Mixing the PlayDough

So, there’s this thing called helicopter parenting, you know, where the parent “hovers” over the child all, the, time… I’m not a helicopter parent, at least, I don’t think I am. I was at the chick-fil-a playground the other day and this parent could not let her child play for more than 5 seconds without having to comment, correct, or otherwise check on her child. This child was probably 3 or 4 so it’s not like playing on a slide was above her capabilities and she actually needed help. Nope, this parent was just afraid something might go wrong, maybe her child would get upset. Either way, it was making ME nervous just watching them. It’s a kid’s play area, the kids are supposed to run around and have fun.

There’s so many things I’ve had to learn to let go of as a parent of young children. I’m constantly asking myself, Do I need to interfere? Do I need to help? Do they need direction? Alot of times that answer is yes, but, many times, It’s no. Is it important? Does it matter?

Really, does it matter that my 3yr old prefers to crunch her suckers instead of suck on them. Irritating, yes. Does it matter, no.

For example, the first thing that almost drove me crazy as a young mom was my daughter mixing the play dough colors. You know, play dough has these nice plastic containers, with colored dough in them, and the lid to the container matches the dough. So, when you’re done playing it’s all supposed to go back where it came from. Right? Nope, not at all. These kids make “pies”, “pancakes” and little people. And they have these toys that you push the play dough through to make shapes, and horse hair, and such. And of course, things can’t be one color, they have to be a rainbow – which eventually turns brown because if you mix enough, it will be brown.

I found myself managing her play, don’t mix these! Don’t let these touch! Don’t smash those together, I’ll never get them apart! And then I realized, what am I doing? Is this necessary? How does it matter that the play dough is mixed? It’s for playing with, it has no purpose but to be smushed, mashed, squished, shaped, and unfortunately, mixed.

The kids help me in the kitchen. I do instruct and heavily supervise (it’s the kitchen, a lot of things can go wrong). I do request that they try to keep things in the bowl, off the floor (and off the ceiling), and I don’t let them do something beyond their abilities that could harm them. (as in no sharp knives and I’m the only person putting things in and out of the oven). My 5yr old can operate the electric mixer, cut anything that is soft enough for a butter knife, and she understands when things are hot and she should let me handle it. The 3yr old can mix with a spoon and mostly keep everything in the bowl. And the 1yr old knows how to lick the beaters and bowls :). ┬áHere’s the key, I let them try anything that can’t harm them. We’ve had lots of messes, and plenty of mistakes. I show them how to do it right, but if you just can’t quite stir without making a mess, it’s ok, practice makes perfect. And we all have fun trying! And somehow, this was easier than the play dough…

I want my kids to know how to solve problems on their own – if the kids are fighting over a toy and come to me, I offer to take the toy and store it in a safe place for them. In 3 years, I’ve only had to actually take the toy twice. Once they realize that they both loose this way, they figure it out. My mother-in-law was shocked the other day. She was babysitting while my husband and I went out to dinner. She had found a fairy dress and wings at a yard sale the weekend before and she was worried about how the girls would react to there being only one dress. But, she pulled it out and prepared for the worst. To her surprise, there was no fighting. They decided that one should get the dress and one the wings. The 3yr old needed help putting the wings on but, that was all the help they needed. They traded items an hr or two later and each of them got to play with each item.

I’m not saying that I don’t teach manners. We sit at the table till everyone is done eating, we’re polite to each other, the kids say “yes sir,” and “yes ma’am”, and they’re required to obey. We take them to meetings and they have to sit quietly. So, I do require a lot of my kids. But on the flip side, I try to leave lots of room for them to explore.

We mix the play dough (actually, I don’t mix the playdough – they do), we make big messes in the kitchen, and cupcakes with LOTS of sprinkles, we color, paint, and explore. My rule for outside on the swingset, if they can figure out how to do it, they can give it a try (I know one of these days someone will have a broken bone but as long as they learn their limits as they go, hopefully it will be a while before this happens). No one has figured out the monkey bars yet, so no one uses them, they try, they’re getting close, but not quite there. And I don’t help, when they’re big enough to do it, they’ll figure it out.

In my opinion, if I’m always helping and fixing, they’ll never learn how to do things on their own.