic digging into purses for some form of amusement to occupy their children.
In Singapore, too often the statement is met with the offer of some electronic device or snack. Satisfied for the moment, our children immerse themselves into another world and all is well – well at least, all is quiet.
But are we harming our children more than helping them?
You are probably no stranger to the mountain of research that backs up what we already know – that too much screen time and junk food is detrimental to our children’s welfare and development.
And yet, “What else can I do?” you may ask.
According to Curriculum Executives at Kiddiwinkie Schoolhouse, Lydia Yeo and Rowena Ramos, a child needs time to process and mull over the many bits of stimuli they encounter on any regular day, which enables them to learn to make sense of the world around them.
However, when there is an overemphasis on “do-ing”, they simply don’t have the time to reflect and just “be”. Therefore, they advise parents to let children be bored. Consistently give your children private space to observe or analyse their surroundings.
When I was a child, we didn’t own a computer until I turned 17. To be sure, there was the good old television set, but I don’t remember sitting in front of the television most of the day. To be honest, I don’t fully remember what exactly I did with all that free time I must have had, but it certainly wasn’t spent running from one enrichment class to another or staring into space.
What I do remember is watching my grandmother cook in the kitchen, helping her to kopek the beansprout heads or wash the lettuce leaves, and getting my hands dirty in the garden while “weeding”. I remember reading, book after book after book, and drinking in the adventures and thrills of a make-believe world.
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I remember countless rounds of hide-and-seek and drawing the castle of my dreams and my ideal wedding dress. I remember tea parties with my cousins and our toys under trees or the dining table, playing hospital or school in the bedroom, and looking for secret passages or building houses out of cushions and a heap of sheets.
What will our children remember about their childhood?
Don’t buy into the lie that being busy is good for yourselves or your children.
Overscheduling your lives does not happiness create, and instead wears you down, as it will your children. While I am certainly not advocating having no plans or activities for your family, we do need to ask ourselves if we are taking on too much too quickly.
Already, the rigorous school system in Singapore requires a lot of your child’s available energy and time. After school, there is still homework to complete or projects to work on, and adding too many other enrichment activities to your child’s plate may well do more harm than good.
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Choose to set aside some time every day, periods where there is simply nothing planned. These are pockets of time when your child can be free to just be and learn to listen to their own hearts, and fears, and dreams and desires.
Lydia and Rowena say that parents can even go one step further to help in the thought process by asking their children questions about their observations to engage them in conversation. These conversations then become learning opportunities for the discovery or clarification of a fact. Nevertheless, don’t fret if you don’t have time for many long conversations like these. Many times, you don’t really have to intervene at all, simply let your child figure out how to keep occupied.
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I’ve seen this happen in my boys so many times. One of them will come to tell me that he is “bored” and can he please watch a video on my phone? Now, of course, there are times when I do let him watch his favourite Wild Kratts or Dino Train video, but increasingly I try to just tell the boys to “sit and think of what you really want to do” or that “I’m sure you will find something fun to do if you wait a while.”
And every single time, they do.
By Dorothea Chow.
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