I was a pretty shy kid.
Until I was 13 years old, my parents literally had to coax me out of my bedroom (where I was typically buried in a medieval fantasy novel) to get me to simply shake the hands of our visitors and look them in the eye.
Then I’d quickly duck back into my room.
But somehow I survived college and a modern working environment (barely!) and I’m now raising my twin boys to give them as much social success and social confidence as possible, and today’s article will delve into six natural and ancestrally-based ways that you can do the same.
The Importance of Tribes
Many of our animal relatives spend a great deal of their time wandering or living in tribes, groups, flocks, herds and schools – even going so far as to eat bugs off the body of their friends and families. Although I’m a fan of the burgeoning cricket protein food movement, I’ll admit I am somewhat glad we humans aren’t necessarily social to the extent of grooming via bug-picking. But unfortunately, nowadays we don’t even come close to the tribal attachments displayed in nature or in our ancestry.
But consider this: in multiple studies, relationships and spending time with family and close friends is consistently correlated with amazingly higher levels of happiness and well-being. Despite this fact, the last several decades have seen a significant decline in many aspects associated with tight-knit social circles – including qualities like family and household size, club and social participation, and number of close friends.
Sadly, we’ve instead witnessed an increase in solo or isolated activities such as television, long commutes, the internet, and digital relationships.
In other words, we seem to be making a stark transition from tribe to individual. However, we humans are biologically hard-wired to be social animals. As a matter of fact, we’re such social animals that the mere act of joining a club (e.g. dance club, chess club, bridge club, tennis club, golf club, etc.) halves your chance of death in the next year. Or consider the fact that – as mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers – living in a close-knit town of three-generation households can singlehandedly lower your risk of heart disease.
So how can you get a jump-start on making your kid ready for tribal interaction that makes them live longer and be happier?
During early childhood development, from birth to 3 years old, much of our neurobiology and core personalities are formed. To increase propensity for social and tribal engagement, increase empathy and decrease risk of anxiety and depression in children, it is during this time that it becomes highly important to simulate the close-knit parent-child bonds displayed both in nature and in the practices of our hunter gatherer ancestors. I realize that was a mouthful, but in a nutshell, we can begin by increasing attachment at an earlier age.
For example, in a recent national symposium, University of Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez highlighted six key practices consistent with the concept of attachment parenting (a philosophy originally championed by well-known pediatrician Dr. William Sears). The six practices for increasing attachment are detailed below.
Six Ways To Increase Attachment in Kids
1) Natural birth: Research shows that medical interventions such as C-sections, whisking a baby away from a mother and off into a separate ward for post-birth testing or treatment, and baby formula feedings can inhibit important hormones like oxytocin from being released, which interferes with the natural mother-baby bonding process that jumpstarts the tribal feeling.
2) Breastfeeding: Many of our previous ancestral cultures breastfed their infants for two to five years. This not only helps to form a properly functioning gut-based immune system, but also decreases anxiety and forms important social bonds between a child and mother. Obviously, if you have a high schooler you can’t do much about this, but if you are currently expecting or currently breastfeeding, I recommend you take breastfeeding to at least the two years old level.
3) Cuddling: Along with the nutritional value of breast milk, kids develop a sense of wellbeing from the positive touch that breastfeeding involves. Positive touch has benefits to brain development, hormone-functioning, and appropriate social interactions. For this reason, breastfeeding into later ages is important, as is co-sleeping, and plenty of cuddling. My wife Jessa, me and our six year old twin boys River and Terran often simply lay on the living room couch in a big pile of family togetherness for 20 minutes after they get out of bed – and I can feel that oxytocin surging through my veins.
4) Responsiveness: In most ancient cultures, there was not much value placed in letting a baby fuss or cry. Don’t worry – comforting your child when distressed is not going to ruin their chances of becoming a tough, Spartanesque, future Cross-fit games champion or some other kind of professional athlete (if that’s what you desire in a kid). In contrast, children who have responsive parents tend to develop greater empathy, they tend to develop a conscience earlier, and they will be set to interact more cooperatively with a tribe.
