In a world moving faster than people can keep pace with, much is inevitably lost, while anxiety is gained! We feel the need to catch every message that pops on Facebook. We have to know about every news article and hear every joke that the late-night jokesters say. In fact, with increased mobile technology, we have to somehow respond to every call, text and tweet immediately, without feeling overwhelmed by it all! We do this with our children as well. We overdo everything because we want to be good… no, not just good, we want to be great parents. We want to give our kids every opportunity we did not have growing up and we want to make sure they enjoy it! We have lost sight of the big picture by focusing on the missing pieces of the puzzle. In the world of real time and quick time, what we need is down time. Down time for us and for our kids.
Our gifted child may be able to compute equations at a rate that can put an adult to shame, but does that necessitate more after school math classes for them? And do they need to be in competitive sports with grueling practice sessions season after season. Well, what about music, art class, martial arts, foreign language, speech and swimming? The issue is not the class, but the attitude with which we approach it. What if our son decides he does not want to compete after a month of practice? What if our daughter decides that ballet is not for her, after we paid a lot of money for all the bells and frills that ballerinas have to have? Will we let them sit out and give up? Or will we persuade them to try a little harder, finish the season, or suck it up and go because we paid through our noses for this? Perhaps we don’t understand that when they say, “I don’t want to,” they might actually be saying, “I can’t.”
I cannot forget the father of a boy I saw during my son’s track meet. The little boy (granted he was around ten years old) was in tears, saying he couldn’t run another meet, while the dad showed him “tough love,” by telling him ” we didn’t get up at 6 am and drive all the way down here for you to tell me you can’t run no more!” I could not help but wonder who was really “running”. As parents we have various reasons to over-schedule our kids. There is so much to learn and so many opportunities for them to take. We fear that they may fall behind, or not know an essential social skill, or sometimes, as one mom told me, “by keeping them busy, I keep my kids away from all the crazy stuff out there.” Whatever our reasons may be, our children, as young as three are the ones suffering with anxiety and heightened stress levels, according to a recent survey done by the Lucille Packard Foundation in the Bay Area. The movie Race to Nowhere by Vicki Abeles and Jessica Congdon highlights this very point about children and teenagers all over the nation.
We start this over-scheduling and “over-doing” with our babies and toddlers. We feel we need to do something with their every waking moment. If we want them to learn independence and grow to be self reliant, we need to give them space. Place them within eyesight, in a safe zone and let them explore on their own. Let them see, think, feel, smell, taste without intervention. If they’re chilling on their own, don’t feel obligated to do something with them. They need to be by themselves in order to understand themselves. Gym classes, play schools, constant stimulation whether through brain enhancing (I’ve yet to see this happen) music or videos are unnecessary and detrimental to the child’s development. Let them create their own world and explore it. This way, when they are older you don’t hear the “I’m bored” mantra. Teach your child to entertain themselves and tell them to figure it out for themselves. Offer choices once, maybe twice, and after that let your school age child figure out, technology free, what he wants to do. Sometimes a nap may be the best way to get some downtime, but let it be their decision.
Studies have repeatedly shown how important down time is to recharge and rejuvenate. We don’t need the American Association of Pediatric Physicians study to tell us that down time “is in fact essential for children to reach important cognitive, emotional, social and developmental milestones” because we know that we as adults cannot function at our peak if we are drained or running on low, let alone our children! Down time to rebuild depleted energies helps enhance mind and body functions. Most nations in the world offer employees a month, if not more, of vacation time and report enhanced productivity after the employees’ return. We all know this on a small scale; don’t our best ideas come to us on the prayer rug? Why? It’s because we diffuse the world when we ground ourselves with God. We relax, calm down and breathe. We focus and reflect in prayer. We need to move this beyond the prayer mat to everyday aspects of our lives and we need to teach our children reflection as a daily routine. How can they internalize anything they have learned if they don’t have time to digest it? How can they truly appreciate their own work and want to do more if they don’t have the chance to think about it?
We have to habituate our children to quiet time and time for reflection so that they get used to meditation and contemplation. This time should be for deciding what they’ve liked, didn’t like, want to change, want to try or want to accomplish. It’s their time and their mind. We need to stay out of it when they are processing. This will be the fountainhead of their creativity and imagination. According to Einstein who said “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” this would be the most important time of our child’s day. This down time will help them grow into thinkers and not just doers. They will be able to plan and project their ideas before trying them out. They will also be able to deconstruct what happened and correct it by the same means. And most importantly, they will be able to enjoy quiet time and sit in (dhikr) remembrance of their Lord without agitation, God willing.