At a recent parent education night at a small, play-based co-op preschool in Los Angeles, I spoke at length about our current culture of busy and how it negatively impacts our kids. I talked about the costly downsides of sleep deprivation, including short temper, difficulty learning, and poor social interaction skills. I addressed the increased stress parents experience when they have to shuffle their kids to and fro, and how that stress trickles down to kids.
I also discussed the many benefits of slowing down and making room for free play and downtime. Through unstructured, kids work on social-emotional skills, problem solving skills, literacy skills, and math skills when they’re free to direct their own play. Most importantly, they work through stress, fears, and other confusing emotions. They learn to self-regulate and they form connections with their playmates. Play is not just a fun way to spend time as a child; play is an essential component of growing up.
Sadly, free play is declining. Today’s kids are enrolled in adult-directed activities the moment they can walk (often even before), which means that both kids and their parents are busy, busy, busy! Although the intention is good — parents want their kids have the very best opportunities and plenty of enrichment — the result is a cycle of stress that is difficult to manage.
Figuring out how to slow down can be hard in a world that seems to be moving on overdrive, but putting an end to the culture of busy has to start somewhere. Try these tips…
1. Admit how you’re really feeling (and accept help, if you need it). I find that when I’m tempted to respond to “How are you?” with “really busy,” what I’m actually feeling is stretched thin. We all have times when it feels like everything is happening at once. That’s an overwhelming feeling. How do we manage it all? Not long ago, I decided to start saying what I meant instead of sugarcoating it with busy. Most of my friends responded with offers of help when I confided my specific stressors. We don’t need to pull off this parenting thing alone, you know. We can bring back the village and, in doing so, put busy in its place. Say what you mean. It will set you free.
2. Focus on one thing at a time. People love to discuss multitasking. Even more than busyness, the ability to multitask is worn as some sort of badge of honor in parenting. The problem is that multitasking isn’t really a thing. Task switching — ie. moving between tasks very quickly — does exist, but when you task switch you actually decrease your productivity. So the whole thing slows you down. Instead, learn how to focus. If you take a conference call in the grocery store, you will either end up with a cart full of random items that you don’t actually want or you’ll miss half of the call. Learning to focus on one thing at a time (even if that one thing is reading a book to check out for a while) will help you stop falling victim to the culture of busy.
3. Make time to unwind. Just like kids need time for free play, adults need time to unwind and decompress. You can’t unwind if you don’t make time for you.
4. Divide and conquer. I make a to-do list every Sunday night — for the whole family. I look at the week ahead and write down what I need to do in a spiral notebook. It includes work stuff, kid stuff, and any other miscellaneous stuff that needs doing. But before I commit to it, I look through it and decide which tasks my husband can handle (like grocery shopping), which tasks my kids can handle (like folding laundry with me), and which tasks aren’t necessary.
5. Teach your kids how to set priorities. You can’t do it all and neither can they. Teaching them to make healthy choices and slow down now will set them up for future success.
6. Set clear boundaries between work and home. I love technology, I really do, but we are far too connected in this world; so, the lines between home and work are blurred for many people, and that makes it very difficult to slow down. As someone who works from a home office, I know how hard it is to resist the pull to finish one last thing or take one more call, but I have to set boundaries. Turn off push notifications. Silence your phone. Leave your laptop in the least used room of the house. To live in the present and care for our souls we need to be willing to let go of busy, and that begins with establishing healthy boundaries.
Go ahead, relax a little. You deserve it.