A friend posted this study on Facebook today, and it reminded me of a really important aspect of parenting. I think this blog has so far made it seem like we plan a lot of things we do with the Kid, and while we do like doing things together, Kid spends a lot of time just hanging out, especially in the summer. As she gets older, it becomes harder, with the pressures of school and homework and other activities she wants to do. But still, I can’t overvalue the time Kid spends playing outside by herself or with friends, or hanging out in her room doing who knows what.
I think down time is essential to development of executive function, imagination, and a sense of self. It’s important to me that the Kid has her own internal life and her own private things that don’t involve me. And as much as possible, we try to let her figure out her own way of doing things. She’s starting to experiment with doing things on her own, too–running the odd errand or staying home by herself for a short while. And while that terrifies me sometimes (especially since a friend of hers was recently hit by a car while crossing the street) I remain committed to letting the Kid take some reasonable risks and trying out more alone time and responsibility.
Studies show that adults who have more choices at work report more work satisfaction. I figure the same goes for kids, up to a point. Kids want to know that the grownups they rely on are in charge. But they need to learn how to make choices, how to do what needs to get done and what the consequences will be if they don’t. The more opportunities we can give our kids to experiment with these things and to take small risks when they are ready, the better prepared they will be for life.