Via Smart Parenting: What a Famous Psychologist Told Us About Raising Smart and Happy Kids

Dr. Peter Gray, a world acclaimed evolutionary psychologist, was a panelist in a forum when he was asked why play was important. He answered, “Because it makes children happy.” He was ignored for the rest of the discussion. In a succeeding forum, he was again asked the same question. This time, he responded differently: “Because it’s how children learn.” It got him more speaking time to elaborate on the developmental benefits of play.

The above goes to show that when it comes to matters about children, one will only get a room’s avid attention when you talk about how to make children smart, rather than happy. But child development experts like Dr. Gray wants us to remember that our kids learn the most when our little ones are happy.

We got the opportunity to catch Dr. Gray speak after asked me to attend the Jumpstart 2017 Early Leadership Symposium. It was organized by Rethasia International and Miriam College and held at the Henry Sy Sr. Innovation Center in Miriam College.

Dr. Peter Gray, who is a research professor at Boston College, author of the book Free to Learn, and writer for the blog “Freedom to Learn” for Psychology Today, speaks passionately about the need for children to play. He backs it up by citing studies he conducted with his colleagues and other researchers.

There was so much process to process after his talk. But here are three main takeaways I feel he would like all parents to know.

#1 Let kids learn how to explore and entertain themselves

Dr. Gray prescribes “self-directed play” where children can choose what to do during play time. Play-based schools who promote self-directed play give their students the chance to freely explore the classroom with subjects like Dramatics Play, Blocks, Science, Math & Manipulatives, Reading, Art & Writing. Here, they engage and learn to resolve social conflicts, craft artworks or stories for fun, or figure out how to solve the structural problems of a spaceship they made or complete a puzzle.

At home, he advises parents to let children play independently as well as with other children. Having the time to join others in playgrounds or playgroups has countless benefits, especially when they can choose their games and make up the rules.

Gray had also emphasized that imagination is developed through self-directed play. Children need the chance to create stories, build castles, experiment with water, sculpt clay figures, read about things that interests them, or play dress up. All these develop their creative side, a quality that is not only important among artists, but all industry leaders who are looking for individuals who can think out of the box and come up with novel and unique ideas.

#2 Academic skills is good, but another set of skills that may be better

Parents who are overly concerned about their children’s intelligence should, according to Gray, learn the difference between academic and intellectual abilities. The former can be taught in schools “using demonstration, recitation, memorization and repeated practice.” The latter has to do with “reasoning, hypothesizing, exploring, and understanding.” Intellectual abilities are mainly developed by the child through self-initiated activities. Parents can help by providing nurturing environments, like when we read to children or play games that involve numbers and measuring. But for intellectual abilities to truly develop, children need to be happily engaged and motivated.

Gray believes that for our kids to become successful and happy adults, we need to focus on the intellectual rather than the academic skills. He also warns focusing on academic skills can negatively affect the development of a child’s intellectual skills. It puts on a lot pressure for children who have difficulty with memorization tasks and are shamed into thinking they are slow or stupid. These kids begin to think there is something wrong with them and begin to withdraw, give up or misbehave.

Source: iStock

#3 Parents need to create an environment where their kids can play

It’s not only in school that children are having less time to play. Thanks to homework, extra-curricular activities, safety and health fears of parents, and lack of accessible neighborhood play spaces, children are not playing together as much anymore.

Over the years, we’ve been seeing an increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide rates. Narcissism is on the rise, because people are missing the chance to develop empathy. Children aren’t filling up neighborhood parks anymore and missing out on inventing games and rules of play that are fun, creative and fair. They have less and less opportunities to learn how to win and lose gracefully. Specialists are correlating the rise in depression to the decline in play and happiness in childhood.

We, grown-ups, know how play makes us feel. We’re aware of how it ignites our interests in things that we will pursue with a passion. In my experience as a teacher, I have had students who made glorious messes in the art area, and they turned out to be artists who will sell their beautiful work. I had a student who loved being a Power Ranger and is now a US Marine. I had two little girls who always played with animals and plants and grew up to study Environmental Science.

With play, children have the chance to ignite a spark that will fuel them to do something meaningful and satisfying with their lives. Why would we, as a society, consciously deprive our children of play – of the chance to be happy while they are young and lead satisfying lives as adults?
At the start of the day, Dr. Gray told us to be skeptical about whatever he said. “You don’t have to take everything I say at face value…Question it.”

While we question Dr. Gray’s teachings, let’s also question ourselves. We all want what is best for our children, but what is more important to us, for our children to be happy and smart or to be school smart? If we sat in a room and were told how play makes our children happy, would we care? Or would we only tune in when the speaker starts to tell us how we can make our children smarter?

