Doing nothing is critical
The summer holidays are almost over and the big rush of preparation for the new school year has begun. For those who have travelled and spent time away from home, it may seem that the word holiday is a distant memory when you are back in your old routine.
For those who stayed home based for the holidays maybe there was an opportunity for you to spend some quality time with your children enjoying local visits and outings. When you look back on the summer, remember it is important not to judge your summer just on it’s activity level. Doing nothing is as critical for children as doing something.
The modern family is constantly overloaded with things to do. I fondly remember the distant days of playing outside with only a stone and the road to draw a hopskotch on on, as a way to pass the long holiday hours. All of our games were simple and required little equipment or planning. We used to while away the hours with no particular schedule. When bedtime was mentioned, we protested to our parents ‘we are not finished yet’, just 5 minutes more, even though we had nothing specific to do. The sense of time available was infinite to us and we had unlimited time to plan intricate home made games and just spend days and days perfecting one thing.
The creativity we had as children was innate, not directed by outside influence, or guided by an adult or legal structure. We were just children with minds to use and time to use them without boundaries.
Boredom is healthy
We never had the chance to feel bored. I don’t think we ever used that word to describe moments between the activities we created. Even if we did momentarily feel the space of time, it was filled within moments by our own creation. Today it seems that children are bored when they have to stand still just for a minute. They are born into a life of rush, hurry, rush, hurry. As kids, we were just delighted to be out of school and able to play freely without a time limit outside. We didn’t need the constant stimulation that I find I have to offer my own children now.
There is a lot of pressure on parents due to the demands of work, to put children in clubs, often just to make the childcare and work needs balance. Children have so many interests and attachments to such a variety of input that they have to some degree forgotten how to just be still and enjoy the simpler things. The term ‘clubbed to distraction’ never existed in my childhood, but is a common and very apparent ailment of childhood and parenting today.
We have forgotten that doing nothing is actually healthy for children. Staying still has enormous benefit that we need to value more. Peace and quiet should be cherished and not feared.
Remember your own lazier childhood
As adults we have our childhood history to remind us that we miss the peaceful, lazy days of a 6 week summer holiday to reflect upon. The anticipation of seemingly endless days that did not require us to rush into anything as the hours and days blurred together. Our holiday spirit was only dimmed by the traditional visit to the shoe shop about a week or so before we went to back to school. Dragged away from our important nothingness we protested and complained our way through it. Being interrupted by school related things in the the last and very important week of doing nothing was an invasion of all that was holy as a child. It was ‘OUR’ nothing and it belonged to us and it was precious.
It’s good to remember your own childhood and relate it to your own child’s holiday time in the modern world. The reminders of the precious value of time can be used to create a less stressful, less busy schedule during break times. Teaching your child to be less busy can be as important as teaching them to schedule the ever increasing number of items they have to balance during term times.
Cut out the stress
Statistics show that children are beginning to be ‘burned out’ as early as 11 years old! By the time a child enters the first major measurements of the school system at 11 plus, their sense of pressure to perform, focus, and produce results is often overwhelming. The rate of childhood stress and depression has escalated so much so that there is hardly a week that passes when a news article about the pressure on children in school is highlighted.
Children and parents are increasingly put under pressure to produce ‘model, children that excel in sports, maths, science, arts music etc. The demand to produce a child genius due to school competition and societal pressures is having a catastrophic effect on many children and on family life. We have gone from the era of women’s independence where juggling career and life demands added untold stresses on women, to passing on the same legacy to our children. The question we should be asking ourselves is not what more can I do to push my child and help them do better, but what ‘less’ can I be doing in order to de-stress my child and give them a chance at a childhood that creates a rounded but able to cope personality.
Parents need to make key decisions about their child’s well being and health, cut out some of the stresses and not focus on the constant barrage of ‘improvement’ tactics that schools, society and peers require of our children.
Where should you focus
The focus needs to be on preparing our children with the coping skills to slow down, listen to the minds and bodies when they know that they are feeling overloaded. Stress management techniques are a common talking point for adults, who have the ability to choose multiple options, methods, counsellors and therapists to help them apply what works for them. Our children only have us.
That’s why focusing on what matches your child’s character, capacity and coping abilities is critcial in early childhood. Going forward your child will then have a tool set to put into action instead of feeling helplessly overhwelmed. So as a parent how do you create that sense of relief and relaxation that you and your children so desperately need, whilst administering to the ever increasing number of demands from life and society?
These 6 techniques may help you to put the gear stick from drive back into neutral
1. Schedule time out formally
Its very easy to let the day run away with you filled up with everything and nothing. Make an effort to consciously schedule down time where you have absolutely nothing in your schedule and stick to it. Close the tv and other electronics, switch off the phone, gather your children and just hang out. Ever heard the term ‘duvet day’. Children adore staying all day in their pajamas under the covers on the sofa with snacks and drinks at the ready. Why not make a sheet tent and invite all the kids to hang out together with you. Your own little bubble of tranquility in your own home. Even one lazy doing nothing day can help you and your child recover from stress and give the body time to balance itself again.