5) Multiple Adult Caregivers: Our early infant ancestors benefited from being cared for not just by mom and dad, but by other adults and tribe members who loved them. Surrogate parents also help to share some of the burden of parenting, helping to prevent parental exhaustion. For this reason, raising up children in some sort of a tribe setting can bestow an incredible advantage to your kids and to you too. This approach can save you work, since with other trusted caregivers around, you have more time flexibility. In many cultures, kids run around everywhere with their parents nowhere in sight. But all the neighbors know each other. There are aunts, uncles and other family members and friends who are keeping their eyes on the kids. As Eric D. Kennedy describes it in his excellent online essay “On the Social Lives of Cavemen”, there is a healthy middle ground between not being allowed to cross the street and a high school house party. As children are allowed to become independent of parents, they are able to do it, but within a trusted support network of family and friends.
6) Free Play (With Kids Of Varying Ages). This concept actually builds on the concept of having multiple adult caregivers. Our ancestors’ children weren’t separated into age-specific play circles, but were instead exposed to kids at different stages of development – thus enhancing the child’s physical and mental growth. I’d highly recommend you read a recent article in The Atlantic (available for free online) entitled “The Overprotected Kid”. The article describes how preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery, without making it safer. It goes on to describe new kind of free-play, junk-yard type playground. This miniature outdoor city is full of fire, fences, mud, wood scraps, tires, and other random materials where children of all ages spend the entire day exploring, forming tribes and generally being left to “fend for themselves” – but under the watchful eye of older tribe members such as friends, family members and parents who are within close proximity – distant but present.
Contrast these reasonable risks with casual tribal supervision with our modern practice of extreme supervision by parents only, antibacterial hand sprays, plush bumper-guarded playground equipment, shouting at kids not to “run with sticks” and other ridiculous coddling, and it’s understandable why children are not only growing weak and fragile, but more socially anxious, less cooperative, and more picky and judgmental about spending time with anyone outside their peer group.
Practical Steps You Can Take
So from a practical standpoint, what can you do to implement some of the tips you’ve just learned? Try these quick tips:
-Breastfeed to a later age and don’t be embarrassed about it. Cuddle. Be responsive if your child cries or gets hurt.
-Make friends with your neighbors, try to live close to family if possible, kick your children outside to play for long hours, make sure they know it’s OK to play with a mix of older and younger kids, and then quit worrying. They’ll survive.
-Have family dinners. Have dinner parties. Read the good book “Never Eat Alone” and incorporate the same concepts into your childrens’ lives.
-Have your kids spend more time with trusted adults who aren’t their parents. Then do the same for yourself, spending time with the kids of adults who trust you. Hang out with mixed age groups and make sure your kids do too. Have your kids spend more time at older people’s homes or with grandma and grandpa.
-Become familiar with the concept of unschooling (visit Unschoolery.com). Unschooling is simply a rough version of learning that prepares a child for life, for being an entrepreneur, for learning anything, and for being autonomous. Whether your child is homeschooled, in private school, or public school, you can use unschooling concepts to generate important lifelong skills. Pay very close attention to what your children develop a natural interest in, and then teach them to learn about the world through activities, trips, and adventures. For example, our kids have recently become interested in singing. But rather than going out and purchasing formal music curriculum, we started playing a home version of the singing competition “The Voice”, we record songs on the computer with a microphone, we bought an electronic keyboard, and we brought them to a musical.
Ben Greenfield is an ex-bodybuilder, Ironman triathlete, professional Spartan racer, coach, speaker and author of the New York Times Bestseller “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life” (http://www.BeyondTrainingBook.com). In 2008, Ben was voted as NSCA’s Personal Trainer of the year and in 2013 was named by Greatist as one of the top 100 Most Influential People In Health And Fitness. Ben blogs and podcasts at http://www.BenGreenfieldFitness.com, and resides in Spokane, WA with his wife and twin boys.
This is a guest post from Aby Nicole League
Children, it seems, are losing childhood.
It’s a story I hear too often from my friends. Much to my surprise, this story has been passed to me and now that I’m months away from my firstborn, I’m quite feeling the pressure of juggling things perfectly to raise my kid.
I want to raise my kids the way my parents raised me – playing in the nearest residential playground, running, screaming, playing under the rain, catching frogs and insects like I used to when I was a kid.
