Childhood is truly a special time, and as parents we know that it’s fleeting. Those moments when our children look to us for everything — guidance, love, emotional support — are so precious. I know that it’s so easy to slip into the mindset of wishing for the next age or stage, for a little bit more independence. But, as I said, childhood is fleeting. They have their whole lives to be adults, to act like adults. Why not protect this time and their precious innocence while we can?
Older generations have sayings such as “babies don’t keep” and “let them be little.” There’s wisdom there, and the concept of letting children be children for as long as we can has been something that’s been important to me as I’ve parent my girls. I was raised the same way. So today I wanted to share what’s worked for me; ways that I worked to protect my children’s innocence and encourage their childlike spirit. This is not a definitive list! Just some of the simple things I’ve found to work for me and my family, and I know each family is unique. But I do hope you find encouragement here, and perhaps an idea or two!
6 Ways to Keep Children “Children”
1. Dress Them Like Children
It may sound like an insignificant matter, but I think there is wisdom in dressing children like children and not mini adults. Just like you’ve probably heard in professional settings, we are what we wear! If children dress like adults, then they tend to act more like adults. If they dress sassy, then they tend to act sassier. See this post for more on why dressing children like children was important to me — our play clothes round-ups for boys and girls are great resources for age-appropriate clothing, too!
2. Protect Their Minds
What a gift to children to let them have their innocence as long as possible! I may be old-fashioned, but I don’t think young children need to know everything. We don’t equip children for the world by exposing them to “all the things” early on. We equip them by instilling them with truth and virtue and being their biggest influence and a trustworthy authority. Spend time in the early years working on these things and you will see the fruits of that later on as they will come to you when they have questions about hard topics.
Smart phones/tablets are one of the fastest ways to introduce your child to adult matters so I try to be intentional with limited screen time. And as much as I loved the morning news shows pre-children, I did not turn them on even as background noise when my children started having “listening ears.” In a half-hour segment, they could hear about a terrible crime, an earthquake, and take in an inappropriate commercial. Of course this is just one example because there are many outside influences that force adult matters on our children. And as parents we need to be vigilant about what’s coming into our children’s minds.
3. Edit Their Books and Media
Nothing stirs a child’s imagination like a good book, which is why I’ve always made it a point to curate books for my children that encourage imagination and innocence and fill their minds with these wonderful stories daily. When you read your child books that encourage a child-like spirit, you see that come out in their behavior and play. It can be hard to find these types of books on many bookshelves today which is why we started our Children’s Summer Book Club several years ago, and why it’s still going strong! We not only give you a fabulous list of wonderful children’s books to read at home (and classic summer activities that go along with them, too!), but we help you sift through all the choices available to find the best of the best books for your family. Whether books or media, it’s worthy of your time to sift through to determine what’s appropriate for your children and worthy of their time.
4. Plenty of Free Play
In my experience, over-scheduled children lack the imagination of the old days. So many children today are given an activity or device to fill any free time they have. But children actually don’t *need* those things to be entertained! I cherished our unscheduled time and loved watching my girls use their imaginations. If your children are used to being busy, then it might be strange for them at first — but actually, over time, you will see that down time expands curiosity and imagination. Younger children learn through play and exploration. For older children, it helps them figure out what they like and who they are because they have time to think. Freedom to play is a great gift and as summer approaches I encourage parents to keep things simple when it comes to camps and activities. Also why I love the suggested activities in our summer book club because they are simple (don’t need a lot of planning) and so many are intended to spark imaginations and independent play.
5. Daily Outdoor Time
Curiosity is a big part of that childlike spirit we want for our children and it’s often cultivated outside. Children learn so much about the world around them through nature. It gets extra energy out, engages their senses, and is healthy for their growing bodies and brains. And you don’t have to have a big backyard for children to explore! Daily outside time served my family well when my girls were younger — I talk all about that, and other habits that are important to our family, in this post.
6. Clear Parent/Child Boundaries
Children should always be treated with respect, but understanding that there are clear boundaries between adults and children has helped my own children stay in their childhood lane. They know that they have a clear bedtime and don’t stay up with the adults. They are taught manners at a young age, as well as the importance of respecting their elders. By teaching them this from a young age, children come to recognize their parents as the authority — and, as mentioned above, will come to their parents (not friends or social media) for answers to life’s questions down the road.
What would you add to this list? What has worked — or hasn’t worked — for your family? I’d love to know!