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Families on Fast Forward.

Do you ever feel like a cartoon character stuck on fast forward with too many things to do in too short a period of time - except that it really isnt very funny? Frenzied and stressed, parents race about with a never ending to do list, determined to provide children with everything. Trading and scheduling every second of time, we taxi children around 24-7 to sports, music and entertainment events; we work our fingers to the bone to provide them with the latest brand name clothes; and we line up in departments stores, sometimes battling other parents for the latest toy guaranteed to bring our child happiness! Now after all of this running around, do we get to relax?  No, too much housework and yard upkeep.  Is the push to be perfect¯ parents providing our children with perfect¯ opportunities destroying us?

Have our lives have become so crowded with schedules and obligations and insatiable desires to do and achieve more¯ in the outside world that we have forgotten to nourish our inner world?  Paradoxically, in our attempts to give our children everything the outside world has to offer, we may be denying them the opportunity to unlock their inner world and find the key to fulfillment and happiness.

Einstein said, Imagination is more important than knowledge.¯ We all need space and time to kick back, relax, fanaticize and imagine! For children it is the most important part of their education; yet many children are missing such opportunities entirely. Even when theyre not racing off to scheduled activities, their lives are too often filled with television, video, and computer games. Even children who watch only the best educational programs, still miss exploring their inner worlds unless they have free time¯ to do so.

I remember years ago trying to get my oldest up and ready for pre-school. Oh no,¯ he groaned in exasperation. Why do I have to go there?  I already had plans for today¦ we were going to build that bridge for our highway.¯ The boys spent hours in the sand box and this was not the first time Jason had had other plans.¯ His comment caused me to take a step back and really ask myself why I was taking him off to preschool after all.  Was it just because thats what I believed a good mom did to provide every opportunity for her child, or was it because thats what was truly best for him in this situation?  The answer was clear to me, and I withdrew him from preschool immediately. Now that doesnt mean that I dont agree with preschools or daycares. Many children I know benefit greatly from preschool, where they are often introduced to free play activities that help them tune into their inner world.  However, scheduling kids into activities just because we think we have to, and not giving them time to kick back, relax and explore themselves is not in their best interests.

We all need time just to be, without the continual bombardment of outside stimuli.  My definition of stress is too much stuff in too small a space.¯ Stress is behind most health problems today. So scheduletime to kick back and relax, for both you and your child. Think of this time as more important than any other for you and your childs healthy development.

You may have to drop some organized activities for the time being. Limit television viewing, computer games, and other activities that keep your childs mind busy, and make sure he has time to entertain himself. Author Stephen Glenn tells us that one hour of television viewing per day is the maximum amount children can handle psychologically, and even then there should be an equal amount of time allowed to talk and explore the childs ideas and perceptions of the programs. The American Association of Paediatricians recommends not allowing ANY child less than two years of age to sit in front of a television screen.

Your kids may protest mightily if they are hooked on television and at first may complain bitterly of boredom. I encourage you to hang in there and see their boredom as the motivation that will drive them inward to discover how they can entertain themselves. Empathize with how difficult it is to stop watching TV, but encourage them to find something else to do. Do not, however, take responsibility for keeping them busy and happy.  That is their responsibility. You can help by setting play and living space up so that it invites them to use their imagination:


·        A simple box filled with articles of clothing, hats, gloves, homemade masks and crowns, and interesting pieces of fabric makes a fabulous dress-up box, or tickle trunk¯ as we used to call it. Setting up your dress-up box and shopping at thrift stores can be inexpensive and lots of fun to do together.

·        Make sure kids have access to the great outdoors.  Moving from one place to the other when our kids were young had our entire family in a state of frustration inside of a week. The home we had moved from had ample fenced space for the boys to play outdoors while I kept an eye on them from inside.  Our new home however bordered the street and had no fence.  What a difference it made to all of us when we erected a simple chicken wire fence right outside the house, anchored a tire swing to a tree and brought in some sand!  Do what you can to provide play space outdoors for your kids, or schedule time to take them outdoors to play. Often we think that we dont have time to do this and then spend our time in frustration and anger dealing with their pent up energy and misbehaviour.¯ 

·        Create a quiet corner for reading, drawing or coloring and encourage everyone to use it.

·        Give teens space to hang out¯ by themselves. Doing nothing¯ is important at times.

·        Some children will find it harder than others to play on their own.  Invite playmates over who like to stretch and explore their imagination.  Notice what entices your child and later encourage her to play alone in her imaginary world. If your child always wants you to play with her, try setting a timer for a designated time where she plays by herself and when the timer goes you get to do something together (or vice versa). Gradually increase the time alone. It helps if your child can see the timer.

·        Help your child explore his inner world through books and art.  Talk about feelings and ideas as you read and draw together. Listening to stories and reading encourages the imagination. Encourage older children to keep reading by setting an example of doing so yourself.

·        Set young children up at the sink to wash dishes.  Water has a magical quality that invites children into their inner world.  Some parents protest that this will make too much mess and too much work for them, but I urge you to weigh out the benefits with the drawbacks.  Often it doesnt take that long at all to clean up, its our own frustration and inner chatter that makes us miserable.  

·        Set bath time up as a time to relax and explore the properties of water.  Encourage older children to enjoy the soothing qualities of water to relax. Try a bath yourself just to relax and let children know NOT to interrupt unless its an emergency.  You will probably be put to the test to define emergency and hold your boundary so be prepared!

We create our world from the inside out.  If we are wound up on the inside, our life will be whirling about us chaotically on the outside. The key is to stop trying to organize the whirlwind, take a deep breath, and bring ourselves into the present moment.  The center of the cyclone holds the peace and power.

Train yourself to find your center through relaxation, prayer or meditation and practice accessing that inner space. You will find this place de-light-full! Make decisions about what you really want to create in your life from this center of power and then act on those decisions first. As you connect and explore your own inner world, you will learn to shut off the switch that has your life on fast forward and your outer world will fall into place.  

Taking time to connect with our own inner world gives our children time and permission to connect with theirs. What could be more important? I believe the greatest accomplishment we can aspire to as human beings is to help another experience the radiance of her own inner light. What greater gift can a parent give a child?

© Maggie Reigh 2006 

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About The Author Maggie Reigh is an international speaker, author of the book and program 9 Ways to Bring Out the BEST in You & Your Child and published storyteller. Maggie has helped thousands to live more harmonious and meaningful relationships.Ć‚Ā  Her presentations and seminars guarantee inspiration, involvement, and life changing tools.
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