plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

The things your child needs

Know that what this child does is play; have respect, have great love; listen carefully; lay down your adult needs to be authoritarian, disciplinarian, bigger; kneel and wash the feet of your child; have humility and when you’re wrong, say ‘I was wrong’; trust that look in your child’s eye.

Earlier in the week I’d found my way to a blog post written by someone else (who I won’t link to here because I’d like to create a sort of amalgam of ‘things found’ here today). That blog post offered up the poster’s various friends’ advice about what new parents should know. I read through that list and thought ‘Hmm. Some of this doesn’t bode well for the child.’ This is not at all scientific, but on that post alone the positive child-focused advice was less than 30% (the rest was negative or bland at best). The passage I’ve written (above, in italics) was just something I had to add to that list. It represents how I feel right now about my interactions with, at a conservative estimate, some couple of thousand children, maybe more, including a handful of family children, over the years (some being long-term and continued playworker/child relationships, some more fleeting but just as significant).

At this point there’s bound to be someone thinking something like: ‘Ah, but being a playworker (whatever that is) isn’t the same as being a parent. Being a parent is the highest and most important form of human achievement.’ I disagree because I’m of the opinion that all adults (parents, playworkers, teachers, the man or the woman in the street, etc.) can do more to appreciate the children around them, see their play as play, respect them, have and be love, listen, relinquish their agendas of control, have humility towards them, trust them, and so on.

It’s a source of constant dismay to hear phrases such as ‘Johnny is such a little sod’, or ‘I need to tell her off’, or ‘She needs to learn to behave/not be naughty’. It’s the disrespect of children and non-appreciation of them, played through the need for adult control, that frustrates me.

So yesterday I went off on a minor research trek: trying to find some positives and some negatives, to give a balanced view from various internet sources, regarding parenting advice. However, though there are some positives out there (some of which I will highlight a little further on), I got somewhat sidetracked by the more frustrating of the comments when unearthing negative attitudes towards children.

From the US blog site that started this research process off, I found the following examples of attitudes/advice for new parents (I reserve the right to change the word ‘kids’ to ‘children’ throughout because the former irritates me no end, and to alter American English to my own flavour):

Always carry a Bible with you whilst you’re in public with your [children]: not to calm yourself down to read it when they act up, but in case you might have to do an exorcism . . . Bad behaviour can be changed in a week if the parents are strong enough to last the seven days of pain the [children] will bring . . . Get a dog . . . Child leashes . . . Give them an iPad and let it raise them . . . Discipline is necessary. [Children] respect the parent who gives their life order.

Sure, there’s jokiness in some of the above, but really I don’t appreciate it because the sentiment that runs beneath all of this shines through. I then went off to open up a small sample of websites offering parenting advice (from the US and the UK): the first ten I found (so no, not at all scientific, but I needed to see what was being said in some sort of testing of the water out there). There’s no attempt here to present an absolutely representative and balanced view of what I found: this post is focusing mainly on negative attitudes towards children that can be found out there. Here’s a sampling, all of which trouble me [and here’s my editorial opinion too]:

Remember: you are in charge, not your children. It’s so easy to forget sometimes . . .

[No comment necessary, other than this sets up the frame of my uneasiness]

The earlier that parents establish this kind of ‘I set the rules and you’re expected to listen or accept the consequences’ standard, the better for everyone.

[Is it better for the children? Or don’t they count as being part of the ‘everyone-ness’?]

If your child continues an unacceptable behaviour [make a chart]. Decide how many times your child can misbehave before a punishment kicks in or how long the proper behaviour must be displayed before it is rewarded . . .  Once this begins to work, praise your child for learning to control misbehaviour . . .

[One man’s ‘misbehaviour’, like one man’s meat, is another’s poison. Or the other way around. Anyway, what I mean is this: if a child’s running around ‘not listening’, for example, are they playing or not exhibiting the ‘proper behaviour’? The ‘proper behaviour’? Learning to control misbehaviour? There’s probably enough material for a sociology student’s thesis in here somewhere]

Failing to set rules because you don’t want to be too tough on your [children] . . . often means parents end up losing control . . .

[Control, control, control . . .]

Why [children] need rules: helping him stick to the rules will make him way more pleasant to have around and be around, and his sense of self-control is a vital skill he can fall back on during his teen years, when making wise decisions may run counter to his desire to rebel.

[Rebel recalcitrant child, rebel, whilst you still can!]

When your crawling baby or roving toddler heads towards an unacceptable or dangerous play object, calmly say ‘No’ and either remove your child from the area or distract him or her with an appropriate activity.

[Umm. It’s a play object, right? Why is that inappropriate?]

Explain to [children] what you expect of them before you punish them for a certain behaviour. For instance, the first time your 3-year-old uses crayons to decorate the living room wall, discuss why that’s not allowed and what will happen if your child does it again (for instance, your child will have to help clean the wall and will not be able to use the crayons for the rest of the day). If the wall gets decorated again a few days later, issue a reminder that crayons are for paper only and then enforce the consequences.

[OK, so I understand the adult frustration here, but really . . . crayons work well on walls, right? They work especially well on the walls of draconian overlords who’re hellbent on schemes of punishment in their ‘corrective facilities’]

When it’s raining and your [children] are insisting on playing the PS3 or XBox again — only allow them to play standing up. You will be amazed at how much energy they burn jumping up and down.

[Where do I start on this one? Maybe I could just say that none of us are made of sugar and that we won’t dissolve in the rain. Or maybe the children could invest some pocket money in good sturdy locks for their bedroom doors]

We have instituted a rule that our 2-year-old daughter only gets three books out from the shelves at a time, then puts them away before getting more out.

