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The Importance of Downtime for Children

Susan Bartell
Overscheduling a child with activities can happen by accident without you even realizing it. Suddenly your child’s life is so busy that there is no time left to play or relax. It starts with nightly homework, a karate class twice a week, a guitar lesson, religious education and soccer practice once a week with a game on Saturday.

In many cases a super-busy schedule is driven by a child rather than the parent. Kids want to try everything and for parents it can be difficult to say ‘no’ to an enthusiastic child who just may have a burgeoning talent. In truth, taking time to relax, play and simply do nothing is just as important for cognitive and emotional growth as are enrichment activities. However, every child is different so it might be difficult to know if your child is adequately scheduled or overscheduled. Some children will show signs of stress or burnout if they are overscheduled. They might cry frequently, yawn, complain of headaches or stomachaches, or appear anxious, angry or on-edge. Even if your child doesn’t show overt signs of stress, it’s important to make sure you build in down-time throughout the week and learn to say ‘no’ to adding another structured activity to your child’s week.

Kids should use their downtime to explore through creative play by dreaming big and decompressing during a hectic life by learning how to occupy their own time (coping with boredom). In order to assure that your child has enough time to truly benefit from unscheduled time you should consider the following:

Screens in moderation: Downtime can sometimes, but should not always include, TV, computer or other screens. There is certainly a benefit to just turning off and tuning in but screen time doesn’t encourage a child to play creatively or think outside the box. Therefore, it’s best to stick with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of no more than two hours a day of screen time.

Trust in toys: Your child’s free time should definitely include play with toys; especially those that support creativity and dreaming (like the VTech Flipsies™). Less structured time to play with toys will help your child let go of the structure of school and formal activities and enjoy their free time with fewer rules.

Get outside: Playtime in the backyard or at the playground is an important part of your child’s life. Kids need to play catch, throw a Frisbee and chase each other around. It is not only fun but it helps them release stress and get some much needed exercise.

Factor in family time: Some of your child’s relaxing time should also be with you. More than anything young children love special time with their parents—and your child is no exception. Playing board games, doing art projects, learning to throw a football and mastering a twowheeler are precious moments of relaxed time that can’t be replaced with anything else.

Sleep is the best downtime: A child’s hectic life requires more than just time to relax, it also requires an adequate amount of sleep. Getting enough sleep is a necessity to ensure that your child has the brain power and energy to approach each day with passion. Young children require an average of ten hours of sleep a night although some require as much as thirteen. A child that has had enough sleep will wake up spontaneously in the morning with energy to take on the day.

Keep all of these tips in mind the next time your child asks to try another extracurricular activity to fill up their free time. There’s nothing wrong with scheduling downtime throughout the hectic week to maintain a balanced and healthy lifestyle for your child.
Meet our Expert Advisory Panel
Deborah Sharp Libby
Early Childhood Language and Reading Expert
Lise Eliot
Early Childhood Mental Development Expert
Helen Boehm
Psychologist, Author, and Parenting Resource Expert
Carla C. Johnson
Science and STEM Expert
Susan Bartell
Child Psychology Expert
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