This past weekend, I had an opportunity to observe some children and their families at a local pizza parlor. This particular establishment provides a very large play structure for kids to climb “on and through.” Upon entering the front door of the restaurant, most children made a beeline for the playroom. After a fair amount of time, these children could be seen running back into the restaurant, scanning the tables for their parents. Upon finding the family table, they would rush over, take a seat and begin to scarf down a few bites of pizza, coming up for air long enough to enjoy a swig of pop, off they would rush again to the playroom and friends. These children were breathless and joyful, hardly able to contain their enthusiasm as they traveled from playroom to table and back again. In stark contrast, I noticed a couple of tables where the scenario played out quite differently. Parents at these two tables seemed uncomfortable with the chaos, noise and wild abandon of other children. Trying to maintain some sense of control, they would remind their children to: sit and eat slowly, stop running, don’t mix all the flavors of pop together, slow down, sit down, wait, not now, no more playing, etc. Instead of joyful squeals, flushed cheeks and happy grins, the children at these tables cried, whined, begged and tantrumed. I wondered briefly why these families even bothered to come.
A few short hours later, found me at the dog park with the family pug. Upon entering the gate at the park, each dog owner would without fail, unhook the leash and encourage their pooch to run free. Dogs were running around with the same wild abandon and joy the children had exhibited earlier. Instead of squeals and laughter there were barks and yips. I did not encounter one dog owner who refused to let their doggie run around free or limit their play. Everyone seemed to understand their pet’s innate need to play and play and play some more. If only we as parents understood our children as well. A child’s every muscle, nerve and synapse is programmed to fire in such a highly stimulating and “fun” environment. Energy levels peak. Chemicals are released in the brain that stimulate a sense of well being and joy. Children are incapable of shutting down these systems. When forced to do so, however, the energy must go somewhere and will often manifest as crying, rebelling, or fighting behaviors. It is important to take into consideration our children’s physiology before planning a family outing. Wild pizza parties aren’t for everyone. It’s okay to make the choice to do something else. Sharing positive family time in an environment you find most comfortable is much more important in the long run, and a decision that your children will thank you for later.