Life is busy. And let’s face it, it only gets busier. Before we know it, days, weeks, months and years have passed and we find asking ourselves, “where did the time go?” and “what did I do with my time?”
I personally don’t think that parents get enough credit for being able to balance life between being a working parent whilst having to drive kids around, do the groceries, manage the household, do the cooking, bathing and dressing their children. And between all of this, parents always make time for their kids to have a play date. We as parents do as much as we can to the best of our abilities. We have our child’s best interest at heart and try to do as much as we can to help and stimulate them.
Maybe that is exactly the problem…. We try to do more, not less. I’d like to think of a typical day as a shopping basket – we fill our basket with lots of different things until it gets too heavy, making it difficult to carry. The same way we keep on filling our days until they become too heavy. This is exhausting.
We compensate for this heavy basket by doing more – adding more things, instead of taking some out, we add screen time, more extra-mural activities, more toys and things, more playdates and more outings. Do we ever have time to be simply bored? When do our children have time to be bored? The importance of allowing your child to be bored cannot be emphasized enough. Being bored gives them an opportunity to come up with new ideas, plans and take initiative. Once they start taking initiative and invent a new game or activity, their imagination is on a roll. This enhances creativity and further boosts their mood and confidence. We won’t get this effect if we place them in front of a screen.
The pressure of modern-day life also has us thinking – the more structured and extra-mural activities my child does, the better for his development. There is such a variety of extra-murals presented in the school and in the community. We want them to take part in swimming, gymnastics, music, different forms of arts, karate, ballet – and the list continues.
So considering how burnt out we feel after a busy day carrying this heavy basket filled with stuff, just imagine what a young child must feel after a busy day of school plus extra-murals, and then an added sensory overload via screen time? Can we really expect them to not have any meltdowns or emotional outbursts, while we actually want to have a meltdown ourselves?
The reason for this article is not to load any additional activities or things into your basket, but to rather provide tips to help manage and cope with this heavy basket. So here goes:
Tip #1: It’s all about quality, not quantity
This has two parts to it: Firstly, children remember the quality time that we have spent with them, not the number of hours. Secondly, children remember their experiences, not the price tag of their toys.
Children do not keep timesheets on how many hours we’ve spent with them, and they most certainly forget what expensive toys we have bought them. Children remember our presence – the times that we gave them our sincere, emotional and undivided attention. Did we connect with them when we spent those ten minutes bathing them? Did we really connect with our child during that five-minute chat before bedtime? Don’t make more time, but rather make most of the precious time that you do have.
Parents should stop feeling guilty about not having enough time to spend with their children. And parents must definitely stop trying to compensate by buying expensive toys/electronics. Teaching our children to make the most and experience life through what is visible and available, will open doors to creativity, imagination, ideation and provide them with the amazing opportunity to really understand and experience the essence of life.
A simple 30 minutes playing in the mud with rocks and water (that costs nothing) will be more meaningful to them than playing with the expensive toy that will eventually be added to the cluttered cupboard as a dust collector. Besides the positive experience, a child learns about different textures, what to do with water, sand, rocks and leaves, the properties of each and what they can each represent (e.g. boat, house, tree etc.). This provides them with a learning experience that no expensive toy can do.
Tip #2: De-clutter your schedule and learn to say “no”
We think that by letting our children do as many extra-mural activities as possible we boost their skills and stimulate their development. To some extent this is true; however we need to have limitations. Driving up and down between extra-mural activities is exhausting for both parents and children. Often extra-mural activities are done at school during break-time – replacing the only real free time where children can explore and learn about their environments; the time where they learn to interact with other children, to make friends and develop social skills.
Just like we need time for ourselves, children need even more time for themselves. Children need time to play, to explore and to be bored. They need time to create new ideas and develop new plans. They need time to breathe, to take in their surroundings and to simply be happy. Extra-mural activities are recommended but as parents we must prioritize and limit these and always consider the trade-off.
Tip #3: Include your child when doing household tasks
Now let’s look at that full basket again – it is heavy and very full. No one is more willing to help us unload our baskets than our children. So why not include them in our household routines? This provides them with plenty learning opportunities – and they would love to peel those apples if it means time spent with their parents.
Children flourish on responsibilities even if they don’t always think so. By giving our children certain chores it teaches them responsibility, perseverance, discipline and diligence. They love being involved in what we are doing and spending time with us. We should let them help us clean the pool, water the plants and put the washing in the machine. If we cook, let them mix the sauce, put the potatoes in the pot, peel the vegetables or break the egg. From a basic cooking/ baking activity, a child learns about different textures, measurements, following instructions, cause-and-effect whilst developing their bilateral integration (using both hands together) and fine motor skills. Even if it ends up being messy, if it takes longer than we’d like or causes our dinner to be less tasty, it creates a lifetime of fun memories whilst they still obtained new skills. We need to laugh together and laugh as much as possible.
Tip #4: Replace screen time
There is a place for screen time and technology, but this is often abused or used inappropriately. Although there are some positives about screen time, there are various reasons why one must limit a child’s exposure to screen time. These include early visual problems/blindness, poor sleep, increased risk for ADHD, reduced social skills, poor listening skills, sensory overload leading to emotional outbursts, lack of creativity and stimulating the unhealthy need for instant gratification.
Eat dinner together instead of in front of the television. Family dinners around a table form an integral part of developing social skills, bilateral integration (using both hands together to manipulate the knife and fork), fine motor skills as well as emotional bonding with our children. Include your children in whatever you need to get done instead of propping them in front of the television/tablet. Remember that it is much better to have your child feel bored at times than to place them in front of a screen.
To summarize, we as parents tend to fill our own baskets as well as our children’s baskets with too much stuff – we need to reduce the load by learning to say no, and to use the time that we have wisely. A child can learn so many skills by just helping in and around the house, by being “bored” and by having minimal screen time.
Let’s try it.
Anneke is a paediatric occupational therapist with special interest in sensory integration. She has been in private practice since 2011 and loves each moment spent with children. She has extensive experience working alongside a variety of schools, parents, teachers and therapists. Being a mother of two boys herself, she also has first-hand experience of being a parent. Anneke is also involved in providing training and workshops to caregivers that work with children with disabilities.
Based in Johannesburg, Anneke works with children that may have learning difficulties, sensory defensiveness, sensory processing disorders, developmental delays, scholastic difficulties, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy or any other diagnoses. She also has special interest in and is currently furthering her studies in dyslexia.
When asked about her work, Anneke would say: “I love what I do and believe that each child has a lot of potential that can be unlocked”.
Our website address is: https://thepeartree.co.za/paediatric-occupational-therapist/ and my Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/annekedejagerot/