Modernity and technology are only bits of the puzzle when it comes to fast-tracking childhood. Learning and growing are accelerated across the board, but so is childhood in general. As we all experience plodding cultural change, children of the newer generation are losing childhood because they aren’t given the time for outdoor play. I couldn’t agree more.
I often see children aged 3-10 years old holding smartphones, tablets, Nintendo and other gadgets – those we haven’t even imagined possible by the time we we’re kids. And this trend never seems to stop. Alarming isn’t it?
Today, your child wants a new video game console. The next day, your child wants the newest cellular phone available in the market. The following days, your child wishes for a computer and join an online community with a monthly fee. In the newest research conducted by a child advocacy group, Common Sense Media, the use of portable gadgets has exploded over the past few years from 38% in 2011 to 89% in 2013. Furthermore, the amount of time kids spend with their devices has mounted triple. These happened in spite of the reiterations from several different medical organizations about the negative effects of too much screen exposures of kids to screens.
You might wonder, what kids do on these portable gadgets? Mostly play games, others use app and watch videos, further studies have found.
It is 2014 now, preschoolers don’t know how to climb a tree but they can win a life and death games using the electronic gadget.
I don’t want to raise my child too tied in modernity. I want an exceptional childhood experience for my firstborn and future kids, with the right balance after all.
Parents and soon-to-be –parents should encourage their kids to drop their gadgets and play at the school or community playground instead. Playtime which involves a lot of moving around obviously has several health gains and could cause you, parents, and priceless benefits as you interact with your kids in playground.
So, with the competitive attraction of modern gadgets, how would you make outdoor play more engaging than video games?
1. Travel Back in the 90’s
Who could have foreseen time flying kite could provide hours of endless entertainment? Get your kids outside by making their own kite. Let them design it and fly it by themselves. Use different colors of papers and sticks to make this activity more attractive to kids. Bring them to a wide open space. Give them the reign to control once they get the hang of flying the kite. Just watch over them and let them be on their own. You can also let them play other games – those which you enjoy when you were kids.
2. Bring them to play paradise
Play is for playground. Paradise is for nature. Try to have an uninterrupted playtime in nature-themed playgrounds. In a 2011 newsletter of Nature Action Collaborative for Children (NACC), nature-based playtime is defined as more than just outdoor play. It happens in a natural space and is child-initiated and directed. In short, it is children playing with nature. Being closer to nature also helps in overall child development. The wholesome goodness of nature and play makes kids smarter. Children have the opportunity to decide for themselves, stimulate their problem solving skills and creative thinking. They learn to work with other children. When they explore the outdoors, they feel freer to wander. Seeing such scenario is just priceless, go create your own nature-themed play project for you and your kids.
3. Treasure Hunt
Encourage group cooperation, problem solving, following directions, thinking and reasoning with this extremely exciting game – treasure hunt. Prepare colorful costumes and props. Make it look like the real treasure hunt they see in the movie. Let them play in the mud, make mud pies and solve problems while keeping cooperation with his/her teammates. You will get to see who the leader is and who the problem solver is, the trickiest and who the organizer is. Make sure to prepare something special for them after the hunt.
4. Set a Friendly Puppet or Talent Show
Invite other kids from the neighborhood. Bring out chalks, papers, radio, chairs, toys and other art materials. Set up a mini stage for this cute little event. This will be a good opportunity for parents to see their kids’ talent. It will help you gauge what sport and activities fit your kids – basketball, singing, art, painting, crafting and many others. Prepare healthy snacks for them too and invite other parents to help you assist the kids. With this, you do not just bring your kids outdoor, but make him open for friendship and conversation.
5. Introduce Outdoor Science
Children love to play and experiment to discover new things. Bring the science of play and the science of science outdoors! You can use simple and easy concepts of science to make kids drop their gadgets for a while and be the next Einstein. Awe them with –do-it-yourself rainbow or the mentos-coke experiment or the all-time string telephone. After accomplishing each simple experiment, explain the basic concepts behind them and let them asks questions. Answer each patiently.
6. Get Your Kids (and Gadgets) Outside
Kids don’t have to choose between gadgets and outdoor play. You can get the kids fall in love with nature through bighearted photowalk or make a family video, while having picnic outside. Let kids use their gadgets to capture the most amazing nature shot. Let them look for birds and flowers to take pictures of it. Prepare mouth-watering and healthy food and prepare mindful and nature-based games. Put a balance between nature and technology because after all, we have to embrace what the future really is.
