DOING LESS = HEALTHIER KIDS
And Parents Too - Here's Why
It doesn’t take a study, poll or report to tell anyone that today’s families are over-scheduled and that this might not be the healthiest way to live. But, just in case you’d still like some, check out the articles, polls and data listed at the end of this piece. Aside from the arguments that have already been so eloquently made - kids who are less scheduled and busy are happier, more self-directed, better rested, have better executive thinking skills, are less anxious, better at assessing risk, have more fun - I’d like to offer another, holistic and common sense way of understanding this issue in the form of an analogy.
Imagine all the resources a person has (n this case, your child) as money in their own personal bank account. Some might translate this “money” as energy, or nutrients, or resilience, or (if you’re an acupuncturist like me) qi. Whatever you call it, this “money” is the good stuff that allows a person to live well and be healthy. Like an actual financial bank account, each person’s energetic bank account is influenced by a set number of things. Here's why what we are doing to our kids is horrible for their future health, not to mention stressful right now.
We all open our accounts with a different amount of money. Some people begin with a robust constitution - they come from families of strapping, virile stock - have ancestors with scores of children, who lived to be independent 90-year-olds despite years of hard labor and stressful life events. These are the children who begin life with a trust fund. They are developmentally on track or advanced, teeth early, rarely get sick, and are full of energy. They can get away with abusing their bodies and seem to suffer no consequences (not that they should abuse their bodies).
Others begin with a weak constitution - perhaps they were born prematurely and didn’t get enough time to fully establish their starting balance or couldn’t receive due to maternal infection or placental dysfunction, perhaps their parents didn’t have as much to give to them because they were low on their own funds for one reason or another and didn’t have as much to pass along. These are the children who start in a deficit. They are developmentally delayed (sometimes subtle sometime obviously), teeth late, are prone to illness and allergies, and struggle to have robust health. These are the people who seem to suffer despite taking better care of themselves than their peers and who need to be more aware and proactive to be healthy. Of course, most of us are somewhere in between deficit and trust fund.
We only make more of what we need through three things (eek!) 1) Eating, 2) Drinking, and 3) Breathing. Yes, we literally are what we eat! If you don’t believe me, listen to the awesome story from NPR listed at the bottom of this article that describes how scientists in the 1950s literally tracked how the atoms in the food we eat replaces the atoms in the cells in our bodies. 98% turnover yearly! Of course, as a holistic practitioner, I’ve got a lot to say about income, but that’ll have to wait for another article. Sufficed to say, what we eat, drink and breathe matter a lot, and also, how efficiently a body is able to process what we eat, drink and breathe is a big deal!
This brings me to the heart of this article. Whenever a person has to do something they are spending their “money.” Whenever a person just gets to be they are spending less (or with real downtime they may even be saving a little).
" Play is the work of children. "
- Albert Einstein
So, what’s the bottom line for our kids? The mere act of growing and developing requires our kids to pay big bills and spend a lot of money every single day. In the first year, they grow an average of 10 inches and triple their weight, after 2 years, they average about 2.5 inches a year. Beyond physical growth, young children are also learning at an amazing pace - observing, honing, inquiring, mastering, every single waking moment - even when it looks like they are doing little. Literally everything is new to them - language, gross and fine motor skills, literacy, math, science, social skills, values, more advanced physical and emotional skills, and on and on. Albert Einstein said, “play is the work of children” and child development experts almost universally accept that play is a huge way children learn about their worlds. Even in their least scheduled free range play moments, our kids are busier then we know. It isn’t a coincidence that newborns who are developing at their greatest rates spend around half their days sleeping and that young kids need naps. They are spending incredible amounts awake and asleep and have to conserve where they can.
Now, let’s add what most parents today think is normal, enriching, necessary for their kiddos to be happy, ready for school, accepted by their peers, [fill in your own blanks here]. Outings to the park, beach, museums, farmers markets, music classes, tumbling, sports, second languages, camps, playdates ... I could go on. Do you see the problem? Children already are taxed. Their delicate little bank accounts are paying for big developmental bills regardless of their daily schedule. Then we parents ask them to spend even more!
