If you are like me and have visited Pinterest for great parenting ideas, you have probably had the same impression I did, that children should be busy or entertained with activities pretty much all the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love to have fun activities with my kids but I also think it is super important for children to have absolutely nothing.
In other countries around the world, children don’t have many toys, they don’t have scheduled sports or art workshops, they don’t even have activities planned by their parents. And when I watch little kids sitting on a bus, or waiting somewhere, they don’t need to be entertained, they just sit.
We spend a huge amount of our adult lives trying to slow down our minds. We do yoga, we meditate, we go on vacation and amazingly, children already have that ability to do nothing and often well-meaning parents erase that important skill.
And yet, every time I go onto Pinterest, I see at least 10 pins for “How to keep your toddler busy during road trips” (or waiting in line, or on an airplane, during quiet time, or sitting at a restaurant, etc).
Here’s the thing, I understand.
I have twin toddlers and it’s not like they want to sit still for all of these activities. But if you don’t offer any kind of toy or screen or distraction, you eventually teach them how to “be” in a world without distractions. They can already calm their minds. They can already be aware of their surroundings and soon (SOON!) they will just be able to sit and watch the world around them or entertain themselves.
Just like what we are striving for as adults. The ability to just sit and quiet our mind. We have so many opportunities for that all day long. Waiting at a red light. Standing in line at the bank. Sitting at a restaurant waiting for a friend to arrive. These are times when we can just sit and quiet our minds and yet these are the times that we feel we need to “entertain” ourselves and pull out our phones.
So if one of your goals is to quiet your own mind and find awareness in the daily moment, then allow your child to do that as well. Let them sit in the car on the way up to the mountains with nothing but conversation. Allow them to watch the people in the restaurant without a distraction. Bring an emergency toy on the airplane but have it be a goal to use only the environment and surroundings as your toys and see if you don’t even need it. Let them play for an entire snow day without one planned activity.
In my head, I am thinking:
All of this sounds good and all, but the reason that we distract children is to keep them from fussing and tantruming. If I don’t distract them when they are losing it, then I will lose it too.
Yep, so the shift here isn’t to not distract them, it is to distract them with their surroundings, rather than with objects. This is how to build a mindful childhood.
So what does that look like?
When you are at the doctor’s office, walk around and look at the art that they have on the wall.
When you are on the airplane, play with the buttons on the seat, walk up and down the aisle if they let you, look out the window if you have a window seat and talk about the clouds.
When you are in the car, look for different things out the window.
All of this can be exhausting, super exhausting if you are doing it for hours. But here’s the thing (and every teacher knows this) if you put in more work now (exhausting work when you are already exhausted) then you (and especially your children) will reap the benefits later.
Your child already has the skills to be aware of their surrounding, and we as adults are constantly working towards that type of mindfulness and being in the moment, so resist the urge to distract your child with a thing and give them the gift of a lifetime!