Why children (and adults) need down time
We often underestimate the importance of having down time in our lives, time to do nothing in particular. When we allow ourselves to let go of focusing on specific activities, the brain stays VERY active. Unfocused time activates parts of our brain known as the ‘default mode network.’ This helps us reflect, process and think about events, concepts and feelings.
Think about it as daydream mode – it is actually through daydreaming that we solve problems, make sense of memories and experiences, and reflect on our interactions and actions.
For children, when they aren’t involved in directed or structured activities, they are more likely to wonder about the world and ask questions. For adults, the default mode network helps us process events in our lives, make connections and reflect on what we need.
Know that down time isn’t the same as screen time, though. Screen time stimulates different areas of the brain and doesn’t allow for the same thinking and reflection.
Now, fitting in down time for you or your family might feel easier said than done, especially if you have signed up to lots of music, sports or other extra-curricular activities. Some children also have extra academic activities or regular homework to do.
If you’re finding life feels hectic and stressful, now might be a good time to re-evaluate your priorities to free up more opportunities for down time. Other members of your family might be feeling just as stressed as you are!
A healthy family life needs time for play, relaxation and connecting. Balancing this with important and rewarding planned activities is important for children – and adults! Here are five simple steps to get you started:
Tips to get started
1. Let them be bored:
When children are used to a lot of direction, they might struggle initially to know what to do with themselves. If your child complains of being bored, use the opportunity to encourage them to find their own activity – but don’t jump in too quickly to suggest something for them to do. Crucially, parenting is not just about structuring time for your child, but also holding space for their time to be unstructured. Boredom is what motivates us to seek out learning and stimulation through play, but we need to let the feeling work its magic first.
2. Spend time alone:
Find opportunities in your regular schedule to enjoy your own company, preferably away from the demands of work, partners or family. And if your children are playing or reading on their own or with each other – don’t interrupt. Let them follow their instincts.
3. Schedule time without screens:
Make sure you and your family have lots of time every day, with screens out of the way so you can let your minds wander and reflect. Talk to children about both the pleasure and benefits of screen time… And why their brains and bodies need time without it too.
4. Plan free family days:
Try to allow for one day a week where you have no (or minimal) scheduled plans. It’s great for us and our kids to take a break from the rush of weekdays, and spend a lazy morning in pyjamas or having a long breakfast together. This doesn’t mean your family can’t still be active, just that you don’t HAVE to do anything in particular. If you want to do an activity together, your child may like to be involved in conversations about what to do – this helps build their planning and decision-making skills.
5. Reset priorities:
Should you think your current schedule of planned activities is a bit too much, try sitting down with your child to decide which are the most important and how you can balance these with down time. If your child has a lot of homework activities, talk to your child’s teachers about their workload to help you decide what to prioritise.
If you find that your down time is marred by excessive worry or rumination, or you experience other significant discomfort when you try to let your mind wander, our skilled clinicians can help.
Written by Jessica Yegorov, Senior Clinical Psychologist
If you’re concerned about over scheduling, would like to learn more about carving out downtime or want to book an appointment with Jessica Yegorov or another one of our experienced clinical psychologists, contact our friendly client team by calling 6143 4499 or email via our contact page.
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