Most of us are rather enlightened parents these days. When our children hit or scream or take another child’s toy, we don’t spank them. We put them in time out.
There they sit, one minute for every year old, contemplating their transgressions and regrouping. They take a break from out-of-control emotions and behaviors and call on inner resources and external support systems to return to a harmonious state.
As I walk through our modern world, watching adults running like hamsters on treadmills and children getting exercise from wii and x-box games, I wonder:
If children had more time out(side) and time off, would they still need time outs?
We live in an age of over-stimulation and overwhelm. For all of our time-saving devices, we work more and sleep and relax less than humans of times past.
Children need time off from school and from schedules. They need to have time to do nothing and time to do whatever they want.
There are studies that validate the importance of play in the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills. But we don’t need studies. Be observing our children at play, we can see this natural development in action.
When my children were 13, 11 and 8, they often played in our yard with the neighbors (12 and 10). They figured out how to play kick-ball and other games in a way that was fair. They made adjustments for ages, special needs or extra skills (my middle child is autistic), number of children out playing that day.
“Sarah and I get only two outs and the boys get three,” my daughter informed me one day. The next day, if three or four of them wanted to play, they found another solution. No adults mediated or suggested anything. When they are red-cheeked and sweaty, they reach for water and flop on the grass to rest.
Implementing the New Time Out
Amidst school or homeschool activities, sports, music, and dance schedules, and work obligations of parents, it can be challenging to find a way to, as my children say, chillax. Here are some ideas to get started:
1. Take a Mental Health Day away from school.
Let the kids stay home and do nothing once in a while. This may keep them balanced and healthy so they don’t have to get sick to get a break.
2. Schedule at least one day per week with no planned activities.
For us, this is Sunday. We all look forward to it.
3. Encourage free play.
Let the children fill their own time. Save your boxes and paper towel rolls and see what happens, even if your children are in middle school or high school.
4. Spend time outdoors that is not in organized sports.
Children love to make up their own games or explore. You don’t have to do anything (beyond ensuring safety). They will create worlds, climb trees, and make their own fun.
5. Be Silly.
I’m not good at silly, but the children love it. So Daddy takes over and they giggle and scare each other and tell jokes. If you need help, share your children with an adult who knows how to have fun.
6. Go All the Way: Take a Year Off
Consider how you can take a Really Big Time Out. Take a vacation. Homeschool. Travel. Enjoy.
Check out these families who did it.
One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children by David Elliot Cohen
The Family Sabbatical Handbook: The Budget Guide To Living Abroad With Your Family by Elisa Bernick
Benefits of the New Time Out
There is a Sufi tale that tells of a scholar being ferried by Nasrudin across a body of water.
“Have you learned mathematics?” he asks the ferry-man.
“No,” Nasrudin replies.
“Do you understand the sciences?” he continued.
“No,” Nasrudin answered.
Next, the scholar chided Nasrudin for his ungrammatical language, and, hearing that the boat-man never went to school exclaimed, “Half of your life has been wasted!”
Shortly afterwards, Nasrudin asked him: “Did you learn to swim?”
“No, I did not,” replied the scholar.
“Well, in this case it seems all your life has been wasted. We are sinking,” said Nasrudin.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic are useful skills. Proficiency in sports, music, and arts can bring much enjoyment. But over-planning and over-scheduling may produce an ignorance of how to live.
After I post this, I will go and enjoy my own time out(side). I hope that after your read, you will too.
Want to believe this is possible but don’t? Join me starting January 2014 and shift to joyful thinking and easier living. More information coming soon.