Downtime Is Important for Growing Healthy Bodies and Minds
Summer is an ideal time to create new habits of downtime for kids of all ages. Has downtime been a concern in your family? It seems like every month there are more studies about the detrimental nature of too much screen time or over-scheduling on children’s health. It should concern all of us that children at younger and younger ages are being seen for adult sized problems like stress and insomnia.
How do you know you have a problem with overscheduling?
Your children may have started complaining about their activities across the board—even things they always looked forward to. If your child is having trouble sleeping or is complaining about headaches, stomachaches, anxiety, or feeling tired, you probably have an over scheduled child.
What is considered healthy in Traditional Chinese Medicine?
Traditional Chinese medicine views childhood with a view to the future. “According to Chinese philosophy, jing (essence) forms the material basis for the whole body. Stored in the kidneys, jing serves as the deposited capital for reproduction, growth, development and maturation.” Childhood is the time that jing is generated and stored in the kidneys. Jing ensures our bodies resistance to illness and promotes vitality. What is important to know, is that as we get older, we no longer produce an abundance of jing and begin to rely on the reserves in our kidneys. Therefore, it is vital that we maintain a healthy childhood environment in order to be healthy as an adult. Another foundation of long-life health established in childhood is sleep. Sleep replenishes the body and ensures a proper balance of yin and yang. Balanced yin and yang means healthy body systems and a strong immune system. Insomnia is a burgeoning problem with youth. Research has shown that exposure to bright lights and excessive screen time in the evenings can disturb the biological clock, causing problems with sleep in both youth and adults. Children and teens, however, need more sleep than adults and should be establishing life-long, healthy sleep habits.
What can we do?
There are many different ways you can incorporate more downtime into your children’s lives. You may need to have your children choose one or two extra-curricular activities to do in a school year, like soccer and piano rather than soccer, band, individual music lessons, dance, and gymnastics, for example. After you have defined your extra activities, you can work start to build a structure that allows for downtime. Some families decide on a certain number of screen hours per day and some decide on no screen time on school nights. Only you can decide what works for your circumstances. You could then fill your “extra” time with outside play earlier in the day and quiet activities like drawing or simple crafts, reading, and playing games. It’s important to quiet your environment and lower lights an hour before bedtime so the body can begin to wind down. It is helpful to develop nighttime rituals that help signal to the mind that it’s time to sleep.
Summer is an ideal time to try out limiting screens because there are more opportunities to play outdoors and read or listen to books on tape for pleasure, rather than assignments. If you have anxiety about providing enough learning opportunities for your children, summer will give you time to work on that for yourself. Remember that downtime is important for the development of the brain. Ease your concerns by reading research studies like this one that found, “Some of the most important scientific breakthroughs ever made by scientists including Einstein and Newton came about as the geniuses allowed their minds to wander, researchers say.”
Downtime can be a healthy, conscious choice for your family. In our next post, we will have a round up of more resources to help you develop your own ideas for downtime in your family.