By Tanu Shree Singh
About a decade back, I’d spend time frantically looking for short workshops for kids during every school break. The kids played golf, went to some ‘summer camps’ and attended some short sessions in a bid to acquire skills that as a parent I felt were necessary for them to face the big bad world later. This went on for two years. Thankfully, I woke up soon enough to the newsflash that three hours of dancing, singing, painting and drama camp will not necessarily give them the Superman cape. And so we slowed down.
A few years later, the final exams ended again, leaving us in the in-between world for 15 days. The elder one was neither in grade seven nor in eighth, and the younger one never really cared for grades anyway. The last minute revisions, maths practice, and studying at unearthly hours had all faded into a fairly distant memory.
“So? What are you planning to do today?”
Both of them rattled off their elaborate plans to complete the tasks that they had put on a list they made a month before the exams — a list of absurdities like repairing strings with magic, farming worms, perfecting skateboard tricks and more — enough stuff to give any mother a full-blown panic attack. At the end of the day, they failed at most of them, ended with a few bruises, and mud on clothes from all the digging they did to find worms but they slept, thinking of alternate strategies for the next day.
I smiled as I scrunched up another leaflet advertising a short 15-day course for kids to improve their sketching abilities before the new session started. The boys were at peace in the in-between world mostly doing nothing. They read when they wanted to, woke up late, went to sleep a bit past the curfew hour and they were happy. They were free. They were floating in the blissful nothingness of the ‘best days of their lives’ as they put it every night after the goodnight hug.
A lot of people scoff at this. Some give me the ‘What an irresponsible parent!’ look and some just sigh, ‘you have the luxury thanks to your hours of work. We do not.’ True. A lot of us are working full-time, and keeping the kids occupied is more of a need for us rather than for them to ensure development. Whatever the case, we need to figure out ways to give the children some time to do nothing. These are some of the reasons why our kids need to get away from all the clockwork:
Boredom encourages resourcefulness in children. I remember the younger one moaning one day, “I am so bored. I am going to die.” Well, he lived. He made it through endless days of boredom. The fact is that children never get bored. They might whine about it to get an easy way out and get hold of the television remote but if denied, they will find ways to entertain themselves. He built some of the most complicated catapults using ice cream sticks, rubber bands and cello tape while he was getting ‘bored.’ The older one wrote stories and dug out random, ridiculous facts about the world in his spells of boredom. So it works.
Freedom gives wings to creativity. Usually the child’s schedule is managed right to the last minute. There is school, tuitions, playdates, classes; it goes on and on. If we have the entire day planned for them right down to the last second, it leaves little scope for them to think freely, to discover what inspires them and to ultimately discover their passion. Creativity flourishes in freedom and not in chains.
Even the playtime is becoming more and more structured with football classes and cricket meet-ups. Free play is getting more and more scarce. Unstructured time gives them an opportunity to practice their social-emotional skills. When there are no rules, they devise their own guidelines, indulge in negotiations, and in the process learn to coexist with the peers or siblings, whoever their partner in crime may be. We need to remember the proverbial ‘our times’ – we aimlessly cycled around the block or played random games, the rules of which changed every day. Our children need that.
Ultimately, it is the best stress-buster. When scholar badges get missed by 0.2 per cent, even sports teachers gives graded evaluations, and there are reports of children not getting through in colleges despite having scored brilliantly well, stress is bound to seep in. Giving them freedom takes care of that to a certain extent. It gives them room to stretch, breathe and cope.
We need to unplan a little, let go some more, and set them free. When we structure their day, we have good intentions at heart. We want them to maximise their learning, hone a wider set of skills, and ultimately have a secure future. But somewhere, these good intentions backfire, and in our devotion to ensure a bright future we let the present fade, which in turn does effect what we had set out to ensure in the first place — a secure, happy life.
Unplanning their day gives the children time to unwind, regroup, and re-energise. It gives them an opportunity to prepare for the academic challenges thrown at them after the break. So, even when we plan the long summer break, we need to ensure some hours of nothingness in the day. We need the children to find their slice of the world, where the boundaries blur and there are no competitions or exams to ace. And once they find that, they will flourish, discover themselves and hopefully take a fresh look at the world. While they do nothing, they will grow.
(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh’s podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)