As parents, we cannot not worry about our child safety but sometimes joyful abandon of what’s “safe,” you can reap the myriad of benefits for your kids. Pretty soon, I’ll have my baby and I won’t be ashamed if I raise my child in traditional way and by nature’s rule of thumb. More than the benefits of bringing kids outdoors, I wouldn’t want to see my kids live with the bots and eventually be one.
Written by Aby Nicole League of AboutPossibilities.com
We will never be a TV free family. We enjoy our televisions and our gaming consoles here. We also have smart phones, tablets, and rokus. These are modern luxuries that we happen to love. It is all about keeping things in perspective though. Sometimes we need to do a technology cleanse (or detox) if usage is getting out of hand. We also need to remember that life should be experienced with all of our senses and not just viewed with a screen.
Kids may need assistance from mom and dad with this issue because they aren’t known for their abilities to self regulate (yet). This is an issue that could have profoundly positive effects on your family. Do you think you could resolve to live without television or computer games for a week? An entire month? Okay maybe smaller… how about large block of time each day when no screens are allowed? You decide. The computer would be used for work purposes only (homework, jobs, and so forth) but not entertainment. And you couldn’t cheat by watching videos on the computer!
Do you think you could do it? If you’d like to take this plunge, here are some ideas on how to get started, and some of the effects your family will likely enjoy.
1. Hold each other accountable. If you’re going to do this, no one can cheat. Make sure everyone is on board, however reluctantly. Even if your kids do not want to go with it, as parents you need to make sure you stick to the resolution and keep the television and computer games off.
2. Focus on the positive – emphasize all the things you can do now. Has someone in your family always wanted to learn to ride a bike, explore a particular natural area, or view the stars? Now that you are unplugging for the month, take advantage of the free time and do those things. Point out that you are doing this-and-such activity (perhaps watching a meteor shower) because you aren’t watching TV or playing computer games.
3. Make plans to fill the void. Replace computer games with board games and card games. “Parlor games” are also fun, like charades. I like educational games like Wildcraft or cooperative games that each us to work together to meet a goal.
4. Read books as a family. In the days before visual and auditory media, families would take turns reading aloud to the family. Try Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, or classics such as the Little House books.
5. Family members can learn to play an instrument, and have family “concerts” or recitals. Other skills that can be showcased in this way include drawing, painting, singing, sewing, and other crafts. Think how much your family will learn about each other this way.
6. Have a cookout. In fact, cooking outside saves a lot of energy, and you can engage in some really interesting energy projects this way. You don’t have to use fire to cook out, although that’s fine if your property allows. But you can also make a solar oven with aluminum foil and cardboard boxes. Let your kids build an outdoor oven like this and cook various foods.
7. Plan outdoor activities. There are concerns today that kids are not getting enough of the great outdoors. Go on hikes and explore the landscape. Use field guides to identify birds, plants, rocks, and other interesting things in your area. Look for the locations of natural springs and local waterfalls. Hunt for covered bridges in your area. Whether it’s cold or warm weather, there is something fascinating to discover in nature.
By the end of the month (or week) you probably won’t even miss the television or computer games. And your family will have a greater appreciation for each other and for what it is to live life and not just watch it.
How many times have you been frustrated with your child for allowing their toys to be strewn all over the household? How many times have you found your child’s toys in your way when you were in a hurry or trying to accomplish some household task? How many times this month have you had to argue with a child about the disaster area that is their bedroom?
Toy clutter is a big problem in the typical American household. We live in a society of excess and amassing huge quantities of toys is just part of the lifestyle. Gone are the days when you got one toy for Christmas (ie that shiny red bicycle). Now kids can pick up a dozen or more new toys and gadgets during the holidays and the toy consumption really goes on all year long. I know well how easy it is to fall into the habit of excessive toy buying. I was raised with lots and lots of toys and so when I had my first child I thought that was what you did…shower your child with toys. My oldest child’s bedroom would get so messy that he would not be able to handle it himself. It required a parent (or two) to “gut it” frequently and make it livable again.
