One late evening I was talking to a mother about Homeschooling. Like most good parents, she was concerned about providing enough stimulation to her 2.5 and 4.5 year olds. I could sense pride in her voice when she told me how she was learning carpentry so she could redecorate her children’s room. She walked me through her plan of laying brightly colored peg boards and cozy spaces in the room so her children love their space and are completely engaged. How I wish, I had the heart to tell her that she was focusing her energies in the wrong place. While I was so proud of her taking all the effort to learn carpentry, I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for her. For not so long ago, I was exactly in her shoes, trying to create the perfect external environment for my children.
As parents, we somehow take our role so seriously. We believe that the health, wealth, happiness or in short the entire life of our children is our responsibility. We are supposed to ensure they are happy each second, healthy each day and wealthy for the rest of their life. Seriously!?! Is this even possible? Even if it was possible, is it even needed? Do we really think that our children are not capable of keeping themselves happy/healthy/wealthy and we need to take care of all their needs? Do we really think that children have no idea of what they want in life and need to coached and guided all the time? Do we really think that we were the last generation that was gifted a brain? Do we, Really??
The sad reality is that we do. We constantly believe that we are smarter, more intelligent and more experienced than our children and therefore it is our natural duty to safeguard their present and their future. We are constantly working hard in creating experiences for the child hoping that our children are stimulated in the positive direction. I was pretty much the same a few years ago. However, in spite of my best efforts to keep them engaged, my children continued to have extreme mood swings, were distracted most of the time and did not seem happy or satisfied most part of the day. For a while, I tried working harder creating more sources of external stimulation. Beautiful rooms, best art supplies, latest technology gadgets – I had invested in all. We even traveled half the world trying to create the perfect experiences for our children. My children seemed happy for up to a week with each new addition but soon they would slip back into their, “I am bored” frame of mind. My biggest moment of meta cognition came when my daughter, standing right in the middle of Disneyland in California had tears in her eyes out of sheer boredom.
Through all her adolescent years, it was a common thing for her to walk up to me and state, “I am bored!” stating it in a way that felt that it was my problem that she was bored. She was trying to tell me that I had to get up and do something to stop her from feeling bored. For a long time, I tried. And then, one fine day, I realized her boredom was not a problem to be solved by “me”. It was an opportunity for “her” to harness. A lot of reading, research and training time went behind, me, arriving at this realization. I am glad I did. After this realization, I stopped intervening to change her state of boredom. At max, I would proudly exclaim,” Wow! You are bored! You know that’s a gift! That means you have been gifted with more time than the number of tasks you have! You know how lucky you are! You have free time! ” I did not say this in a sarcastic kind of way. I genuinely felt and believed it, not only for her but also for me.
For a while, she thought I had gone crazy. She just did not feel the same way as I did. However, having heard me say this repeatedly over a period of time, forced her to start thinking about Boredom as a Gift. She started feeling lucky about being bored. She started thinking about things she could possibly do because she had more time than she had previously imagined. Now a days, for most part of the day, she has figured out what to do with her time. Since we are homeschooling, she has more free time than most of her peers. Yet, I feel, she is more constructively occupied most part of the day than she was when she was in full time school. Off late, I rarely create experiences for our children. They create their own experiences using the limited amount of tools, gadgets, supplies and friends they have. I believe, even if we run out of everything else, we still have our unending imagination to keep us engaged. In fact, the more we use our imagination the more it grows. The only difference is that in place of using our imagination to get bored, we have to use our imagination to paint walls, fix broken things, cook exotic dishes, dig for dinosaur bones, look for hidden treasures, share our feelings with those we love, create stories and live our life as it was always meant to be lived.
When we were children, all we did was climb trees, create stories and run around on roads. No one ever tried to stimulate us. We were stimulated by our own internal desire to do something, to stay happy. Even today, a one year old child doesn’t need toys, holidays or even friends to be happy. He/she is happy just exploring and observing the world around him using leaves, grass, spoons or if nothing else their own hands and feet. It is we, parents, who create so many sensory experiences for our child that we make our child dependent on these for their sense of joy. Any day, we fail to keep them busy their joy turns into frustration and anger.
My sincere advice for parents working on creating external stimulants for your child is, “Please Stop!”. Please don’t make your children’s learning and enjoyment be dependent on stimulation that you provide. If you want to do anything, encourage and guide your child to be engaged on their own. Be there for your child, in person not with the materialistic gifts that you bring along. Use your own imagination to stay engaged and connected with your child. Don’t rely on expensive holidays and fancy resorts to help you connect with your child. Don’t tell your children to stop using the phone when you, yourself, are stuck with it the most part of the day, even on holidays. In essence, be the adult you want your child to grow up to be.
Having said all the above, I don’t mean to say that external stimulation is not important. It is important and we should invest in it. The danger in today’s world is that we are making our children dependent completely dependent on external environment for their happiness. Both learning and happiness should come within the child first before we provide them external stimulus. If the child is unhappy within, no amount of outside add on activities will make them happy.
How are you engaging the child is not important. How is the child engaging themselves is what is important. I have learnt it the hard way. I hope this post makes it a little bit easier for you.