Downtime is important for the healthy growth and development of your child. Your child’s brain needs breaks in order to process the incoming flood of new information. Being idle allows the brain to take what it already knows and then think, reflect, and change. Idle time allows the circuitry to develop. Unstructured free time is considered central to children’s learning, reasoning, making decisions, being creative, and processing emotions and events that take place in their lives.
Downtime is free time—time without scheduled activities and plans. It is unstructured time and leaves room for creativity. Because idle time is important to the developing brain, a child needs to have some unstructured time every day. When you look at your child’s daily schedule, is there much time allowed for doing “nothing”? Here are three kinds of unstructured time that nourish a child. As already mentioned, daily doses are best.
Undirected play: Create a safe space where your child can freely explore. You will want to keep an eye on your child while he or she plays at his or her own pace. This safe space can be filled with interesting objects, toys, books, or whatever else might invite curiosity, investigation, and manipulation.
Hanging out: Spend some time just being with your child. Cuddle up on the bed and play some made-up games. You could try closing your eyes and describing the sounds you hear, or using light, gentle fingertip taps to make raindrops on your child.
Going out to view the world: Take your child to the park or simply out in the yard to spend some time with nature. Or go for a walk with your child seated in a stroller. You can engage in some idle chatter without either of you being totally focused on what the little one is doing.
When babies and toddlers need a break or rest, they usually send signals. Some signs of overstimulation in baby can include looking away, refusing to follow your gaze, and becoming restless, whining, and crying. Toddlers will let you know it’s time for a break with aggressive behaviors, being unable to focus, becoming hyperactive or defiant, getting cranky, and having a hard time falling asleep, even though you know he or she is tired.
Schedule some downtime in your child’s day. It’s an important part of healthy development.