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It’s that time of the year when summer vacations are in full swing and you will find your neighbourhood packed with playing children. As parents, it reminds us of our own summer vacations when a day of outdoor sports and activities was a given, unless our parents decided that it was time to visit our native village or that aunt of ours.
Though not yet an issue in India, there is an ongoing debate around the world on whether our children should be allowed be play with other children for long hours outside, without any supervising elder. Interestingly, this debate raises a lot of related questions:
· Should children never be allowed to leave home without an accompanying adult? No, they can be allowed.
· Don’t children learn social skills by interacting with their peers? Yes, they do.
· Shouldn’t children be allowed to satiate their curiosity of the outside world through self-exploration? Yes, self-exploration is good for children.
· Till what age do I supervise my child playing? Though not age dependent, children need to be supervised until they learn appropriate social behaviour skills.
Basically, I am questioning the assumption that unsupervised children involved in an unstructured group play has no downsides. Sadly, it has...
Recently, I listened to an expert lecture on child development from the National Association of Child Development (NACD) who mentioned that you allow a group of 4-year olds to play together unsupervised and the chances are they would end up breaking each other’s neck. Though this may sound overly exaggerating, the point that he is trying to make is that kids (irrespective of their age group) are influenced greatly by their peers. In the absence of a role model, they tend to copy behavioural habits from their peers and friends. In any group of friends, if any one of the peers uses “cuss” words regularly, higher are the chances that the rest of the group would gradually learn the same, in order to “fit” into the group. As they grow up, children tend to depend more on peer influences for their future decision making, and that is not necessarily the best thing to rely upon.
So, here are a few tips on how social interaction among children peers can be made positive and good for our kids:
· Provide a positive social environment at home.
If your child is spending the whole day playing outside, they probably must be doing so as they are bored sitting at home. Create a positive environment at home through appreciation and family bonding. A good and positive family life is the surest way of developing proper social skills in our children.
· Supervise the group play.
Firstly, keep the group size small to around 4-5 kids. It is hard to supervise a large group of children. As a supervisor, you must be someone who loves to spend time with kids, and do not treat them as a bunch of nuisance. At the same time, the kids too must respect you and not take you for granted. As a supervisor, do not impose yourself on the child play, although you can direct them into meaningful play activities. In case of any rift, intervene to settle matters, without picking on any one child.
· Provide structured play time.
An alternative to unstructured and unsupervised child play can be to provide them with a structured group play activities like a group dance class, sports coaching, or summer camps. Ensure that the group size does not exceed 4-5 children and is managed by kid-friendly professional. You can also encourage structured play at home through family games like carom or chess.