[Only three books?? But I like books and I really have an urgent need for as many books as possible . . . Draw your own connections here between things like this and standards of literacy]

Is your child taking control?: planning your strategy; keep your eyes on the prize. It can feel like it’s all about the children’s wishes, and everything you do is a reaction rather than an action.

[Wow. Power-mad or what? Rebel, recalcitrant child, rebel . . .]

Take note of the type of games your child tends to play. If they play lots of games with toy guns and swords it may be a good idea to try to change the balance of their play and introduce a number of calmer pursuits as well.

[OK, I’m getting tired now. Let’s talk ‘play types’, play deprivation, the content and intent of the play should be up to the child; let’s talk evolutionary psychology; let’s talk ‘superhero play’ and defences; let’s talk about the psychological needs of young minds; let’s talk about the power of symbolism . . . let’s just talk]

If you tell your toddler that a timeout is the repercussion for bad behaviour, be sure to enforce it . . . Empty threats undermine your authority.

[What does ‘bad behaviour’ mean? Is that just another phrase for ‘what the adult doesn’t want?’ Also here . . . authority, authority, authority . . .]

If necessary, discipline your teen by taking away certain privileges to reinforce the message that self-control is an important skill.

[Discipline, discipline, discipline . . .]

Protecting your child from playground germs . . .

[Really??! No, I really don’t know what to say to this one!]

On the plus side, and to balance things up just a little bit, I found some moments of love and respect, and snippets to amuse, out there on the world wondrous web:

Stay a child yourself, connect on their level. So, do water fights, build forts, play with Lego, sing out loud, etc . . . Go with the flow and have fun! That’s what I’ve learned most in the last two years with my little one . . . Just be there, make time for them . . . Listen . . . Don’t call your [children] ‘little shits’. It puts bad energy on the child . . . Do all the fun things . . . Nurture their spirit and nurture their interests. Don’t get worried over their obsession with dinosaurs . . .

Sometimes it is easier just to believe that the cat DID draw on the wall . . .

When young children argue, don’t step in immediately. Give them a chance to sort it out for themselves, without you being within sight. You may be pleasantly surprised.

[Listen] is a verb. Listening to your children is different to hearing what they’ve said.

No matter how frustrated you get, and no matter what heinous crimes they’re being blamed for, do not shout at your child’s imaginary friends in public.

To all of which above I add, for what it’s worth:

Know that what this child does is play; have respect, have great love; listen carefully; lay down your adult needs to be authoritarian, disciplinarian, bigger; kneel and wash the feet of your child; have humility and when you’re wrong, say ‘I was wrong’; trust that look in your child’s eye.


Comments on: "The things your child needs" (2)

  1. Hi Joel, haven’t commented for ages, been busy moving house and working, which is good.

    If I were a parent wanting my kids to go to somewhere to play that had playworkers, I would make a huge effort to take them to yours. People move house to get their kids into good schools, do any move to be closer to good playgrounds, I wonder?


    I have a question.

    We know that playwork is not the same as parenting. We know they have ‘things’ in common.


    Q: What might be the differences?

    (I’m trying to set up an open question not a biased one, so please firstly audit my question before taking a stab at it. I have some thoughts and opinions and attitudes, I don’t have a answer or answers, yet. I try not to ask questions that I know the answers to, and feel free to pass.)

    • Hi Arthur

      Do people ever move house to be closer to good playgrounds? That would be something. I’ve picked up reading my A. S. Neill biography again (Jonathan Croall — because I know you like a reference, though I’m not going for the full Harvard here!): there’s a chapter dedicated, in part, to Neill’s views on parents and I find it interesting to read accounts of how some families started enrolling their children at Summerhill because of what I read as the ‘play offer’. OK, so Summerhill wasn’t a playground as such, but there’s some connection here for me. There are some things that I don’t take a shine to Neill on, but I’m mostly impressed by what I see so far.

      So, what might the differences between playworkers and parents be? I do have concerns about a perceived or actual ‘holier than thou’ attitude (even in this post I was concerned that I might be seen to be aggrieved at all parents, which isn’t the case). I suppose I, like some others of us, can get a bit on my soap box about this sort of thing. On the flip side to this though, I’ve certainly also experienced some direct and indirect ‘holier than thou-ness’ in the parent-playworker direction. None of this really answers your question though.

      What are the differences? Well, the obvious is that the playworker ‘gives the child back’ and doesn’t do the whole 24/7 thing, including the often documented battles of bedtime, school time, food time, etc etc. That’s just a matter of timings, and I maintain that application of positive attitudes towards children can go some way towards reducing some tensions between the generations. In ‘parent mode’, I’ve had difficult situations to contend with, but I reckon on my faith in relating and trusting, that process of continual building, as something that can work in both the adult and the child’s favour in such situations. Of course, that’s just thinking there about the ‘difficult situations’ of parenthood: what I should also remember, of course, is that playworkers also don’t get all the ‘in between, everydayness’ of positive being around the children that their parents get (though I like to think there’s a side of the children that playworkers get exposed to and maybe the parents don’t, and vice versa maybe). Sure, there’s the ‘everydayness of play’ thinking, but there’s also the everydayness of being which parents do get more of than playworkers: it’s a matter of time here. I haven’t delved too deeply into your question: pointing out what I have done is just scratching the surface.

      There’s more on ‘being’ re: parent and/or playworker though: more I’ll still need to think on.


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