Is your child overstretched? Free time matters!


Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

When it comes to kids, you may think that packing in as much as possible into the day is beneficial, but don’t forget to include time to unwind as well. Sports, music and supplemental classes, volunteering and other extracurricular activities are often jammed into our children’s lives to help them succeed academically, grow their interests and increase exposure to the world. But are they getting enough time off to regroup their thoughts?

According to Dr. Kristen Eastman, child psychologist at Cleveland Children’s Clinic, children need opportunities in the day to just be, whether that means spending time with their siblings or other family, watching TV, reading or even doing nothing. Not every activity has to be a productive one and the day should not be so structured and filled with activity that free time is hard to fit in.

Unstructured time may also have a more direct impact towards children’s development of independence. A recent study from the University of Colorado, Boulder, found that those children who were allowed free time and the flexibility to choose how to spend it, also showed greater a greater ability to set and reach goals independently. The link is only a correlation at this time, but it is something to keep in mind. Many child-rearing experts suggest giving children a go at decision-making in their own lives, from letting pre-schoolers decide which clothes to wear to letting older children decide how they’d most like to spend certain portions of their day.

If you notice that your child seems withdrawn or is short-tempered, it could be because she is not getting enough time to explore her interests freely or is tired because she is under pressure to do too much during the day. Another sign of your child being under pressure may be his or her performance in school going down and being distracted in class. If your child is spending more time shuttling to, from and at after-school activities than just playing doing whatever she wants to, including spending time with you, then maybe it’s time to rethink some of the extracurricular activities.

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