In January, TODAY’s Hoda Kotb worked with Angie Johnsey, an RN CHT-hypnotherapist and celebrity mind coach, to get herself organized and to lessen her commitments by not saying “yes” to everything. I can relate. And I would add for those of us who are parents – do my kids need to stop saying “yes” as well?
Kids today are feeling just as stressed as adults are – because they are just as pressured as adults. Grade schoolers have hours of homework. They play on travel sports teams, town recreational teams, they take dance or karate several times a week. You can’t progress if you’re not attending 2-3 times a week, and sadly, progress is now what childhood is all about.
We didn’t start out to be too busy. But there are so many choices, and my kids kept wanting to try stuff. At one time during their younger years my two boys were doing soccer, Boy Scouts, piano lessons, wrestling, karate, safety patrol, chorus and band. And then we hit the wall.
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My kids rebelled and we had a no-plans summer, which I wrote about in my book Why Can't We Just Play? What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy. Giving them the summer “off” was delightful, challenging and ultimately very instructive. I learned how much my kids needed down time, and how they flourished with days of free play. But that was summer. How do you put “nothing” on the schedule in the middle of the school year?
CARVING OUT TIME
The only way to make it happen to schedule it. You have to set aside a weekend, or a full day, or just an afternoon during which you will not have any scheduled activities. This probably means you have to stop saying yes to invitations or activities. Not only are sports and clubs eating into your kids’ schedule, the weekend is alive with tantalizing opportunities: museums, movies, shopping, birthday parties, restaurants with arcade games, the mall with a climbing gym in the middle. Enough! There’s such a thing as over-stimulation. Do you even enjoy the mall? I rarely do.
We all need down time. But kids need more than down time, they need play. Free play, imaginative play, independent play … call it what you will, but it means that they are playing the way they want to, with rules that they make up, and no adult interference to help them “do it right.”
As Fred Rogers said, “Play is really the work of childhood.”
This kind of play means no screens. No phones, tablets, video games, etc. My kids had those things, but they also had hours every day when they were not allowed to use them and were forced to entertain themselves. They complained. But then they figured out a way to have fun.
We all assume that kids are addicted to their screens, but I have heard many children say impatiently about a friend “all she wants to do is be on her phone!” Kids actually do crave “real” play and human interaction, but sometimes they don’t know how to make it happen. They are used to grownups making everything happen for them, so in the absence of direction, they flounder.
We can allow them to be bored and trust them to fill it. We can set the example by putting our own screen/work away and having some down time for ourselves. Forget the housework. (Yes I said that!)
If my kids were having trouble playing, I had a sneaky trick. I would tell them to clean their rooms. They weren’t allowed their phones or screens. They would go up to their rooms, and putter around with toys, and then end up playing with the toys. The rooms never did get cleaned, but they passed a few hours in pleasant rambling behavior, sometimes playing with each other, or retreating to their own corners with Legos or a sketch pad.
Your kids might be accustomed to being busy and get frustrated that you aren’t racing out the door to the next fun thing. Or they may be relieved that they can stay in their pajamas till noon and goof around in their rooms. Just like we need to make sure our kids eat vegetables and do homework, we also need to make sure they have a stretch of time to play. As parents, we are hyper aware of all the things we need to do for our kids. And now we can add “nothing” to the list.
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