By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
The name of the game with finding healthy child activities is balance.
If they get too much of these items it is unhealthy and corrupting. If they don’t get enough it is intolerable for them, they feel deprived, are miserable and tend to get obsessed with what they’re missing. You need to use great wisdom to figure out exactly how much each child needs.
Let’s take toys. Children need new toys periodically. “But, he has a room full of toys,” you might say. The truth is that kids need to refresh their collection every once in a while, just like an adult occasionally wants new clothes, furniture, tools or books, for example. “How do I know how much to buy them?” The answer is as much as you can afford, providing your child gets good use out of them. If you buy him toys that he says he likes and he hardly uses them, that is a sign he’s receiving too many. But, if your child enjoys playing with his or her toys, there is a tremendous emotional benefit. First, toys provide children with pleasure which helps them function successfully during their day. This pleasure actually prevents misbehavior. It further teaches them the valuable lesson that life is a happiness. And, most importantly, giving toys strengthens the parent-child relationship immensely. Your child associates the pleasure of the toy with you, the parent, and thinks, “They are always there for me, taking care of my needs, they love me.” This sense of love and safety leads to even more improved behavior. I recommend one new toy for each child at least once every two weeks. Don’t fear you are spoiling him. It is precisely the lack of happiness that creates miserable, difficult, spoiled children.
In my years practicing parent and child therapy, I invented a concept called “emergency toys” to help foster healthy child activities. It is well worth the time, effort and money spent online and in toy stores buying a collection of inexpensive, age-appropriate emergency toys for your child. You have to figure out exactly which ones he or she will like – those that will capture his or her heart. Don’t tell your child about them; keep them in a box on a high shelf. Then, when you see he or she is stressed, bored and unhappy or if you need a moment of peace, a well-placed emergency toy can save you from an entire afternoon of tantrums and other problems. Don’t think that you have to give a toy to every child to be fair. Give one only to the child who genuinely needs it, and explain to the others that they will get one when they need it. For a detailed discussion of Emergency Toys, click here.
Candy was created for children. It provides them with an overwhelmingly intense and irresistible pleasure. Children need a certain amount of candy. Too much of it is unhealthy, but getting less than they need is intolerable and can create a variety of problems, such as tantrums, unhappiness and rebellion. Clinical experience shows that being excessively denied candy as a child can cause eating disorders in adults, as individuals can become obsessed with what they missed during childhood. Therefore, a careful balance needs to be struck. I recommend giving each child one plate of candy twice a week. It should be at a fixed time, say every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and they should be able to count on it. Your child will see that you are reliably fulfilling their needs and will feel a great love towards you. You can give them sugar free, fat free, organic items if you like, and you can schedule it right before teeth brushing time. For tips on getting kids to brush their teeth, click here.
Children need several hours of uninterrupted fun activities every day – more on weekends – to wind down from school and to recover from any stresses they may have had. Play is critical to their wellbeing and can foster healthy personalities and emotional development. When we were kids, we played ball outside and rode our bikes for hours every day. But nowadays, it’s video games. You should never take away your child’s video games (download my free report on punishment to learn more). Children need their video games, and you may be surprised to hear that playing video games can represent healthy child activities. It is far healthier than watching T.V. It develops initiative, reflexes, intelligence and problem solving abilities, as well as computer skills. You don’t want your child playing video games seven hours a day on school nights because then they would be neglecting other activities, such as playing outside or spending time with the family. Two to three hours of video games per day seems to be the right balance. It’s enough for him or her to explore everything he needs to while still leaving time for other things.
T.V. & Movies
T.V. and movies present a more challenging problem than video games. Fully 50 percent of the material out there is terrible for children. There is a lot of sexually provocative content which, from a psychological point of view, is overstimulating to children and very unhealthy. Excessive violence is equally damaging and can be even more common. Therefore, T.V. programs need to be carefully selected. There is a fair amount of innocent content available, and it needs to be found and offered to your children in place of inappropriate or unhealthy options. But, even T.V. and movies you have approved need to be limited. Of course, too little television or videos can make children feel deprived and desperate. I know someone whose parents hardly ever let him watch movies, and he became obsessed with them for the rest of his life. I think an hour a day of videos and a little more on weekends seems to be the right balance. This is enough to keep children satisfied but not so much that they are spending too much time passively watching when they could be engaged in activities that develop more initiative.
It may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many parents neglect the fact that internet needs strict parental controls. There is too much dangerous stuff out there. Older children can figure out how to get around parental controls, however, and you need to be tech-savvy to stay one step ahead of them. You have to know who they’re chatting with and what videos they’re watching. It pays to start monitoring and managing internet use early, because if your child gets used to unrestricted internet, it will be much harder to take away later. For more information on getting a child to cooperate with internet controls, click here.
Remember that providing children with the right, generous amount of toys, junk food, video games, T.V. and the internet does wonders for the parent-child relationship, which is the most important element in child-rearing.
Use wisdom and patience when finding healthy child activities and your child will grow up healthy and well-adjusted.
Please bear in mind that the above principles represent a parenting ideal, and I don’t expect anyone to fulfill them perfectly. Therefore, have patience with yourself and try to implement the new ideas gradually.
Feel free to peruse the rest of my interesting blog, the specialties on the rest of this website, or download one of my free reports. If you are having challenges finding healthy child activities and would like guidance or treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!