In many families, even idea of "down time" isn’t really the doing less. For many children and adults, down time means screen time. An hour to watch Sesame Street or Baby Einstein - binge watching The Bachelor or Breaking Bad for the parents - is how we unwind. As kids get older it becomes even easier to hand over a phone or tablet and let them play “educational” games and have a little “quiet time.” This all too easily transitions into texting, facebook, instagram and twitter for older kids (and again, parents). But, almost every moment of screen time really means noise, lights, and a constant stream of images and information to be filtered and processed. In short, it’s more spending!
" It is no holistic master why kids are having more and more issues at earlier ages. "
Finally, late bed times, missed naps, waking early to get out the door for school, daycare or appointments all only increases the likelihood a child will run out of “money.” It’s all cumulatively too much. So, while many mainstream doctors and parents are stumped, it is no holistic mystery why kids are having more and more issues at earlier ages. From allergies and repeated illnesses to attention deficits and sensory integration disorders. In Holistic medicine, disease and disfunction are the messengers, or the branch. They are the equivalent to a flag being raised saying attention must be paid, balance must be restored and something is amiss with the root bank account. These are simply signs that the bank account is overdrawn. But because this is not the mainstream view of things most parents do what they know. They treat the branch (the disease or disfunction) without ever looking for the root or restoring balance. Medications for reflux, allergies, or ADD, surgery for recurring ear aches, therapy for developmental delays - all the while staying just as busy, or adding even more appointment, therapies and things to keep track of to the to-do list. This of course equates to taxing our childrens’ bank accounts more by the day. Not because we want to hurt them, but because we don’t connect the dots and don’t know any other way.
Checking your child’s balance.
Once you have read this article, the next logical step it to take a look at what your child’s balance is telling you. Knowing what you now know and looking through a holistic lens, what do you see?
" Do less, say no, allow free play, stick to bed time, refrain from signing up for another class, camp or agreeing to playdates every day of the week. "
If your child is already showing signs their bank account is running low it will be easier for you to embrace change. Do less, say no, allow free play, stick to bed time, refrain from signing up for another class, camp or agreeing to playdates every day of the week. You may already feel disempowered and discontented with what main stream medicine has to offer - where there are no answers, just things to mask the issues. And hopefully this new way of seeing your child’s health can be a reframe that will leave you feeling excited and empowered. While it is hard to see your child not able to “pay the bills” it is powerful to know how to help them make sustainable changes for the better that can lead to a life of better account balances.
If your child is not showing signs their bank account is out of balance I hope you will still consider scaling back. Although, their starting balance and income might be strong enough for things to look fine right now, just like with real life finances most people who spend more than they should will eventually get into financial trouble. It isn’t so much a matter of if, but when.
A call to inaction.
This arguement is not intended as a scare tactic, instead, I hope it is a call to action. Wait, I can’t miss the opportunity for a bad pun ... make that a call to inaction! We parents can lead the shift towards a more balanced, healthier future generation by teaching our children that doing less is a way of life and health promoting, and not lazy, a waste of time, and unproductive. All the while we’ll be helping ourselves in all sorts of ways too. We need to spend less, and conserve what we have so we can live long productive lives rather than the spread-too-thin, worn out ones we are on a path for. Our children need abundant resources and resiliency to help navigate what life is sure to bring their way. Let’s set them up for success rather than teach them poor spending habits and drop them off into adulthood in debt. Surely helping them have enough of the good stuff to live a good life is as important as anything we hope being busy could achieve.
For Further Thought
Poll: What Kids Have to Say About Being Busy - Spoiler. They know they are, and don't like it.
Over-Scheduled Children: How Big a Problem? - New York Times
Why Free Play is the Best Summer School - The Atlantic
Articles about Over-Scheduled Kids - Huffington Post
Your Child’s Growth - KidsHealth
The Child’s Developing Brain - New York Times
Children and Sleep - The Sleep Foundation
Why Do We Sleep - NBC News