Less is More: Overprotecting Little Ones’ Minds and Learning

Over the past few months there’s been a  lot of talk of how overprotecting our children is harming them. Without feeling as though they are ever in perceived danger (read climbing a high structure over a non-padded surface, for example) and overcoming their fear experts agree that they lack experiences that would otherwise aid in their development, both emotional and intellectual.

At this point E is 19 months old, and so needs lots of adult supervision. I do let her try things out on her own, and take a few spills in the process.  Theoretically, as an educator I can say that when she’s older I’ll let her explore her surroundings with minimal adult supervision. Free Range if you will. But really, until that time comes I can’t say for sure how I’ll feel as a parent. So for now, I’ve tucked the information from many of these articles and news reports away for a later time.

All except one. CBS This Morning (my personal favorite for morning news) did a report titled Does Overprotecting Children Put Them At Risk? where they had Hanna Rosin, author of the recent article in The Atlantic, The Overprotected Kid, explaining what she had found in her research for the article.  She was then later that day heard on NPR’s All Things Considered. What caught my attention in both interviews was her statement that mothers now spend more time with their children, including working mothers, than in the 1970s. Her explanation for this is that we have redefined parenting our children to be protecting our children. She focuses mainly on older, school aged kids, but I would argue that this new parenting style can be seen with children at a much earlier age.

It’s not so much that we’re physically  overprotecting infants, toddlers and young preschoolers. They need to be kept within a safe proximity, and at the very least within hearing distance. Let them trip and scrape a knee or two, but exploring the neighborhood alone at the age of 2 is probably not the best choice. But what we may be overdoing it on is the “engaging activities”, structured play dates and educational toys and apps. Rather than physically overprotecting our littlest ones, we’re taking every precaution to ensure their minds are properly developed, perhaps to their detriment and ours.

Many mothers of not just school aged children but infants and toddlers as well now live under the pressure of not only being a full time stay at home mom, or working in or out of the house, all while at the same time keeping a house and home in order, but now of also of adequately stimulating and teaching their children for the fear of them failing miserably later in life. Neither our children nor ourselves are happy in these situations. Rather we’re stressed, overwhelmed and overworked.

Enter a breath of fresh air from the past, present and future of early childhood education: Maria Montessori and present day Montessori teachers.  Rather than adding on educational activities and projects, and spending money on educational apps, etc, take advantage of the myriad of sensory, learning and skill building activities that you are already doing each and every day.

“Parents select from among their occupations the ones that “they have to do anyway in their everyday life,” and by doing so, parents avoid the feeling of pressure to do even more for their child than they have hitherto been doing. They are simply including their child, according to his interest and capability” – Montesori From the Start by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen

Children, especially young children, are sponges who are learning all the time, and we need to have faith in their innate ability to learn. They don’t need planned educational activities to learn. Simple things like daily tasks and chores are wonderful for young children to participate in. Admittedly I do a weekly post on activities and art projects for little ones to keep them engaged, playing and learning, but for us these are once a day, if that, activities. For the most part, E is engrossed in her own free play, with various open ended toys, reading books with me or helping me with daily tasks.  Rather than add to your list of things to do today, stick with your To Do list, let the little ones play, and if they are so inclined involve them in what you’re doing. You may see sweeping the floor or washing dishes as mundane, but there is a lot of planning, motor skills, and detailed tasks involved.

Here are some To-Do List items that you can bring your little one in on:

  • Laundry: Have them help sort laundry, put it in the the washer and dryer, and fold clothes.
  • Meal time: Have them help set up the table for meal times. Model for them how to carry a plate, how to place a fork on the table, how to place a napkin down and let them take a turn at it.
  • Sweeping and Mopping: Let them try their hand at sweeping the floor. Model for them how to pull the dirt into a pile.
  • Tidying up: Help them sort things to be thrown away, and things to be out away. Have them put the items in the appropriate place, with help as needed.
  • Cooking: Give them a cabinet in the kitchen with items for them, including measuring cups and spoons. Need a cup of water? Have them help you get it with their measuring cups.

Clearly involving children may slow down your efficiency, but instead of rushing through your daily tasks to get to furthering the education of your little ones, you become an educator throughout the day, every day, for your little sponge.

Remember to give yourself a break when they are playing. Take these precious moments and get something else checked off the to do list, or better yet, take a minute to sit and just observe your amazing child in action. In fact, when children are involved in free play it is vital to stay out of it. They don’t need our help, aside from providing a few open ended toys, to play and learn. Even a “Good Job” from across the room can interrupt the moment and end the play. Wait till they have clearly finished and then enter yourself in if needed.

Let’s start to believe more in our children and their desire to learn and less in ourselves and our desire to protect them, mind and body.

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