Why It’s Important For Kids Today To Have Unstructured Downtime
Over the last few decades, our world has gotten more and more fast-paced and competitive. Everyone has felt these effects, but they’ve been even more severe on our most priceless and helpless age group: our children. In recent years, psychologists have started to plead for parents and caretakers to let their children slow down a little and to not fill their schedules up with so many lessons, sports, and other activities.
And then the pandemic hit.
Suddenly, everything was canceled. People sheltered in place in their homes, many not knowing what to do with all the spare time they suddenly had. For many, this was the first time their families had been able to spend unstructured time together in a long time – and lots of parents and kids alike were confused about what they should be doing with their lives. But while too much free time (and yes, there is such a thing as too much as well) had its own challenges, it taught us many important lessons that are important to take with us as we move forward.
The Key Is Balance
Scheduled activities such as music lessons, sports, and storytime at the local library can all be very good things, especially if your child initiated the involvement by showing an interest. These things can all help children develop into happy, confident, responsible, well-socialized adults who have a healthy outlook on life. We’re definitely not advocating that you never sign your kids up for anything – especially if it’s something they’re excited about! But too much of a good thing almost always circles back around to being a bad thing, so it’s important to make sure there’s a balance between structured and unstructured time in a child’s life.
Boredom Often Leads to Creativity
In late February 2021, Dr. Susan Newman published an article in Psychology Today that made a strong case for making sure children get some time to be bored. “Before the pandemic,” she writes, “most children had little downtime. …Creativity, and its close cousin curiosity, is one of the seven strengths a child needs to thrive. Without meaning to, by over-scheduling and micro-managing their children’s lives, parents leave little, if any, time for that creativity to flourish.”
Michele Borba, author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle And Others Shine, agrees. “Parents can make a big difference on their children’s character and future success if they help them develop mind-sets that are open to curiosity and the capacity to imagine, create, and invent ideas. In other words, when left on their own to explore and fill their time, they develop curiosity, creative problem solving, and divergent thinking that will help them thrive. Children need some solitude and the time to daydream, play, and imagine.”
Stop Trying To Do What You “Should” Be Doing
Our world is filled with all different kinds of people who are in all different circumstances and stages of life. We all face unique challenges and have unique strengths, talents, interests, and weaknesses. Our physical bodies are all different sizes, shapes, and colors. For all its flaws, our society is putting in a valiant effort to celebrate and appreciate the physical, mental, and experiential diversity that makes us beautiful and human.
So why is it sometimes so hard to let ourselves and our families adapt to our particular situations that we find ourselves in?
Too often, we compare ourselves to other people and other families. But the problem with comparison is that we almost never have the full picture, and end up comparing our messy backstage with so-and-so’s highlight reel. (This is especially true when you factor in the effects of social media.) Additionally, there are thousands of voices that shout advice at parents – from television shows that are often inaccurate to well-meaning family members who really do have your best interests at heart – and some of it is conflicting.
There’s nothing wrong with parenting your children the way that works best for them and you. If your kids are healthy, happy, and learning important life lessons, then you’re probably doing something right! So don’t beat yourself up if you’re not filling every second of their day with “productive” activities. The truth is, there is no “should.” Adapt to what works for you and seek advice and help from trusted family members, friends, and licensed professionals.
Have questions or comments? We would love to hear from you! Get in touch with our Cheyenne office today by calling 307-631-5574.