All of the this changed though with my second and third children. We decided to downsize our entire life so that my husband could get a different job, one that would mean we actually would see him on a daily basis. This came with a huge cut in pay but I was ready and willing to meet that challenge because I wanted our family to live more intentionally. I also wanted to stop the cycle of excessive spending and rampant consumerism. We moved from a 6000 square foot house to one that was 1000 square feet. We started living with a mind to minimalism and one of the first areas we tackled was toys.
Nowadays we have very few toys in the household and with the exception of Legos, none of them are new. If we buy toys we buy them used at thrift stores and yard sales. We also purge frequently (donating them) and allowing only so many toys. This means I almost never have to tell my kids to pick up their toys because they just don’t have that many. There were some pains adapting to this in the beginning, especially for the child who grew up with an excess of toys but my youngest two don’t know any other way.
Here are some simple ways you can go minimalist and get rid of the of toy clutter…
Stop buying toys!
This is the easiest and most sensible first step. I am sure your pocketbook will be eternally grateful too. Kids don’t need all those toys and in fact I suggest reading the book Simplicity Parenting. It was written by a therapist who recognized that many modern day kids have post traumatic stress disorders due to their their hectic schedules and overabundance of “stuff”. One statistic that was horrifying to read is that the average American child has around 150 toys. That is ridiculous!
In my home we buy new “things” for the kids for holidays and birthdays only. Now this is not to say that we can’t surprise them with something special just because but in general they only get toys or new possessions (except clothing) during special occasions. When we go to a store my kids know they will not be stopping in the toy isle and they will not be leaving with anything. I think it provides them with an understanding that we can go into stores and buy the things we need only.
Create a commercial free zone
One of the ways in which our children are influenced into consumerism and senseless buying and spending is via television commercials. You can avoid this by changing the way they watch TV or even going TV Free. We have opted to not allow our kids to watch regular TV and mainstream cartoon channels. Though we don’t tell them they can’t, we just set it up so they only have the options we endorse. We stream and/or rent content via Netflix, Redbox, or Amazon Prime. They get to watch shows they like without commercials so they are often unaware of the latest, greatest toys. We also have basic cable but almost never watch it directly. We DVR anything we want to watch from there and use the fast forward button!
Purge the toys often
Make five piles and label them as follows:
1. Toss: for toys which have been damaged, broken, missing or worn out
2. Keep: for toys still in use and well loved
3. Sell: for toys that were expensive and for which you feel that you will still be able to get something back from them by selling them.
4. Giveaway: this pile is meant for those toys which are still good but have lived their life and are no longer interesting for your children.
5. Save: for any toys you feel you should save for subsequent children.
Set aside one room as a toy-free zone
This room should be the first room you see when you come home or the room you spend the most time in to relax and unwind. You should help your children understand that this room is only for relaxation and not a room for toy clutter. If they bring a toy into this room then it also needs to leave at the end of that day or when they leave the room to spend time somewhere else.
I used to have a toy box in our main room (or family room) so that my kids would have easy access to some of their favorite toys and so they could be put away quicker and with less of a battle. Awhile back though I decided I just didn’t want to see any toys in the common areas of our home period and I got rid of it. Toys are not permitted anymore…they have to be kept upstairs in the child’s bedroom or actually in their hand being played with if they are in the common areas like the family room or kitchen. This is non negotiable.
Limit the selection
When you go about limiting the selection of the toys and rotating them in and out of the play environment on a scheduled basis it reduces stress for the whole family. Moreover, it also keeps the children from becoming overwhelmed by all their options. Old toys become new again. You simply need to have a method to store the toys (out of sight) so that you can rotate them every couple of months without children getting into them.
Its best to involve your children in the process of donating old toys. When you involve your children in the art of donating toys it will be able to teach them empathy especially when you remind them that there are many children who don’t have very many toys, if any. Donating will teach your children the joy of sharing, kindness and generosity. At the same time you will also be able to get rid of toy clutter.
We can conclude by saying that what children really want is us. They also want and need fun experiences. This is why it is necessary to spend some quality time together as a family and not buy a bunch of toys so that they can spend their time entertaining themselves. Enjoy them. One of the most remarkable gifts which you can give your children is the gift of your presence. When you go about looking for something to give them, keep this in mind.
