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The Art of Doing Nothing With Kids: Un-Teaching Busy by Colleen Reagan

Without realizing it, we have taught our children to always be busy. Usually our lives are full of activities, parties, and socializing with family and friends. Large amounts of downtown at home is something for both parents and children to get used to. Many feel tempted to fill up this time with as many at home educational activities as possible. I want to encourage you to take a step back from that mindset. To stop the busy and start, what I call, the being. 

Now that we are mostly away from the fast paced lifestyle of work commutes, daycare drop off, after school sports and lessons, playdates, and volunteer commitments, many of us are feeling the lack of what is being called structure. The biggest complaint I am hearing from parents is that they don’t feel like their day has enough structure and that it is hurting their child to not have it. When looked at closer, these parents have established a schedule and routines, but every part of the day is not filled for the child. The structure is there, what they feel like they are missing is something else entirely.

It is the lack of our ability to be comfortable doing nothing. Our children feel that unease as well. They have been used to always being on the go with one set activity or outing after another. The art of doing nothing has been lost. 

Learning how to do nothing sets your child up to be in the best place to naturally learn exactly what they need to learn in that moment, most of it things that can’t be found in books. Children are always learning;  by practicing the art of doing nothing they will be learning in their most natural type of environment. They are able to hit the stage of ‘deep play’. This is where they are free to explore and experience. Where there are no directions or specific rules to follow and they are able to push their imaginations, emotions, and engineering capabilities to the max. The possibilities and outcomes are endless and so are the opportunities to learn and grow. Given the space children will experience greater independence and confidence as well. 

Guiding a child to be able to experience ‘deep play’ has a really great side effect. It teaches them the joy of independent play, something that many parents who are working for home are desperate for right now. All children are capable of independent play and that starts with them learning how to be comfortable in doing nothing and turning back on the part of their brain that initiates ‘deep play’. In order for our children to be comfortable doing nothing, we, as parents, need to be comfortable doing nothing. Children learn how to be humans by observing the people around them and copying what they see. If they never see their parent practice the art of doing nothing, they won’t have an example to follow. It starts with you. Yes, I am telling you that for the sake of your child you must make the ultimate sacrifice and set aside time every day to do nothing. To be instead of do. 

But how do we begin? How do we take back the art of doing nothing? The best way to start is by making a conscious effort every day to just be and do nothing with your kids. These 6 tips below will help get you started. 

1. Be Outside 

The key word here is 'be'. If you have a yard or a communal green space that you can adhere to proper social distancing, go outside with your child and just be. Don't pull out the bikes or balls. Go outside with the intention of experiencing where things lead. Follow your child's lead and let them direct what they want to do and how they want to do it. While outside focus on having your bare skin make contact with the ground, leaves, grass, sticks, rocks or dirt. Nature vibrates at the same frequency as our brains do when we are experiencing theta waves. These are the types of waves experienced during deep meditation and are very relaxing and restorative. This will help you remain calm and sit in the nothingness with more ease. This time should be as much for you as it is your child. 

2. Make Eye Contact 

Focus on making eye contact with your child. Making eye contact uses up so much brain power that it is nearly impossible to do anything else. In a way it forces you to be present and to do nothing else except be with your child. Children need 60-80% eye contact during conversations in order to develop proper emotional attachments. Statistics show that most children are getting only around 30-60% worth of eye contact. Making a conscious effort to increase eye contact also has the added benefit of secreting oxytocin. The love and connection hormone. Doing things to promote the secretion of oxytocin will help you settle better into the art of doing nothing. Another way to promote the secretion of this hormone is through skin to skin contact. While typically touted as a way for parents to bond with their newborn, it can be a beneficial practice through childhood, particularly if the child or parent is prone to anxiety. Massage is a great way to help relax an anxious or worried child through skin to skin. 

3. Stop Correcting 

Many parents are using this extra time together at home to teach their children. Times of teaching are valuable and so are times of just being. "Mom look! A butterfly", "That's a moth sweetie". Even when you are factually correct it is okay to let small things go in order to stay in the moment. They will learn the differences between moths and butterflies, or whatever the circumstance may be, in time. It could even be followed up with later on that day. In the moment, let the moment be what it is and engage based on what is really important; the wonder and awe that they had over seeing this winged insect. Children are more sensitive than we realize and will take being overly corrected to heart. It can decrease their willingness to take chances and decrease their self esteem. Lead with sharing the experience and their learning will follow. The above example refers to young children and a situation that has no emotion attached to it. I challenge you to when practicing the art of nothing to stop correcting across the board. With older children, teenagers, spouses and even if something emotionally charged comes up. Let it all pass by without your corrections or opinions. This leaves space for others to learn from their own mistakes or make larger strides in independence. 

4. Let Them See You Do Nothing

It is important for your children to see you be able to relax in order for them to feel okay in relaxing themselves. Let them see you read a book or sit while doing nothing else. Watch a movie with your kids without getting up to attend to chores or while being on your phone. Let them see you be present in your surroundings and not always in a rush with something in your hands.

5. Sit in the Uncomfortable

Doing nothing is going to feel very uncomfortable at first. The adrenaline of accomplishing a large to-do list and the constant dopamine rush of the smartphone have made us all essentially addicted to being busy and always doing. It will feel uncomfortable for both you and your child until you start getting used to it. Stick with it even through those feelings. The more you practice the art of doing nothing the easier it will feel and you will start to notice the benefits emerging. The best way to guide your child through their uncomfortable feelings is to continue to lead by example. 


Let Your Child Lead

Planning activities for your kids sets a certain amount of expectations on them that they might not be able to fulfill. Unfulfilled expectations are a huge cause of stress and feelings of overwhelm. Set periods of time in which you are dedicated to following your child's lead. Let them decide what you will do, how you will do it and leave room for them to trial and error and to make mistakes. If a child is used to following parent or teacher led activities all of the time it might take some time for them to become confident in leading. Hold the space for them often and help guide them at first. Once they are able to take the lead it will set the stage in becoming better at independent play as well. 

Show me how you do nothing by connecting with me on instagram through #artofnothing and finding me @therespectedchild