“On Tuesday and Friday, she has gym. On Saturday, there’s swim class in the morning followed by abacus and Chinese in the afternoon. The boys have soccer every Sunday too.”
I rolled my eyes in mock horror and moaned as my friend Zee rattled on about her “impossible” schedule as a mother of three. It was going to be hard for us to arrange our schedules and I did understand. After all, the typical 21st century child is an exceptionally busy one.
Like Zee, it is not uncommon to find ourselves sucked onto a treadmill of incessant activity.
Weekends and after-school hours can turn into a circus of continuous shuttling to and from scheduled events, enrichment classes and tuition.
With good intentions, we judiciously pack our children’s time with productive and enriching pursuits. God forbid that we entertain the idea of leaving them at home “doing nothing”. Visages of wasted time and talent, restless kids, and the fear of lagging behind while their peers get ahead, can set off alarm bells of epic proportions. The thought of leaving children unoccupied can turn into a perennial worry: Am I doing enough for my child?
How did hyper-parenting become the norm?
According to Alvin Rosenfeld, a child psychiatrist and author of The Over-Scheduled Child, “Even the best intentioned parents strive to micro-manage every detail of their kids' lives and live in constant fear that their child will under-perform in any area – academic, social, athletic.” While Rosenfeld did not dismiss the value in enrichment activities in making learning rich, he observes that parents seem to have “lost the ability to balance them with down time, boring time.”
What does over-scheduling do to a child and what are its downsides?
My husband and I fell out of the scheduling trap some time ago simply because our family grew bigger. With a new addition every few years, we simply couldn’t afford to keep up both financially and logistically, neither did it make sense to.
In the process, we discovered the beauty and benefits of downtime and unstructured play instead. Here are 5 reasons why we now value downtime aka “boring time” and are not too concerned about filling those blank spaces in our family schedule.
Downtime is often accompanied by two awesome bedfellows: creativity and imagination – waiting to weave together a work of art.
1. Downtime is like a blank canvas
Downtime is often accompanied by two awesome bedfellows: creativity and imagination – waiting to weave together a work of art. Why pay for creative courses when you can acquire these skills organically?
Little minds are naturally wired to daydream, and daydreaming can spur creativity in childhood. I have observed how my children have played their “same old” toys in completely different ways from how they are meant to be played. They also managed to come up with solutions for practical everyday problems around our household (like how they rearranged my clothes pegs according to size on a separate hanger for ease of handling.) Now that’s the magic of downtime.
2. Downtime helps prepare children for life
Workplaces of the future will change dramatically and demand the soft capital of problem-solving, creativity, imagination and cognitive flexibility. Our children will not be told what to do as much as they would have to figure out solutions, troubleshoot and test new ideas. When a child is left alone to play, it can create a fertile environment for growth of soft skills. Giving my kids time to play with neighbours at the playground has left them with negotiation and collaborative skills. These may be their best assets for the future.
3. Downtime keeps kids motivated
We often take on too much responsibility for entertaining our kids or occupying their time. But what happens when we let go? For one, our kids can then take the lead in doing what interests them.
In allowing a child to pursue what he’s interested in in his free time, we are unwittingly fuelling his passions and inclinations. “Go find something to busy yourself with, and tell me more about it after!” can help our kids learn to make interesting choices and develop ownership over them. It also helps them learn how to motivate themselves and be interested in things around them. Interested kids make interesting kids.
‘Go find something to busy yourself with, and tell me more about it after!’ can help our kids learn to make interesting choices and develop ownership over them. Interested kids make interesting kids.
4. Downtime helps our children get much needed rest
When the modern day child hustles through life programme after programme, they can suffer from scheduling fatigue and develop apathy towards learning. Children need to rest physically and emotionally as well. Downtime helps to simply create mental and emotional space to chill and slow down. Processing social situations, observations and information they receive daily can be exhausting to their minds and bodies. Sleep is also a critical part of downtime. In fact, a growth hormone is produced in the fourth stage of sleep. In essence, if they don’t sleep well and unwind, they won’t grow well!
5. Downtime is good for parents too
When our children play on their own and learn ways to entertain themselves, we send the message that life does not always revolve around them. It is healthy for a married couple to take the focus off the children and attend to our marriage. Getting some couple time is vital in keeping our relationship alive and being good parents. Hyper-parenting 24/7 does the opposite. It cranks up our stress levels, which can backfire on our kids when they pick up cues on our anxiety.
Our job is not to keep our kids happy but to keep ourselves happy so that we can continue to be effective parents in the long run.
Tracey Or is a full time mother of six, part-time dreamer and writer at her blog, Memoirs of a Budget Mum. Those who know her well knows she gets through life with a good joke, coffee and the occasional Netflix.
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