Recommended Reading: Clutterfree with Kids: Change your thinking. Discover new habits. Free your home (Only $2.99 for the Kindle version!)
Playgrounds are where learning and enjoyment meet together. As parents, you only want what’s best for your children. Luckily, you can also choose what’s best for the planet.
Here are some tips in choosing an eco-friendly playground for your kids to enjoy:
Safety first. More than anything, safety is of utmost priority. With much vigor the children have when playing, accidents are likely to happen. Therefore, look for playground surfaces that are good shock-absorbers. A great example of this is recycled rubber mulch which is processed from recycled tires and is non-toxic and inflammable. They’re known to provide twice the amount of protection (a 6-inch thick filling could protect a fall height of up to 12 ft.) and due to their strong odor and texture, do not invite insects and animals (unlike sand which animals use as litter box). Plus, because of its density, it holds your playground in safety. Durability can last up to 10 years. Beware, though, some recycled rubber when not properly cleaned may contain pieces of wire harmful for children. Also, mulch pieces that are too small may present a choking hazard. Rubber mulch may cost twice as much and requires constant maintenance. On the upside, you can save up on drainage maintenance because of its excellent drainage system.
Choose the most qualified materials. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is the base of recycled plastic which can be used in manufacturing recycled playground equipment. Most environmental playground companies make recyclable plastic lumbers (RPL) using in-house lumber extrusion and make use of post-consumer recycled materials such as plastic milk and water bottles. Unlike other conventional materials, RPL does not rust, splinter, break down, nor does it need any staining-maintenance or waterproofing. Combining it with strengtheners and UV stabilizers results to incredibly high tensile and compressive strengths. Such product result is known to be extremely sturdy with the recycled plastic even lasting to 100 years! That’s guaranteed to be enjoyed by your children, your grandchildren, and your grandchildren’s children!
Health is wealth. Best avoid playgrounds which consist of plastic containing Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) as
“…(A)dded stabilizers, plasticizers and ﬁllers can leach and are potent hormone disrupters when ingested from little hands.”
Avoid lumbers which have been pressure-treated with Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), arsenic being a carcinogen linked to immune and cardiovascular diseases. RPL coloring is solid throughout unlike painted metal or steel in other playgrounds. Note that paint may harbour lead and ingested lead can cause damage in the brain and nervous system.
Look for something that’s easy to maintain. Should someone write or vandalize on your playground, here’s something to smile about: RPL resists graffiti. It’s protected from paint and ink too! Meanwhile for some recycled playgrounds faced with vandalizing dilemmas, it’s as easy as using sandpaper for buffing it out. Also, recycled playgrounds usually only require water and soap for cleaning. That’s hours and money saved on cleaning and maintenance!
Choose companies that are dedicated to quality and their cause. When looking for manufacturers, choose those that are dedicated to their craft with years of experience and consumer satisfaction to back it up. These are the guys you can rely on in terms of quality and integrity. Make sure you pick out those who are dedicated to their environmental cause, not using it for sole profit or advertising. You can bet these are the people who make sure they lessen their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions through HDPE recycling. Just to give you an idea, today’s HDPE recycling
“…saves 23.7 trillion British thermal units (BTUs) of energy – equivalent to the amount of energy consumed in one year by 125,000 American households. This savings equates to avoidance of 659,000 metric tons of carbon-dioxide – the emissions equivalent of 75 million gallons of gasoline.”
Fortunately, there are those who make sure they recycle the scraps they generate during production and use them to make packaging materials, for example, or have it sorted out for recycling elsewhere. I highly recommend those companies who use RPL in their playgrounds since RPL saves trees from being cut down for lumber and according to a report, a typical playground using RPL would’ve utilized about 31,500 to 63,000 water and milk containers. That’s A LOT of plastic saved from being dumped to landfills.
So before purchasing that kick-ass playground for your children, think about where it places (according to the above-listed tips). While putting your children’s safety ahead of everything else is perfectly reasonable, it wouldn’t hurt to think about the planet’s safety as well, once in a while.
Emily Harper is a busy housewife, and is also an active member of the neighborhood watch. She keeps her readers up to date with issues of sustainability and other home matters through writing. She lives with her husband, two sons and a cat named Theodore. To know more please check out her blog, SecurityOcean.Com.