Oh, summer! That glorious time of year when life slows down just enough for us to catch our breath and smell the roses. This sounds ever so familiar, right? You know, children roll out of bed late each morning, eager to head outside with friends and immerse themselves in nature. Adults no longer have to set the alarm clock, rising late in the morning, ready to fully enjoy that steaming cup of coffee, walk the dog, and read the entire newspaper without interruption. Board games and puzzles pop up in homes across the country as families come together to create puzzle masterpieces and play Scrabble. Late afternoons are filled with calming rainstorms, laughter, and leisurely time as families kick back on the couch and dive into their favorite books or watch movies with a big tub of popcorn to share.
In my dreams! Before everyone becomes laden with guilt and shame, please know that the image above is one that only exists in my imagination, as I have been largely unsuccessful as a parent over the past thirteen years in creating this summer-long experience for my family. Sleepaway camps, sports, music lessons, school summer assignments, travel, work commitments and, simply, the busy nature of life have consumed much of our family time, and there are more times than not when I feel guilty for being unable able to slow down our lives and find this sacred time. As a parent, I also know that providing this isn’t always as easy as it seems. The realities of life somehow take over and the precious time we envisioned with family is eaten away by the extras. How can we preserve the sanctity of childhood and family time in a world where entertainment can be ordered 24/7?
As an educator, I know full well what the research states. Young children desperately need more unstructured downtime and less scheduled time in their lives in order to influence their future success as healthy problem solvers, creators and collaborators of the world. Studies also show that the ever-present tug of screens, videos, and other technology coupled with a highly competitive culture of athletics, academics, and social rankings have been attributed to an increase in exhibitable signs of anxiety and depression in both young children and adults.
At Beauvoir, we have a unique advantage as early childhood specialists to encourage and reinforce positive habits during these younger years. The ability to partner closely with families is a source of deep pride for us, and as we round out the last few weeks of summer, I would like to offer five helpful tips to support the health and well-being of your children and set the stage for a childhood replete with adequate downtime.
- Build in short periods of the day that are relaxed and inwardly focused for children, and gradually increase this over time. Consider starting with 20 minutes of child-driven activities such as art, outdoor play, daydreaming, waterplay, or doodling. Believe it or not, during these critical “brain breaks,” the brain is actually consolidating and synthesizing new information so that your child can use it in the future (think of the number of problems you have actually solved in the shower!).
- Allow your child to experience boredom and impatience and give them ample opportunity to manage these feelings without rescuing them. Children benefit from having this time to recognize that there are big and small problems in life that often require their solutions, and deeper thinking is often required in order to do so. It actually helps our children develop key strengths such as patience, problem solving, higher order thinking, empathy and self-regulation.
- Refrain from using video games as “downtime” and consider substantially limiting their use. Contrary to popular belief, video games are not actually downtime, as they often integrate competition, socializing, stimulation, bright lights and/or sounds that can lead to stress, anxiety, attention difficulties and insomnia.
- If your child has a technology device, have them powered off and put away at least an hour before bedtime. Devices should be kept in a location that is away from the child’s bedroom and families should establish a consistent nighttime routine and bedtime (i.e. snack, bath time, teeth brushing, story time/reading, prayers, snuggles). This is important so that over time, children can learn to manage and self-regulate their evening routines and become independently “wired” for sleep.
- Regularly model what actual downtime looks like for your children. What is your favorite downtime activity? I find great delight in grabbing a pair of binoculars and birdwatching from the front porch at home. I have set up special feeders so that I can watch and listen closely for hours as the nuthatches, woodpeckers, grackles, catbirds, sparrows and blue jays contend for the latest dangling suet cake. Allow your children to witness you in the moment and encourage them to find their personal favorite distraction.
Good luck and I would love to hear some of your personal success stories when you return this fall. I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks.