This is my final ‘coffee-break’ in a series that I have written, about getting #BackToBasics when it comes to approaches that we use to support our children’s learning. I’ve discussed the importance of a sound knowledge of child development (and doing away with ‘progress data’), the fact that we don’t sing nursery rhymes as much as we used to and the benefits of taking risks in play, with particular reference to climbing trees. This week I wanted to provoke some thought on the topic of a good old-fashioned chat!
It’s never been more difficult to remain ‘present’ with our friends and families when we are spending time with them (whether that be in person or virtually, considering the current climate!). Most households have hundreds of television channels they can be watching at any given time. Our phones have become an extension of our bodies. They go everywhere with us, and with the proliferation of apps, they are constantly notifying us of something. It has to be said that we are obviously communicating more with the people we don’t actually see as regularly – even if that is to share the funny video your brother in law just sent you. But if the instant text communications come at the expense of genuine conversations with our nearest and dearest, then are they justifiable? More importantly, our youngest children are growing up in a world where their achievements are celebrated for the purpose of sharing on a group chat (how many parents these days actually miss their child’s first steps because their face is behind a phone filming them?).
It is important to clarify that I am myself guilty of being that pre-occupied parent some of the time. I am trying my best to literally distance myself from my phone for significant chunks of the day because I was more and more aware of how dis-engaged I was becoming. It doesn’t help when a lot of us have access (in my case, choose to have access!) to work related emails/messaging services/social media on our personal handsets. An increase in ‘working from home’ blurs the lines further: ‘I will just respond to that email at 6pm because it means I won’t forget tomorrow, even though my 4 year old desperately wants me to finish the Lego pirate ship’. I appreciate many people have their priorities better organised! Throw in the mix instant access to news at a time when frankly it’s pretty important to hear it, sporting scorelines and highlights delivered to the palm of your hand as they happen, and weather notifications that tell you it’s going to be pouring down all day tomorrow. All of a sudden, you’ve got a pretty unhealthy situation on your hands.
Back to the children who are witnessing all this. They are likely to have grown up seeing this behaviour since they arrived on the planet. It could be entirely normal to see Mummy and Daddy sit in silence as they catch up on various un-important Facebook updates of people they don’t actually like. This behaviour is becoming typical in many households. So, it is accepted by our little ones. The knock-on effects can be huge for the communicative and social development of these children. What can we do to ensure we are more ‘present’ in their lives and be able to get back to a time where it was normal to talk together in the living room (as there was nothing on the 3/4/5 channels on the TV)? Personally, I would advocate screen free time for the entire family for significant chunks of the day (easier said than done). Leaving devices in a different part of your home until an agreed time – this is particularly effective for those of us who even if a phone doesn’t light up, feel the need to look at it every 2-3 minutes! With our youngest children, this provides opportunities for creative play that everyone is truly engaged in, and from there, communication will flow. For our older children, it’s an opportunity to practice the age-old art of conversation (I appreciate this will go down like a lead balloon with teenagers across the land). Even if these scenarios aren’t realistic at the minute, the one key takeaway from this provocation should be to never forget that the behaviour and lifestyle we model is hugely important to the choices that our children will make in the future.
Let’s chat more.
This Coffee Break was written by our SEND Advisor Stephen Kilgour.
Edited by Jules
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