Back To School Bandwidth 

Back To School Madness is upon us! It is a fun time of the year, but don't forget to give your kids and yourselves some time for... nothing. As I wrote last year and want to reemphasize as school starts, sometimes doing nothing is in fact good for us. Our kids (as well as us) have only a certain amount of bandwidth our minds can handle and school is about to take up a big chunk of it. As parents we need to compensate, and turn the levels of distraction and busyness down in other categories. While it can seem tempting to let our kids vegetate in front of the TV or a device, this doesn't actually help reset their brains for balance. Daydreaming, reading a book, drawing, crafting, playing with simple toys, playing outside, visiting with family, playing board games with family... These things help recenter and charge kids' batteries in a way that gets them ready for added mental and physical demands. Doing nothing has been shown to be good for our brains and our relationships. How do your kids do nothing? Do they even know how? Are they ever bored enough to settle into that space, or do they (and we) bombard them with yet another distraction, often screen-related? Last year our 8 year-old started disappearing into her room at the beginning of the school year. When we would go check on her she would sometimes be playing with legos, sometimes reading, and a few times she would be asleep. We took it as her method of recalibrating in order to compensate for the amount of bandwidth her school day was demanding of her. Other kids might choose to play with a sibling or do something outside, but she needed time for herself. This summer she and her brother had a lot of exposure to the outdoors, and she cultivated another way to experience solitude. I don't want that to go away for her once school starts, but my wife and I need to be intentional about it. Taking the kids on an easy walk on the greenbelt or a dinner picnic in a park could be revitalizing. We need to try to give both our kids (our son starts Kindergarten) the space to reset, to decompress, to explore the outdoors, or to do... (gasp!) nothing. If your kids aren't capable of doing nothing (or short of that, being driven by boredom to seek a non-screen outlet for decompressing their mind), then it might be time to cultivate that skill. On the other hand, you might be saying "But they've done 'nothing' all summer!" That of course will change when school starts, and they will be dealing with a new drain on their limited energy reserves. It all boils down to seeking balance without relying too much on peers and screens. We can use balance as adults too. Here is a quote from an article I sourced last year from Manfred F.R. Kets Devries, but it is worth repeating:

"... Doing nothing has never really been acceptable. We associate it with irresponsibility, wasting our life. Most of us feel guilty if we don’t have something to do. On the other hand we get a buzz when we feel really busy. Distraction-inducing behaviors like constantly checking email stimulate the brain to shoot dopamine into the bloodstream giving us a rush that can make stopping so much harder.

The danger is we may lose our connections, not just with one another but with ourselves. If we don’t allow ourselves periods of uninterrupted, freely associated thought then personal growth, insight and creativity are less likely to emerge." 

In order to process, develop and grow, our minds need a lot of time to reflect, slow down, sit with our thoughts. For some of you who are old enough- remember when friends had to call your house and hope to get through? The line might be busy or no one would answer, and that was it. You just had to see them tomorrow. You were home. It was just you and your family, and frequently, this would feel boring. Contrary to popular opinion, boredom should not be shunned at home. It is an essential developmental part of mental health for kids, and when it is followed by a "reset" activity like daydreaming, drawing, playing quietly, it can help give them the balance they need for the next day. For our pre-teen and teenage kids today, peers frequently have constant access to each other, and though they respond to that stimulation (as we all do) with excitement, under the surface they are in a state of agitation as they navigate peer challenges 24 hours a day. The insulated reset time that home used to provide is becoming a thing of the past. It is so easy to lose the valuable time their brains need for introspection: to process information, thoughts, feelings and imagination. Let's try and restore that for them. Thanks for reading!

Posted by On 04 August, 2019 at 10:27 AM