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Unstructured vs. Scheduled Time: What’s the Best Balance?

2021-11-19 by Dr. Jenny
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Many families are in full-steam fall mode, getting ready for the holidays despite still having a lot of uncertainties swirling around us (when can my child get a vaccine? Will we keep seeing waves of COVID?). But life is also starting to have some aspects of “normalcy” (whatever that is! Or at least the busy-ness of this fall — school dropoffs, pickups, and coordination of after-school activities — feels more like pre-pandemic times to me.)

Girl pretending to draw sign that says "Do you make time for free time?"

Compared to the nothing-ness of lockdown, this might feel like a lot. But honestly, the risks of overscheduling are real. Recently, I attended a webinar about problematic media use, and learned about something called “revenge insomnia.” It’s something teens do when they are so overscheduled during the day that they purposefully stay up later at night just to relax and watch some videos!

3 Ways to Tell If Your Family Is Overscheduled

Here are some ways to tell whether your busy week just feels hectic or it’s actually over-packed.

  1. If you draw out your child’s schedule, is there any white space? Where would they have time to just chill, read a comic book, or doodle in a sketchbook? Or is it school-to-snack-to-soccer-to-dinner-to-homework-to-instrument-practice-to-bed on a continuous drivetrain without much breathing room? (And are they distracting themselves with a device during any time with breathing room?) If your days feel like one big hurry, you may want to reassess your family schedule and drop an activity or two when the next sign-up period comes along. Remember, doodling and brain downtime are important “activities,” too!
  2. Are you taking care of yourself?  Even when schedules aren’t overpacked, we can feel hurried and harried when our tanks are empty. We are 20 months into pandemic parenting, and it’s normal to feel exhausted and scattered. Pause and think about your core wellness shapers — sleep, exercise, social connection, healthy food — and make some adjustments so that you can start each day with a fresher mindset. (You may need to cut back on your own “revenge insomnia”! 🙂
  3. At the end of the day, did you look back and have any time where you just sat around and laughed? Or felt playful and connected? Even small but meaningful moments matter. With all that’s going on with kids and the tech industry right now, as a media researcher I’ve never been busier. But as long as my family can have a few laughs and stories at the dinner table, and a few more goofy moments of focusing on each other as I tuck them into bed, I know we are doing OK. 

So, families, hang in there — create some white space where your hearts and brains can connect with your kids — and it will really contribute to everyone’s resilience. 

Read more articles on parenting and play by Dr. Jenny >

 

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Dr. Jenny

Jenny Radesky, M.D., is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician whose research focuses on family digital media use, child social-emotional development, and parent-child interaction. She graduated from Harvard Medical School cum laude in 2007 and is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Her clinical work focuses on autism, traumatic stress, ADHD, and self-regulation. Dr. Jenny’s ultimate goal is to help parents understand the individual ways their child thinks, learns, and feels; to help parents provide the best therapy and play experiences for their children; but to also allow parents to sit back and let their child’s mind take the lead sometimes. She authored the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics digital media guidelines for young children.

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