26 May 2012


I have never been that keen on labelling when it comes to human behaviour, often the label can be loaded depending how, when and why it was coined.

Around the time that my eldest child was starting to play and interact with other objects, I made a conscious decision to rarely initiate play myself. I would be in the same room, usually right next to him, but I would take my lead from him. A s he got older I would still be nearby but may be engaged in other activities myself such as reading, knitting or writing. I have adopted the same approach for my youngest child too. This does not mean that I never initiate any activities, but most of the time this comes from them.

I have recently read in several places about a parenting approach or philosophy called benign neglect. I was really intrigued by this label, as for me it seemed rather negative. The word neglect in our society can conjure up many of the horrific stories of children's sadly short lives, that have been portrayed in the media in the last few years. It does after all mean a failure to take proper care. Benign neglect is about letting your children develop their own fun and games by taking a step back and not interfering, thus allowing spontaneity and resilience to develop. It is not about ignoring them, more about finding a balance between this and more planned and/or structured activity. If we over structure our children's lives ferrying them from one activity to another, whilst they may always be busy, which you may feel is a good thing, there is little opportunity for imagination and spontaneity to flourish. I wonder if you are following a schedule such as this, are your children bored when presented with unstructured time, perhaps this is when they are watching tv. Where are the leaders of the future going to come from if children are not given the opportunity to do activities that they themselves have initiated and therefore have ownership of.

For me this philosophy extends beyond play to parenting as a whole, this requires an immense amount of trust on my part. I have never, for example, expected my children to stay right by my side when we are out and about, now they are able to make the judgement for themselves as to whether that is where they want to be. We live in a small rural village, any outings to a big busy city means they are usually glued to my side, often holding my hand, but that is not at my instigation.

I am not sure that, even as a proponent of benign neglect, I wish to use this label of myself. How about you?

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