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Caring For Our Kids

Don’t fear downtime

“Miss Coco Arrives,” watercolor illustration by Kristin Abbott from A Moment of Quiet is Nothing to Fear, 2008

It is very rare to find a children’s book that has a message equally as strong for the child and the parent. The book is A Moment of Quiet is Nothing to Fear, written by Christine Gardner. The simple moral of the story for children is to take time to daydream and to appreciate quiet. The message for parents is much stronger and one we can all take to heart about overscheduling our children and not giving them enough time to just dream or quiet their bodies.

“No schedule, no classes, no outings today” is one of my favorite lines from the book. It got me thinking: Have we scheduled our children so much that they have forgotten how to “do nothing”? Are we so busy planning our children’s lives that we are no longer able to parent in the moment? Here are a few ideas that I am trying to work on after taking the message of this book to heart.

Schedule quiet time. I know it seems crazy that we should have to “schedule” quiet time, but life has gotten so busy and we schedule everything so that sometimes we do not leave time to “just be.” If your child gives up their nap, consider enforcing quiet time. Our rule has always been 60 minutes in your bed, feet off the floor, with books. If your child is in school, consider adjusting the nighttime routine so they can have some quiet time to read, draw, or just reflect before the lights are turned out. In the book I mentioned above, one of the things the little girl does in her moment of quiet is to sit down, close her eyes, and daydream. Seems easy enough, right? When I tried this with my children, I was shocked how hard it was for them to sit still and how it took a minute before they could give into letting their imagination take over. After being calm for a few minutes, it was great fun to share the stories of our quiet time adventures.

Stand up to parent peer pressure. It is very easy to get caught up or sucked into the idea that the more activities your child is involved in, the better they will be. It starts early, with music class, swim class and tumbling. It turns into sports, music and maybe art or chess. It is not uncommon these days to find children who, after a full day at school, are shuttled to piano lessons, a dance class, and sports practices – sometimes all in one day. Parents have to learn when to say no for the sake of our children. They have plenty of time to master a sport or learn to play an instrument, but what they will never get back is time just to be kids.

I had fallen into this trap. I had said yes to every opportunity that came my way and before I knew it, my son had an activity every day of the week. He was exhausted and I felt as though I was more of a taxi than a mom, so something had to give. We dropped a few activities and we are both happier for it.

Savor the small moments. Parenting in the moment does not have to be about grand gestures. It can be as simple and small as holding hands down the street or singing your favorite song together in the car. Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves to find the “perfect” moment that we miss the small but precious ones – an unexpected kiss on the cheek or spontaneous tickle time. We are all busy and finding those moments are just as important for us as they are for our children. Now that it is staying lighter longer, one of our favorite things to do after a long day is to go on a pajama walk. The kids get to wear their pajamas outside for a short walk around the block. That last bit of fresh air and exercise does wonders to help ensure a smooth bedtime routine. Every night we take time at the dinner table to go around and share our favorite part of the day. If you have a hard time getting any information about what happened at school, this might be a good one to try. It gives everyone some time to reflect on their day and share something specific that no one else might know about them.

When you add up the time they are at school, in activities and asleep, the moments your children have just to be with you become that much more precious. Take time to figure out how to be “in the moment” for your family: turn off the TV, put away the iPads, and turn off the phones. Savor those moments, enjoy the downtime, and remember, they are only young once.

Liz Farrell is the mother of two young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. E-mail: liz@marinatimes.com
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