Note From MOMmy:

This article is a reminder for myself not to self-imposed my own personality on my daughters. It can be a challenged for a me because I can be a tad of OCD 😊. Anyone else experiencing the same problem?

Via Fox News: How to squelch the pressure and raise happy kids

A young mother of two daughters was sharing some of her parenting struggles with me. She spoke of how overwhelmed she felt in the early days of parenting when she was discovering how differently each of her children were wired, how foreign their personalities were from hers, and how ill equipped she felt to parent them. At her wits’ end, she asked for advice from a mentor whom she admired, whose own children were adults. But rather than being quick to offer advice, her mentor replied with a question. “What if you just let them be who they are?”

Letting our children “be who they are” is probably one of the biggest challenges we face. Not piling our expectations onto them. Not living our lives through them. Not expecting them to do things the way we would do them. Not passing on to them the pressure we feel. Finding the right balance between affirming who they are while still encouraging them to grow. Teaching them to give their best without making them feel like they must be the best at everything.

There is so much that we want for these kids that we love so much, and there is very little that will stop us from ensuring they achieve their full potential and purpose. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it is not.

Heeding the advice of the well-known proverb, “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child,” is a good thing. But, living vicariously through our kids and shackling our identities to their success or failure—not so much.

Sadly, we have never seen a generation of kids who are more miserable than this one. Researchers have a slew of theories for why we are seeing so much misery among kids, but if you guessed that how we parent is one of them, you’re correct.

Of course it is good and right to be proud of the good choices our kids make and to be on our knees in prayer over the not-so-good choices our kids make. But if our worth is anchored in our child’s choices, their good choices will inflate our heads and their bad choices will deflate our hearts. And that is just no way to live.

More importantly, if our worth is anchored to our child’s choices, we better believe they feel the weight of it. It’s a pressure, a burden that they are not designed to carry. It’s too heavy. It will crush them. It is crushing them. Sadly, we have never seen a generation of kids who are more miserable than this one. Researchers have a slew of theories for why we are seeing so much misery among kids, but if you guessed that how we parent is one of them, you’re correct.

And it starts early. Take, for example, the grocery store scenario. We are mortified when our kids throw a temper tantrum in the checkout lane. Why? Because that must mean we’re a bad mom. It must mean we haven’t done everything we know to do to raise children who are well behaved and self-controlled. Right? It’s a silly example but worth noting how we, from very early on, need our kids to look awesome because we think that makes us look awesome.

Or how about the athletic field? There are few places we see parents piling the pressure onto their kids more than they do there.

Coaches and parents alike question the refs and umps, scream at the players, and throw profanity around like confetti. We’ve kinda lost our minds, and our kids crack under the pressure.

Could it be that we need our kids to succeed because that means we’re succeeding? Do we need our kids to be “good enough” because it means that we parents are “good enough?” Do we need our child to get “student of the month” because that must mean we are “parent of the month”?

Of course, some kids are just more prone to perfection-seeking than others. Such kids tend to create their own pressure, even if their parents are actively trying to relieve it. But often, we parents play a role in the pressure our kids feel, so we have to be willing to take an honest look at how we pile our own pressure onto our kids.

We parents aren’t the only ones linking accomplishment to acceptance and success to significance. Our kids are attempting to answer the question, Is who I am enough? by:

  • How well they perform on the field
  • How much they excel in school
  • How many likes they get on their Instagram feed
  • How well they behave for us

The primary message our children receive is that they’d better be the best at everything, and this leaves them afraid to reveal their inadequacies and insecurities—and hiding behind the best version of themselves. This leaves them longing for what all our hearts most crave:

  • to be known—truly and deeply known
  • to be accepted—for who they are, not who they wish they were
  • to be loved—with no strings attached

What we want is for our kids to feel what we ourselves long to feel. Safe. Safe to take off their masks and let down their guards. Safe to be as fragile as they feel, trusting they will remain loved just as they are, for exactly who they are.

So when the internal and external voices whisper lies to our children like, “You’re insignificant. You’re not enough. You’re not measuring up. You are a disappointment,” we want them to know, deep in their souls: The only One who gets to define you is the One who created you and He calls you a one-of-a-kind-masterpiece who is deeply known and completely loved, even on your worst day and even in your greatest failure.

But here’s the thing. To help our kids live in this freedom, we have to know this freedom for ourselves.

We have to go first. We have to get our own identities anchored in being fully known and accepted and loved by God first. And as we do, we will become emboldened and empowered to lead our under-pressure kids in doing the same.

Learning how to live in real freedom from the pressure you face, and leading your children in doing the same, is the message packed into my new book, “Mom Set Free”.