There is an old zen koan that says, “don’t just do something, sit there.” It has wonderful application to family life today. We’ve created the most overscheduled and busiest society in history. Our kids are moving from one activity to another, and they seem to have more schoolwork, more choices, and more pressure than they ever have before.
My work with kids in the last decade has shown me a snapshot of the life of many of today’s kids: Being involved in a number of different activities outside of school, a huge increase in the intensity of many of these activities, having many hours of homework each night, and getting far less sleep than they should for someone their age.
While having a busier life with more responsibility isn’t always harmful for kids, what is harmful is the lack of “down time” that kids have. Kids need to recharge their batteries just as adults do. In fact, they need to do it more. And when stress builds up in kids and they aren’t allowed to “do nothing” with enough regularity, problems start to occur.
Effective parents take a long look at their kids’ lives and see what the big picture is. Kids may often take on too much in their lives if you let them. It may be because their friends are doing it, or because they enjoy a number of different activities in their life. But it may not be serving them well, and this is where parents need to step in and limit the busyness in their kids’ life. In cases where a child absolutely thrives on a busy schedule and is happy and healthy, this needs to be recognized as well. More often the child wants to do more than is healthy for them.
How does a parent help their children have some “down time” in an incredibly busy world? Here are some ideas:
- Show your kids from an early age that you know how to have down time yourself. Lounge around the house at times, or have a regular “kick back and relax” time at your house when your kids are young.
- Explain the benefits of down time to your kids and let them know that it’s a very important part of having a healthy life.
- Take a good, hard look at your child’s schedule and make sure that it will be manageable. Make sure that a difficult school schedule doesn’t happen at the same time you decide to put your child in three new after-school activities. Review the schedule of teams: how much travel is there, how many practices a week, what else is involved in being on the team?
- Make family time sacred and make it a big part of your “down time.” A family dinner is a wonderful time for the family to relax, recharge and reconnect. Unplug the phone if you have to, and try not to compromise in having the whole family present.
- Don’t criticize your kids for hanging around and “doing nothing.” If they do nothing consistently, a discussion is warranted, but in most cases, kids are just doing what they need to do.
- Try to avoid having TV as the source of much of your down time. TV doesn’t recharge a child’s batteries as well as things like reading or drawing. When kids watch a lot of TV, they’ll become more restless and less active at the same time. Encourage activities at home that will keep them engaged but away from the TV.
Providing “down time” is one of the best things parents can do for their kids. Teach your kids that most of their best ideas will come to them during “down time.” Teach them that being busy all the time takes a big toll on your enjoyment and your health. And know that you’ll be more successful at providing it if you educate them about it early in their lives.
Do your kids a favor by “living” down time and teaching it. Remember that there are times when it helps all of us to “just sit there.”