Have a free night on the family calendar this week? Your child’s health may depend on keeping it that way.
It may seem counter-intuitive to write “free time” on the family schedule, but that’s just what anxiety expert, Dr. Jenny Yip, suggests parents should do to help children decompress and avoid the anxiety that kids sometimes develop due to the pressures of everyday life.
“The reality is that we put so much expectation on our kids today,” says Dr. Yip. “How many of them are still able to have that free time…that free play that (we) remember growing up with? A lot of our kids today are on these rigid schedules, from one activity, to the next, to the next… As a parent, I’m sure you’re tired just thinking about how your schedule is.”
The best way to let children decompress and “reset” their stress load, Dr. Yip says, is for parents to schedule in some free time that works best for each individual child: playground time for the kinetic child, free art time for the budding artist, or a family camping trip for the nature-lover. Whatever anxiety-busting free time you choose, Dr. Yip says the most important thing is to help children feel secure and to give them your undivided attention, free from electronic distractions or additional pressure: let kids just be kids.
So, how do you “structure” time that’s supposed to set kids free to be themselves and feel no pressure? Plan it carefully so your children have no idea it’s been planned. Here are 25 activities parents can write on the calendar at least once a week for some mental-health-building, family bonding time. Many of which are also great ideas for letting kids just have time on their own.
- Take a walk
- Blow bubbles
- Draw sidewalk art (no competing!)
- Lay in the grass and find cloud shapes
- Build with blocks
- Bathe the dog
- Give the kids a big cardboard box and crayons
- Fly kites
- Finger paint
- Bake cookies
- Make a fort with pillows, blankets, and dining room chairs
- Stay up late to stare at the stars
- Have a kid-food picnic
- Jump in rain puddles
- Make superhero costumes out of what’s on hand
- Play superheroes (in costume, of course)
- Have a tea party
- Just play dress-up
- Make frozen “monster pops” to enjoy later
- Draw in shaving cream or pudding
- Make a string maze inside the house
- Go to the playground
- Tell made-up campfire stories in the backyard
- Play PIG or HORSE (You can use a small ball and a trash can or bucket if you don’t have a basketball goal)
- Dump the toy bin and play
The most important thing to remember? This is time for your child to relax, so nip your own perfectionism in the bud, make a mess, and have some fun—no electronic babysitters allowed!
Dr. Yip is a nationally recognized OCD and anxiety expert. She is a Licensed Psychologist, and is Board Certified in Cognitive & Behavioral Psychology. She is Executive Director of the Renewed Freedom Center in Los Angeles, and is Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the USC Keck School of Medicine.