As a parent today, it is easy for one to get overwhelmed with the vast, often conflicting ideas of what the right way to parent a child is. Parents today are committed to giving their children the absolute best- right from the best food, education, and the best of resources to utilize their time. To help fulfill their responsibilities, parents from corporate India, are living through stressful, packed schedules.
While planning how their children will spend their time away from school, parents get to choose between two kinds of activities- each with its own benefits - structured activities which involve classes on dance, music, math, sport etc., usually conducted by adults, and occurring at a specific time and place; or unstructured activities, involve children playing amongst themselves, or peers of their age. These activities are associated with spontaneity and freedom.
The Overscheduled Child
Structured activities come with their own benefits. They allow children to interact with peers, develop hobbies, promote agility, while allowing parents a breather from their duties. As with anything that is good for your child, too much structuring and scheduling of a child’s time has triggered a body of literature on the ‘overscheduled child’. As the name suggests, an ‘overscheduled child’ is one who lives through recurrent, systematic schedules on a daily basis- from tuitions, piano classes, ballet and cricket practice- the child would seem to have no free time. To help identify when ‘overscheduling’ can hurt a child, here are a few signs one could watch out for-
- There is reluctance to participate in one or few activities, on the child’s part.
- The child appears moody, anxious, or exhausted often
- There is a certain degree of expectation that parents drop into most extra-curricular activities. For instance, improving skills, reaching a certain level as compared to other children etc.
- Scheduling is happening as a result of the parents feeling anxious about their child falling behind, not because the child is interested in the activities
- The child feeling good about themselves is directly related to their performance in specific tasks
Easing the Burden
If the points mentioned above seem relatable, it is likely that structuring has had an adverse effect on the child’s development. It might be important to turn to unstructured time, and try incorporating some of it in the child’s schedule.
Here are a few advantages of unstructured time for a child-
- Enhancing self-sufficiency and self-regulation - Unstructured, free time allows children to be comfortable with themselves, make decisions about their time, and be responsible for their own satisfaction.
- Tip: While they’re looking for activities that they enjoy, emphasize the importance of ‘having fun’. For instance, if dance or football is something that the child enjoys, help them understand that there does not need to be an evaluative component to their hobbies.
- Making peace with delayed gratification - As opposed to being given an immediate cure for their boredom, unstructured time allows children to be patient, and work towards their enjoyment.
- Tip: If your child has a favourite dish, and would like to eat it on a particular day, ask them to help you make it in the kitchen. Or, if they have asked you for the meaning of a word or a concept, help them use a dictionary or an encyclopedia, instead of the internet.
- Handling emotions - Having unstructured time in natural, social settings, can help children learn to handle excitement, disappointment, frustration or pride, and express themselves completely.
- Tip: Allow your children time to play with peers- either after school or home work. After they have, encourage them to talk about how their day was. Through their descriptions, it might help to identify different emotions that they felt, how they handled it, and if there could be a better way to do it in future.
- Cultivating social skills - Deciding what to play, who can play, when to start, when to stop, and the rules of engagement with peers, parents and siblings could help children cultivate skills for future social interactions.
- Tip: During weekends, it would be nice to use time to spend with your child. Allow them to decide what games the family can play, and give them time to explain what the rules of those games are. This time is to bond, and not to achieve any other purpose.
- Fostering healthy, interpersonal relationships - Needing to co-operate and compromise during unstructured play can help children develop empathy, flexibility, and self-awareness, which are important predictors of success in intimate relationships
- Tip: While playing games with your child, try negotiating with them- whether it is to use a particular coloured pawn for the game, or deciding who should play the next round, it helps to invite them into the discussion. Giving them reasons as to why something is important to you could help them start seeing another person’s perspective more easily.
Most benefits of unstructured play have greater rewards on a child’s future life. The cognitive, affective and behavioral benefits can go on to prepare children for change, and uncertainty that life might have to offer.
- Baker, J. (2015, August 8 ). Unstructured Play and Children's Development. Retrieved from Psychology Today : https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-love-wisdom/201508/unstructured-play-and-childrens-development
- Prowse, S. (2015, November 19). Play: CBC. Retrieved from CBC.ca: http://www.cbc.ca/parents/play/view/free-play-in-a-structured-world-how-to-balance-structured-and-unstructured
- Vaishampayan, A. (2015, March 18). The Importance of Free Time for Children. Retrieved from The Swaddle : https://theswaddle.com/free-time-important-as-activities-for-kids/