Quality free time puts kids on a positive path
Pennsylvania State University researchers found that children who spend free time in meaningful pursuits are less likely to be depressed or behave badly and are more likely to do well in school. What are some valuable ways for your children to spend their free time?
Exercise: Sports gets your children moving as well as improving motor skills, but what if your children don't want to join a team? One doesn't need a team to get benefits from playing sports. Steer children outside to throw the ball around for no reason other than it's a fun thing to do. If your child is old enough, inquire about a gym membership or working with a personal trainer. Choose an activity that is right for your child's stage of development.
Family time: Does your family pursue board games, family hikes, Sunday afternoon movies complete with popcorn, talking to each other in front of the fireplace, watching the sun go down in the backyard together — or none of the above? Turn off the TV, unplug the computer and avoid those video games that don't involve the whole family. Start a family bowling league (either virtual or literal), drag out the art supplies and paint each other's portraits, have an in-house spelling bee. Most importantly, laugh together and don't be judgmental of one another.
Spiritual growth: Use free time to talk about your values, ethics and spiritual outlook with your children. Instilling positive principles into your child will lessen their confusion and fear when dealing with life's inevitable disappointments and crossroads.
In the community: Get outside to explore your community. If your child is still young enough to be in a stroller, pack up some snacks and drive a few miles away to a neighborhood you rarely visit. Unfurl the stroller and take a walk around to see what you can see: are the houses different than those in your neighborhood? Are there any parks or play spaces to explore? Talk to your child as you notice things. If you have an older child, encourage him or her to give back to the community by volunteering service in age-appropriate capacity, i.e. pulling weeds in a community garden (wear work gloves!); cleaning up litter around the block (ditto); helping a trusted elderly neighbor do yard work (ditto once more).
Hobbies: Enjoying a fulfilling hobby — and having time for it — is an unalienable right! When passion calls your child, encourage the hobby habit: music, art, singing, watching birds fly or the clouds go by. This is where creativity and passion lives.
Reading for fun: Reading something "just because" is one of life's greatest pleasures. If your child is school age and is being assigned books that must be read but not necessarily found to be enjoyable by your child, watch for possible signs of loss of interest in reading for pleasure. This loss can come as a shock to parents whose children used to love to read. Take heart. If your child is reluctant to read, it might take you longer to find the right combination of reading material (don't overlook special interest magazines) that will light his fire. A child is never too old to be read to; reading to your child is a wonderful bonding experience for both of you at any age.
RENEW THE SPIRIT
The respect we have for unstructured down time (relaxation with no particular outcome in mind) has unfortunately diminished. In an era when many people brag about their overscheduled lives as a status symbol, down time has become something to be avoided. It shouldn't be. This is when the spirit gets renewed; with a renewed spirit, anything is possible!
Doreen Nagle is author of "But I Don't Feel Too Old to Be a Mommy" (HCI, $12.95). She welcomes your parenting tips and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.