Unstructured play is hard! (But necessary)


Summer is in full swing. Warm days, long nights, outdoor time, water play, and a lot of free time. As a kid I remember it as heavenly. But now as a parent I am witnessing a sibling civil war. My two relatively agreeable kids are ready to kill each other. And so is every sibling pair, according to every mom I have talked to. Including my own: “Oh yeah, your sister really tried to beat you up in the summer.” (For the record this was my little sister four years my junior. I was fine).
The reason for all of this melee mayhem?
Unstructured play time!
There are no parents or teachers filling the kids time or monitoring their behavior every second. No or fewer distractions from school or sports.
Instead, kids are stuck at home all day with their life-long roommate who won’t get out of their space and is playing with the simultaneously most annoying and most wonderful ever!!!
And you know what? That’s a good thing. Kids NEED this kind of stress and conflict resolution practice. Especially in a safe place like home, and a safe playmate like their siblings, who will also give it to them straight if they’re being obnoxious.
Play experts talk all the time about how kids are constantly negotiating the rules of a game during playtime – trying to keep it fair but also maybe get an advantage. It is crucial development for kids to learn these skills to be good at work, school, relationships, life. But it is hard and frustrating and painful sometimes to do. And as a parent it can be excruciatingly painful to watch.
So, now that I know I am not alone, that this is totally normal development kid stuff, I have resolved to excuse myself from the room, grab myself a second cup of coffee, and try desperately to not get too annoyed myself while I listen in on their fighting matches and step in only to tell them when they need to take it outside or one of them starts fighting dirty. I am still the adult, and I need to make sure they stay safe. But at least now I know that letting them hash it out for themselves is good for them.
If perhaps a bit loud!