Does Your Child Need Downtime?

two kids hanging upside downWe all want our kids to grow up to be healthy, well-rounded people. But sometimes, in our quest to “round” them, we wind up overscheduling our children—stressing out everyone involved. How much of a child’s time really needs to be structured? Should they have some downtime?

What is downtime?

Downtime is totally free time, when your child can choose to do whatever they like—or do nothing at all. This might include:

  • Drawing or painting
  • “Exploring” outside
  • Watching clouds
  • Sitting upside-down on the couch
  • Staring at the wall (yes, really)

What isn’t downtime?

It might surprise you to learn that screen time, especially video games, isn’t downtime. When a child plays a video game, they’re fully engaged, focused and involved in problem-solving, communication and competition. That’s not a bad thing, for the most part—it’s just completely different from the relaxed state of downtime.

Benefits of solo downtime

It’s hard sometimes to watch your child literally staring at the wall without seeing it as a waste of time, but the truth is that this sort of “blank” time is crucial for your child’s developing brain. It’s an opportunity to process the flood of new information that the brain receives each day, and to synthesize and store that information to be used throughout their lifetime.

Other benefits of downtime include:

  • A chance to relax and de-stress—childhood is actually pretty stressful!
  • A “brain break” to allow more attention and focus when it’s needed again later
  • A chance to feel bored, so your child is more interested in structured activities when the time comes
  • Opportunities to develop time management and problem-solving skills 

Benefits of family downtime

Just hanging out together as a family is also important—and that time doesn’t always need to be filled with TV or even board games. Sitting around the dinner table or the coffee table is a great way to really get to know each other. Wandering minds turn into wondering minds, and you might be surprised at the interesting questions your children have when there’s plenty of time to ask them. As a bonus, this type of family bonding and conversation helps to make difficult conversations more comfortable as your child gets older. Anything to improve those teenage communication channels is a great thing!

How much downtime does a child need?

Try to make sure your child has at least 20 minutes of totally unstructured time each day. More is fine, especially on the weekends and during summer break.