For many of us, life moves at breakneck speed. We have demanding jobs with lots of obligations, and if we are parents, we juggle our personal commitments with the crazy calendars our kids keep. Between school routines, enrichment activities, birthday parties and soccer games, we grocery shop, constantly battle the laundry pile, read our emails, caffeinate, and barely sleep. Life becomes a treadmill and not a few of us have wanted to jump off.
What’s ironic about this exhausting scenario is that, in many cases, we do it to ourselves. We pack our own schedules and we do the same for our kids, making sure every waking moment is filled with some kind of planned program or structured activity. On their behalf, we rarely say no to invitations and opportunities in an effort to make sure they are included or don’t get left behind. Breaking through this cycle, the slow parenting model offers a breath of fresh air and a chance to reset the pace.
What is slow parenting?
Slow parenting is a parenting style that has developed in recent years as a reaction to the frantic pace of life in our society. Otherwise known as “simplicity parenting” it’s a way to slow life down, schedule life less, and enjoy life more. At its heart, slow parenting is seeking quality over quantity, and will prioritize meaningful experience over much experience.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the idea, in essence making the same recommendations. While they may not call it slow parenting, as child development experts, they advocate more unstructured play, simple toys, and frequent family time.
And kids, believe it or not, want to slow down too. A study published in the Journal of School Health found that children want more free time, especially if they are on screens three or more hours each day.
Why slow down?
Allowing for unstructured time is good in a variety of ways:
It’s healthy. It allows children to move at their own pace, which may be significantly slower than our own. Giving kids time to process, explore, or even just relax fosters the balance of “doing” and “being,” both of which are essential parts of emotional health and well-being.
Less meltdowns. Cramming your child’s schedule full of activities and commitments, even good ones, can lead to exhaustion. Being overtired makes us all less able to cope with change, expectations, and uncertainty.
Better learning. Enslaving your child to a packed schedule can impede learning as well. As the pressure mounts to “do it all,” their ability to succeed in the most important things—like education—can suffer. Loosening our grip on academic requirements once in a while can bring fresh enthusiasm to learning and actually foster better school performance.
Kids learn from real interactions. Getting out of the virtual world and into the real one is crucial to healthy brain development. Children need to interact regularly with other humans to develop the ability to discern social cues and emotional intelligence. They also benefit from engaging all five senses in the real world. Touching dirt, listening for chirping birds, studying clouds, smelling flowers, or tasting salty water as they play in the waves all connect them to their world. Slowing down and allowing for those interactions to develop through exploration, relaxation, or unstructured conversation can be a gold mine of good health and development.
Want to give it a go?
Slow parenting is all about being in the moment, whether spending time together as a family or enjoying each other one-on-one. Our children are each unique individuals and taking the time to discover what is special about them, through activities and conversation, will have you reaping long term benefits in your relationship. But establishing this kind of connection takes time and intention.
Build family time into the schedule. Because we have a tendency to fill our calendars to the brim, and because our own busyness as parents can rob us of energy and enthusiasm, we can be assured that without scheduling time for quality family interaction, it is less likely to happen.
Build no-schedule into the schedule. Structured time together has clear advantages, but unstructured time does too. Just hanging out, relaxing, or being spontaneous can build meaningful connections.
Ask for input from your kids. Consider sitting down with your kids and asking them what they would like to do, either as a family or with you one-on-one. You might be surprised by what they come up with. Ask them if they’d be willing to cut out a scheduled activity or two in favor of more downtime or family time. The trick is not to let that downtime become just more screen time. Having a few ideas in the bank can help. Some ideas to consider:
- Make a standing family date for waffles on weekends.
- Take a walk together after dinner.
- Start a jigsaw puzzle that can’t be finished in a day.
- Do some stargazing before bedtime.
- Head to the beach and just hang.
- Have a regular family game night.
According to Carl Honoré, author of Under Pressure: Putting the Child Back in Childhood and a slow parenting expert, a decluttered schedule allowing for unstructured play “releases creative energy and encourages and fosters resilience, innovative thinking and emotional growth.” Who doesn’t want that for their child? How refreshing to learn that you don’t need to add an extra day to your calendar to get it.
You just need to slow down.
Bowie, Rachel. (2018, September 4). Slow parenting is a trend, but would you try it? Retrieved from https://www.purewow.com/family/slow-parenting-is-a-trend.
Brown, Stephen, Nobiling, Brandye, Teufel, James, Birch, David A. (2010) Are kids too busy? Early adolescents’ perceptions of discretionary activities, overscheduling, and stress. Journal of School Health. Retrieved from https://web.extension.illinois.edu/cook/downloads/42013.pdf.
Conry, Jaci. (2016, May 2). The benefits of slow parenting. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2015/05/10/the-benefits-slow-parenting/2LImOAIyqElORCStgOADSI/story.html.
Education.com. (2014, April 25). Slow parenting: 7 tips to take the pressure off. Retrieved from https://www.education.com/magazine/article/slow-parenting/.
Wikipedia contributors. (2019, May 10). Slow parenting. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:16, June 2, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_parenting.