So, parents, you think outdoor play is vital do you? Really…?

I’ve been pondering my own hypocrisy.

Playing with Fire - After Dark Club shenanigans with the neighbour's pampas grass

A couple of weeks ago, exhausted by a relentless day of parenting two lively boys, my patience finally failed when Junior PLL the Elder answered back just ONCE too often.

“Right, that’s it!” I screeched, in a measured, thoughtful, responsible way.  “There is no way you are going out to play tonight.  You are not going out.  End of.”  There was quite a bit more in the “If I’ve told you once, la la la” vein, most of which I wasn’t even listening to, let alone the Junior PLLs.  There were tears (not mine) – but my resolve did not waver.  My boys love playing outdoors (well, really, whose child doesn’t?) and this was a severe punishment indeed.  It certainly showed those two rascals who was boss.

It was only the next day that I began to feel very hypocritical.  I believe – no, stronger than that, I know – that outdoor learning and play is vital for young children’s proper development, growth and wellbeing.  So why on earth did I use restriction of it as a punishment?  Would I withold food or water?  Nobody would deny that they are vital for young children’s development, growth and wellbeing.  Would I send them to school half dressed, just because they were tardy getting ready in the morning?

Like most of the punishments (such as they are) in our house, there was plenty of grumping for an hour or two (much of it from me, as I realised I now had the little terrors housebound for even longer), followed eventually by a “sorry”, and another very dull talk from me about understanding what the transgression meant to everyone who’s ever met JPLLTE, and then we moved on.

I’ve been brooding over this far more than is healthy.  I’m veering between “parenting is hard, get over it” and “how can you preach to others that getting children outdoors is essential, if your own children are banned because of a bit of banter?”.  I thought writing a confessional blog post might ease my conscience, but it hasn’t.  Now it’s even more obvious that I need to find other, more reasonable ‘consequences’ to avoid punishing the children in a way that has actually been far more punishing for me than it was for them.

Any ideas?


7 comments on “So, parents, you think outdoor play is vital do you? Really…?

  1. I don’t know if it helps, but the answer to your question about packing off children half dressed is yes! When ‘A’ refused point blank to allow us to dress him ready for nursery (yes that long ago), the lovely ladies at nursery said to pack him off to nursery in his pyjamas. The rule then would be that he would not be allowed to play outside on his beloved bikes until he got himself dressed. It convinced me that I would be happy to carry out the threat even now. If ‘A’ refuses to get dressed ready for school, he is more than welcome to leave the house in his pyjamas and get dressed as soon as he is ready. I am sure that he would not get more than two doors up the road before the embarrassment (two of his girly classmates live within three doors of us) would persuade him where I couldn’t. He is impervious to the cold so I would have to rely on the embarrassment.
    As for withholiding outdoor play, parenting is tough! We all make mistakes. You stuck to your guns and you know you won’t choose that again. Don’t beat yourself up too much, there is far worse you could have done!

  2. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I think it’s wonderful that you realized what you thought to be a grave error so quickly, and learned something from it. As parents we teach ourselves valuable lessons every day, and it’s through recognizing our mistakes that we become better parents. In addition, you’ve now shared your experience with others. Think of how many other people may re-consider with-holding outside play as “punishment” thanks to your a-ha moment!

  3. Good points, both of you, thanks for taking the time to post. I don’t think I do ‘consequences’ very well so need to have a sort of ‘ladder’ ranging from a Severe Look through to Permanent Imprisonment In The Downstairs Loo.

    I wonder if revoking outdoor play opportunities is actually an okay consequence if for example, they’ve been asked to clear up their bedroom beforehand, and haven’t. That way, it’s clear that they need to prioritise and work together to get something done if they want to move on to the next play experience.

  4. Aren’t there always consequences for your actions (good and bad)? I have begun to realise that if the children don’t take the not so good ones then I do. Using your example, if they get to go out to play without tidying up, then who does end up doing it? If our ultimate goal is happy, independent children, then learning to take responsibility for thier choices is important. Outdoor play has to go in the mix along with all the other great things in life, your lucky discovery is that now both you and they appreciate what a valuable option that one is. They will be less willing to give it up next time.

  5. I hear you, mama! Most nights I go to bed and mull over the day and find a thousand things I could have done better or faster or with a kinder spirit. We’re all ‘learning on the job’ so-to-speak and need to give ourselves some grace in the journey. I think being honest with our children when we mess up teaches them some valuable life skills like forgiveness and taking responsibility for our choices and mistakes, so even in our failures, they can learn and grow. As far as discipline, I’m not a punitive parent because I’ve found that taking things away or making threats is less effective than connection in the long run. But we each have to find what works for us. You’re doing a good job, mama!

    • Thank you for that, it’s a really helpful response. I don’t think we do admit defeat or having messed up, often enough; with our children or with one another. I’m going to try very hard to remember to ‘have a kind spirit’ next time I have cause to deal with my mini-monsters.

  6. At the end of the day, I think that all good parents reflect on the “shouldas, couldas, wouldas” of the day. My husband and I have a 5 step rule if we mess up be it with each other or our son. 1. admit our mistake, 2. apologize (and fix if appropriate), 3. identify the core problem, 4. find a solution for the next time it happens and 5. move on – dwelling on them only carries the mistakes forward. It’s not a perfect system but it helps 90% of the time. This said, right now I’m trying to find my “happy voice” since I was a little frustrated when I put my overtired son down for a nap and wasn’t quite as “a kind spirit” I would have liked to have been.

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