You’re not a bad parent if you don’t enjoy “kid-friendly” places. If you have been at birthday parties, zoos, or play areas, and felt either completely bored or utterly overstimulated, you’re not alone. Nevertheless, you pack your child’s schedule with these activities and tell yourself it’s what a good parent does. But, you don’t have to always sacrifice your weekends for this. In this quick tip episode, we discuss the myth of child-centered activities, the developmental benefits of the adult world, and how parents can be stress-free while kids have fun.
In Western culture, it’s normal for kids to have their own activities. We have grown accustomed to giving children their own special activities on the weekends, such as kids’ birthday parties, kids’ museums, and playdates. Psychologist Suzanne Gaskins calls these activities “child-centered” because parents participate in these activities only because they have children. Contrary to popular belief, kids don’t need their own activities, and outside of Western culture, they are virtually nonexistent. According to anthropologist David Lancy, “We’re making some really bad assumptions about what’s essential and what children need to thrive.” A lot of our cardinal principles turn out not to be nearly as critical as we believe.
Dr. Gaskins tells NPR that child-centered activities are not only completely unnecessary for kids to grow and develop, but in the long run, they do children a disservice. This disservice is that they exclude kids from the adult world. Dr. Gaskins has studied parenting and cultural development in Maya communities for more than 30 years. Through her qualitative and quantitative research, she found that exclusion denies kids the opportunities to learn all sorts of important skills, such as how to do chores around the house, how to cooperate with your family, and how to behave appropriately in the adult world. “When you give children the opportunity to assume responsibilities, they will take it,” Gaskins says.
On the weekends, parents may be stressed about getting the errands they need to do, while also entertaining their children. You may be thinking ‘how can I incorporate my kids into my adult life?’ It turns out that the answer is pretty simple. Do chores, errands, hobbies, and social activities, and bring the kids along. These regular activities are more than enough “enrichment” for kids, says psychologist Rebeca Mejía-Arauz. The reality is that parents don’t need to know how to play with kids. If we get kids involved in adult activities, that’s play for kids.
This is not to say it will be an easy transition, though. Barbara Rogoff, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz says that at first, kids who aren’t accustomed to being in the adult world, might not behave properly in these situations. But they need to learn how to be a part of these things and society. With patience, parents can slowly introduce a child to new experiences, such as waiting patiently at a parent’s doctor’s appointment, joining mom or dad at work for an afternoon, or sitting quietly in a religious service.
Dr. Rogoff says that if kids are included in different situations, they will learn how to act. Kids are really good at distinguishing between how to act in one place and how to act in another place. So the next time you feel the burden of finding something to keep your kids entertained so you can do what you need to, consider bringing them along with you.
Doucleff, M. (2021, August 15). A global guide for parents: How your kids can have fun without stressing you out. NPR. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/08/15/1027425635/a-global-guide-for-parents-how-your-kids-can-have-fun-without-stressing-you-out.
Utah State University. David Lancy, Ph.D. Anthropology. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://anthropology.usu.edu/people/directory/lancy-david.
University of California, Santa Cruz. Barbara Rogoff, Ph.D. Psychology. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://psychology.ucsc.edu/about/people/faculty.php?uid=brogoff.
Mejía-Arauz, R. Rebeca Mejía-Arauz: Iteso. ITESO. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://iteso.academia.edu/RMejíaArauz.
Northeastern Illinois University. Suzanne Gaskins, Ph.D. Anthropology and Psychology. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from http://orion.neiu.edu/~sgaskin1/Home.html.