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Unwinding the Kids

Understanding Why Children Need to Relax Too

How often do we complain about needing a break from our busy lives? Long workdays and weekends filled with household projects have become the norm. If there is any down time in the schedule, we spend it shuttling the kids to and from any one of a variety of sports practices or activities. With so many details to attend to, it can be easy for us to forget that our kids are also leading hectic lifestyles.

Even though they are doing fun stuff, kids need help balancing all of the different elements of their lives. So if we are feeling overwhelmed with all of the places that we have to be and all of the things that we have to do, perhaps our children are feeling the same way.

"Parents believe that their children should be kept busy and that they need to give their kids everything they can," says Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis, the co-author of Discover Your Child's Learning Style (Prima Lifestyles, 1999). "There is also the belief that being involved in lots of activities makes a child into a well-rounded person, which all parents want their child to be."

However, there is a limit to these good intentions. "If your child is booked every minute of every day, then that is not balance, even if he is doing 'good' things," she says. Pelullo-Willis also believes that parents need to look at their own schedules and work on simplifying their own lives and modeling the value of down time.

She advises families to establish a time for sharing, during which members of the family discuss their thoughts and feelings about their day, followed by a brief quiet time for each person to engage in a relaxing activity, perhaps reading or drawing. Given busy and variable family schedules, this allotted family time doesn't have to happen at the same time every day, just as long as it happens.

How to Relax

Relaxation does not have to be quiet to be effective – being active can help, too. "Exercise can be done as a family activity after school or after dinner," Pelullo-Willis says. Take a walk, ride bikes, shoot baskets, throw a ball back and forth or dance wildly together. Remember that exercise is a way of winding down, and exercising without 'rules' is enjoyable, relaxing and physically beneficial."

Mathew Burcin of Escondido, Calif., may only be 5 years old, but he is already a veteran of soccer, t-ball, karate, music classes and too many play dates to count. Recently, he has added BMX racing to his impressive resume of sports and activities. Along with his 3-year-old brother, Sean, Mathew keeps his parents, Dave and Susanne Burcin, very busy. "There are times when we have been overextended," admits Susanne, a stay-at-home mom. "We are conscious of finding a balance, but sometimes it gets pretty nuts." Since Dave, a health and safety consultant, works long days and battles a lengthy commute, the family sometimes finds itself on two separate schedules. Though the result is few family meals together, Dave makes sure to join the boys for an evening of board games or dominoes.

Susanne builds as much unstructured time into Mathew and Sean's day as she can. When the weather is nice, the family spends time outdoors. Other times of the year, the focus is on reading or arts and crafts. "I'm looking forward to taking the kids to the craft store, picking out a project and then coming home and doing it," she says. "The kids have fun and get the memory of making something themselves."

At bedtime, a favorite ritual for Susanne and Mathew is to sit down with a children's encyclopedia. Mathew picks a letter of the alphabet, and Susanne reads the entries for that letter to him. The benefit is not only unwinding at the end of a busy day, but also learning new and exciting facts.

Concepts like relaxation and balance may mean different things to different people, but they should be a priority in the life of every family. Dave Burcin wants his children to be active but understands the importance of keeping things in perspective. "We need to find time for all of us as people and for the family as a whole," he says. "We have to keep ourselves sane if we are going to keep our family balanced."

Unwinding the Kids

Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis has some tips for parents who want to help their kids unwind during busy times:

  • Give value to relaxing and let the kids see you do it. Make time for leisure, playing and doing whatever rejuvenates you.
  • "Do nothing" with the kids. Play with them on the floor, run around the backyard or listen to a book on tape.
  • Honor and encourage their passions, especially the older kids. Give them lots of time to engage in whatever it is that they really love to do.

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