By Tracey Dowdy
School’s out and those long weeks of summer break are looming large. What to do, what to do?
There are several factors that have no doubt shaped your plans – finances, child care, your child’s specific needs, and how you’d get everybody where they need to be when they need to be there. But, no matter whether your kids will be spending their days at Space Camp or Camp Mom, there are a few things you should consider.
Downtime is Important. Our children live in a busy, sometimes over-scheduled, world, and like us, are distracted by their screens. However, in order for our brains to process the barrage of information it receives every day, it needs unchallenged time, away from distractions and stimulation, and it needs adequate sleep. You may think that “mindless” video games offer enough downtime, but that’s not so. Gaming still requires the brain to anticipate obstacles and respond to the action in the game. Real downtime allows the brain the opportunity to store memories, remember newly acquired skills, and learning to focus.
Let them be bored. There are few phrases more annoying to a parent than the dreaded, “I’m bored.” But next time you hear it, don’t get irritated and don’t solve the problem for them. Children need to develop time management skills and how to solve their own problems. When you rush in with options and entertainment, you rob them of the opportunity to deal with uncomfortable feelings like boredom. Instead, encourage them to think through their options and make a choice. Think about times you’ve been on a long walk or had an aha! moment in the shower. That’s your brain creating neural pathways connecting experiences and memory with new information to create a solution, something that’s impossible without the emotional and cognitive space that downtime offers.
Help them find their “flow.” Researcher Reed Larson has studied the development of motivation in children and teens, and he’s found that the key is finding that “flow.” When a child is engrossed in an activity that is both challenging and successful without being stressful, dopamine levels spike, which builds the brain’s motivational capacity, something that will come in handy when they face a challenge where they aren’t so successful.
Involve your child in the decision. Obviously, they won’t necessarily get the deciding vote, but offering your child options while involving them in the process means they’ll be more accountable for their choices. It has the added benefit of teaching them that choices have consequences, good and bad, and that we have to live with the choices we make. It may be as simple as chocolate or vanilla ice cream, or as big as choosing which camp to attend, but either way, it’s a teachable moment.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.