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The Benefits of Downtime For Children 

What kid doesn’t love summer break? The possibilities of relaxation and freedom are boundless. However, removing the structure of school can have a strong effect on a family’s routine, causing conflicts and behavior concerns. Having said that, it’s important to remember the benefits of downtime for both children and adults. Let’s talk about ways to balance providing structure and encouraging meaningful free time for kids on summer break.  

Importance of Balance 

When planning for the summer months, it can be tempting for some parents to enroll their children in as many enriching activities as possible. It seems like a shame to waste time off school – why not have kids do some developmental and productive activities? Well, while some structure is indeed necessary, try not to overschedule your children’s time to avoid these common outcomes: 

Downtime provides children with opportunities for exploration, creativity, and self-discovery. It allows them to decompress, recharge, and develop essential life skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, and social interaction. Free time encourages imagination and fosters a sense of independence, enabling children to pursue their interests and passions autonomously. 

Of course, too much downtime can also be harmful. A child that has complete free reign of their time from morning to bedtime can run into the following issues: 

Remember – when kids are in school, the majority of their time is structured for them without their control or choice. The summer months are a good opportunity to give them a break, but it’s also important to continue guiding their development. This is why something like a 60-40% split between structured and free time is appropriate.  

Free Time ≠ Free For All 

Now, when we talk about free time, or downtime, this does not mean simply letting children do whatever they want without supervision or guidance. There is a difference between absolute free time and structured downtime.  

When kids are allowed to do whatever they want, they can sometimes gravitate towards easy forms of entertainment: tablets, phones, and other devices. They are then consumed by these devices, which affects their mental health and focus, causing some maladaptive behaviors such as profanity and violence. There’s a time for technology, but this time should be limited and age-appropriate.  

So, how do we structure unstructured time? It seems contradictory, but in the end, it’s all about choice. Presenting children with several options for self-led or independent activities allows them to follow their heart while also leaving you in control. 

Meaningful Activities for Free Time 

Downtime is a space where children can be creative and use their imagination to keep themselves entertained. The world of tablets and phones does not allow much room for creativity and imagination. So, here are some great options to offer as downtime activities: 

Activities such as these give ample freedom to the participants while also providing just enough structure to keep things going smoothly. After all, our society is based on having some level of structure, which is the reason for both preparing them for it and giving them a break from it. 

If you or a family member needs behavioral and/or mental health treatment, but aren’t sure where to start, read more here or call 888-764-4161. We’re here to support! 

About the Expert 

Michelle Rodriguez is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New York with experience treating toddlers, children, adolescents, and young adults. She is trained in several different styles of therapy and adjusts her treatment approach according to the needs of individual patients. In the past, Michelle has worked with the LGBTQ populations, bereavement, college and work struggles, relationship issues, and Christian counseling. Her goal is to help her patients set their own goals and achieve them with her support.