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The Importance of Downtime

Dear Debi,
I have three young children and there are many activities they could be involved in. Is there such a thing as over-scheduling them?
&ndash Marizol Carradero-Soto
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
  • Activities should not replace meaningful relationships
  • It's important to balance unscheduled & scheduled time
  • Kids should have plenty of time for unstructured play
Expert Advice
Ann Corwin, Ph.D.
Ann Corwin, Ph.D.
Child development specialist
Because Marizol has three kids of three different ages, they're all going to require different amounts of scheduled activities, and by the same token, different amounts of downtime. She has to make sure that no matter what activity she's involving her kids in, she's watching for those signals and cues that indicate that they need some downtime.

There is such a thing as too much activity for young children. When it comes to scheduling activities for your children, you really have to know your own child's personality. Some kids need more activity than others. For example, most kids love being outside; but there are other kids that like to observe more than other kids, and who are perfectly happy sitting inside. That's OK. It just shows that all kids are different and need different amounts - and kinds - of activities.

The most important thing to keep in mind when being tempted to enroll your kids in all kinds of activities is that children are trying to build relationships in their lives with the people around them. The way they do that is by spending time and getting attention from people, not with objects or activities. A child can't learn the social-emotional skills he needs if the important adults in their lives aren't there to provide them with that very important interaction and relationship. The motivator to play and to do everything else in their lives is to have those relationships with somebody else. So make whatever you do with your children interactive. The activity in and of itself isn't the goal. It's for them to learn about themselves through activity and through those meaningful relationships.

Kids need time in between activities to mellow out and hang out. Even something like driving from one scheduled activity to another can be too much - for both parents and children. You want to consider the fact that you might even be over-scheduling yourself, and that's something that could affect your relationship and interactions with your child. Everyone needs time to just "be."

Even in a child care setting where there is very often a daily schedule, they usually provide time for kids to just play, to engage themselves in the activities and play that they want to do. Because some kids require more of this downtime than others, we encourage a healthy dialogue between parents and providers. They should talk about the child's personality and how much downtime the child needs. You're creating a new family with your child's provider, so you need to create that dialogue.
Child Care Provider Comments
Silvia Fischer
Silvia Fischer
Grandmother of 20-month-old
I am from a generation that didn't have much. My family was very frugal and we didn't overindulge. I raised my kids in much the same way. Fortunately, my daughter shares this perspective and doesn't feel the need to over-schedule my grandson or have every minute of his day accounted for. Spending more time and giving them a lot of love is the best.
Consuelo Ducoing
Consuelo Ducoing
Child care provider for 14 years
I let them take their time to really enjoy the one activity I have provided for them. I give them the freedom and the time to explore.
Bridgette Smith
Bridgette Smith
Mother of two, expecting her third child
I tend to not schedule too many activities for them. Scheduling too much of anything is just not good. The children will be exhausted. When we aren't doing activities we relax to music, walk around our neighborhood or just hang out in our backyard. The bottom line is that it doesn't all have to be so structured.

Flashlight Downtime Featured Activity:
Flashlight Downtime
Family Downtime Featured Video:
Family Downtime
Topic: Child Care Management
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