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Get Ahead Kids® Feature Article
Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 5, No. 1 - January/February 2013

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Get Connected with Your Children!

By Jesper Juul - English adaptation by Hayes van der Meer, FamilyLab ANZ

Many parents have noticed that their children are tired around two or three o'clock in the afternoon. Not necessarily physically tired but they feel over-stimulated.

Ironically, this is because institutions such as child care centers and schools do what they are meant to do. In addition to caring for our children they stimulate their fine motor skills, intelligence, language, social abilities, emotions and creativity.

All that is plenty of work for the carers/teachers and if you are the one being stimulated then it is almost too much to fit in.

Most of us have attended child care and been to school. Many of us have fond memories - especially from our early years and thus hold a great deal of respect for our carers and early teachers. Those years were safe and inspiring, full of fun and friendships.

Upon reflection, it might not be so good if we see our carers and early teachers as role models. They were probably really good at their jobs, but there are immeasurable differences between institutional pedagogy and home life.

One such difference is the fact that carers and teachers are at work - it is their vocation and profession. They, no doubt, cared for us with love and good intentions - but they also got paid. There is a difference in motivation.

Teach Them about Adult Living

Childcare centers and schools teach children to be children. They learn to play, sing, draw, and more. These are some of the absolute qualities of these institutions because they add value to childhood.

Whilst this is wonderful it also means that our children are not taught how to be adults or how to live meaningful adult lives. They can only learn this at home. But what happens then, when we as parents see carers and teachers as role models? We try to emulate what they are doing and feel obliged to continue the stimulation after school. We try to inspire and entertain them. This is not surprising, as it might be the only way we know.

Add to this the dilemma that our children both crave and demand the entertainment. They are hooked on external stimulation and will literally have withdrawal symptoms if they have to go "cold-turkey" at home when they have just had a six or eight hour long fix.

This reality emphasises how stressful life can be for our children. When they physically, mentally and emotionally rely on adult directed activities and external stimulation they lose contact with their intrinsic abilities to be - just be. It is certainly also stressful for parents.

We cannot possibly live up to the standards of the institutions. We do not have the training, resources, support and facilities. So we feel guilty. Instead of enjoying a few valuable hours after school there is a risk of it all becoming too stressful and full of conflicts.

Parents Need to Say "No!"

As parents we are not responsible for entertainment. We must say: "No!" We need to embrace our own needs for connectedness with our children as well as attend to the daily doings of the family.

Let us be mindful, though, that there is a difference between external stimuli and play. Playing is vital for our children so they must have both time and mental space to do this. Sure, they play at child care and at school but this is something different.

Playing with us as their mum or dad is their only chance to be with us on their conditions and on equal terms - something their carers obviously cannot do. And remember, playing is one of the best anti-stress therapies for us all.

Our children need to learn about what it is like being an adult. They can only do this at home and only by seeing us being adults. We simply need to go for a walk, cook, read a magazine, take a nap, or trim the roses.

Do whatever, as long as we do it for our own sake and/or for the family's sake. When returning home from work we could sink into the couch with our child, take a deep breath and say: "Phew that was a busy day. I need a little time to relax. How do you feel?" Enjoy that time together.

Then say: "Now I know what I would like to do. I want to go out and trim the roses. This always calms me down and makes me feel good inside."

By having time off external stimulus, our children will learn the difference between working hours and spare time; between external motivation and intrinsic motivation.

We live in a busy world. That is just the way it is. Sometimes it all becomes too much, though, and stress takes over. If it does and things go horribly wrong when the children have to go to bed we can say to them: "I understand. I know that it is difficult for you to calm down when I am so stressed and restless. Come here, sit on my lap and put your hands on my tummy. That makes it easier for me to breathe calmly." Close your eyes and breathe slowly for a few minutes. You will physically feel how this peace and quiet is transmitted to your child's body. Before putting them to bed again ask: "I am very relaxed and calm. Do you feel better too?" This is not a new bedtime routine but it is a new way for us to take responsibility for ourselves - and a good way to role model.

Give Them What They Want

There is no doubt about the fact that children want lots of things -
and all the time. It is really our responsibility to give them what they want most of all... one or two parents who are, on the whole, happy people - happy to be, happy with themselves and their lives, and happy with each other.

About Jesper Juul

Jesper is the founder of Family Lab and author of Raising Competent Children (Rockpool Publishing $24.95). He is a family therapist, renowned author and sought-after international speaker. Raising Competent Children is now available at all good book stores and online at

More Information

Jesper Juul


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