Life Balance Includes Free Play

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While it is our God-given role as parents to direct and guide our children, one psychologist says that many 21st century parents interpret that as a directive to fill their children’s hours with activities. Micromanagement overtakes scheduling, and the result can be stress-related mental health problems in children and adolescents, including anxiety, depression and self-harm.  Children lose the opportunity to engage in play activities.

It is actually a lack of undirected play, where the child decides what he or she wants to do with unscheduled time that can be at the root of some problems, according to William Stixrud, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist. It may sound paradoxical, but not having unstructured play time can lead to either stressful attempts at overachieving or its opposite, a feeling that it’s useless to try.

In an interview in Scientific American, Stixrud advocates “radical digital downtime.” That he describes: “No phones. No screens. Those times of mind wandering (some call it boredom) activate neural circuits in the default mode network, a system that involves reflecting on the past and projecting into the future, processing life. Radical downtime increases the control that the prefrontal cortex exerts over the amygdala, keeping you in your ‘right mind.’”

Other factors Stixrud says are essential are making sure your child gets enough sleep and creating an atmosphere of safety and peace in your home.

Kids need another factor that Stixrud emphasizes. They need a refuge, a place of peace. That place should be your home. Though you are tasked by God to give them guidance and instruction, they also need something else.

“They are facing stressors each day, from school demands to social dynamics,” Stixrud says in Scientific American.  You want home to be the place they can go to seek a respite from it all, where they feel safe and loved unconditionally, where they can fully relax, so that they can gather the energy to go back out. But if home is a stressful environment—if parents are an anxious or controlling presence—kids will seek that respite somewhere—or somehow—else. And most of the time, it’s a place you don’t want them to go.”

As Christian parents, the home is where we model not only leadership, but forgiveness; a “new start” when they’ve messed up, and a hug when they need it. Home is the place when we show them how our Parent, God, wants to give us rest and peace.

Since 1992, Dr. Robinson has worked in a variety counseling positions. She is also a popular author and speaker on topics ranging from childhood development and sexuality, teen issues, family dynamics including caring for elderly relatives, and church resources for families.

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