Sitting together just talking or laughing, having a pillow fight, or playing hide and seek is an amazing up-lifter for you and your children. Psychologically for a parent, this puts you in fun mode where you have nothing to focus on except chilling out. For the children, they can just let go and be themselves without demands or instructions from anybody. Learning to slow down and use fun and time out positively is a key asset in your child’s skill base for the future.
2. Learn meditation/relaxation techniques
You don’t need to go out of your home to appreciate the value of yoga or meditation. There are hundreds or even thousands of videos and free resources online to coach you in the art of relaxation. Whether you are a visual, or a musical person is not important. The importance is on shifting the focus and slowing the pace.
Meditation can be self taught. Even quiet visualization can help with solving problems, dealing with stress in times such as exams, or tests and teaching your child to be in control of what they feel can help with relationships in school and at home.
The long term benefits of meditation have been proven both scientifically and educationally. Doing nothing helps your mind to create open creative space in the long run and over time, you and your child will begin to crave the peaceful moments where you allow yourself to just switch off.
Relaxing is not an optional extra, I believe it is a critical life skill you can teach your children. Being able to understand how to reach that state of peace can only be valuable for you and your child.
Meditation can help children cope with conflict, reduce anger, stress and even improve self worth. Creating a peaceful space teaches your child to be happy in their own skin and their own company.
If you meditate, you will begin to see the long lasting physical effects, even in a short time. The body actually responds and heals itself in the quiet environment of meditation and releases appropriate chemicals internally to help restore health.
3. Let your child plan their own schedule
Give your child carte blanche to decide their own schedule before and after school. Parents may be surprised to find that children are aware of their own limitations. Let your child agree only to the clubs and activities that they think they will be capable of.
If your child doesn’t want to go to clubs at all, give them the choice to stay home. Alternatively offer only a small selection of extra curricular activities. Allow your child to simply decide to do nothing if that’s what they need.
You can create a sense of independence in your child that will carry forward with them in all forms of time management as they grow up and become an adult.
4. Ignore school letters that create a sense of rushing
Schools have to inform parents in advance about everything. Schools have to schedule staff, plan resources and organise space in school etc. As a result, they may unintentionally put pressure on parents to commit to multiple clubs.
Practice the art of saying no first, leaving yourself the option of saying yes later. You don’t have to respond in haste. You should try to narrow down your school commitments to those that are obligatory and those that are optional. When you have the optional list, always start with the minimum options.
Ignore parents that tell you ‘my child is doing so and so, what about you? Be confident in your decision not to be in competition with other families but to be independent in your choices. You are not obliged to explain to other parents your reasons behind the choices you make for your child. Stay in control and parent they way you want to, not as others do. Don’t start your school year with a time deficit.
Take things slowly and show your child you know how to pace yourself. If you model it, your child has the chance to copy it.
5. Lead my example and manage your time with empty areas on your schedule
Teach your children time management, by being good at your own time management. Stressing and rushing about will only show your child that this behaviour is acceptable and normal. Multi tasking is a useful skill, but don’t overdo it. Consequently, your children will inherit what you show them. Show them that you have time to do the important things first and other things can wait.
Have you ever heard your 3 year old respond to you ‘in a minute mummy’ and wonder where it came from. Your child will mirror what you show them. Force yourself to count to 10 every time you hear those words in your head. Most of all, remember to stop and re-evaluate where your priorities are before you rush on. This will have a long term benefit for you and your child.
6. Re-create a love of reading
Remember that when you read a book, it is difficult to rush it. Books are a great natural way to slow things down. They are educational and great for socialization. Books stimulate conversation in a positive way. Books have great power to influence and can be a very positive tool.
You can influence your child’s behaviour by choosing books that are uplifting, thought provoking and supportive. Holding a book in your hand is a completely different experience to reading on an electronic device. Remember, you cannot recreate the smell and feel of a book in an electronic device.
If possible try to reinforce the joyful experience of reading by taking your children to the library. Get them a library card to hire books they like and go regularly to update and change books. Change books in school libraries frequently. Libraries are naturally silent places. Sitting in a library will teach your child to be quiet and still while still getting some interaction through the characters of a book. You will begin to notice that relaxing is as infectious as rushing.
Help your child to appreciate that doing nothing is just as critical as doing something. Know that there is great value in this as well. Don’t burden yourself with any more guilt about filling up your child’s time. Keep in mind that children form lifelong skills in early childhood. Try to focus on implanting key relaxation skills as young as possible. Your whole family will benefit from doing nothing as much as doing something.
Here are some useful resources to help you on your way to a more meditative, relaxed way of daily life.