Many parents dutifully spend huge amounts of their time trying to keep their children engaged and active.
That’s for the most part highly desirable and a great thing but it’s worth remembering that in terms of human society, this is a comparatively recent phenomenon. In fact, children need some quiet time where they keep their own company.
Even within living memory, parents in most cultures didn’t have the time or the money to support the luxury of spending huge amounts of their time keeping their children engaged and active. They were simply too busy earning a living and trying to help their family survive in terms of food, clothes and shelter.
Child activity therefore largely took place:
- between siblings;
- in the extended family;
- at the individual child level.
Today, with smaller and more geographically spread families, the first two above have largely been replaced by school and day-care centres with parents also playing a larger and more omnipresent role than previously.
The third point though is critically important and as parents work hard to conform to the new role models for responsible parenthood, there is a risk that the benefits of providing personal time for a child can be overlooked.
Why children need personal and quiet time
Adults have typically forgotten how much new sensory and intellectual experience bombards children on literally a minute-by-minute basis.
It is sometimes important for them to sit back and take in what they’ve just seen or heard. It helps them to make sense of it in their rapidly developing world-view and their own self-awareness. That can take time and a little quiet reflection.
If that sounds unlikely, it’s worth noting that children as young as 3 or 4 can sometimes be heard saying things like “I’ll think about that” in answer to a question or even “I’m thinking about things” when asked why they are quiet.
The development of imagination
Another reason why children need their own quiet time is that it helps develop their imagination.
Of course, that also happens while they’re playing games and interacting with others too. Yet if you watch even very young children, they will sometimes be fascinated by say a shadow on the wall and rain on the window. It’s possible to observe them quietly thinking about what they’re looking at and sometimes when questioned will respond again that they’re making castles in their mind out of rivulets on windows or whatever.
You can see the same thing when they’re sitting alone quietly playing with a single toy.
These processes are critical in the development of their overall personality.
How to make this happen
Fortunately, kids don’t need a mountaintop retreat or a guru to be able to quietly contemplate things and use their imagination.
If you’re in a room with them and they’re totally absorbed looking at a toy or book, or perhaps even playing alone and talking to themselves, don’t, therefore, feel you need to rush up and entertain them. You can sit quietly in the same room and do some reading yourself perhaps. That way they’ll know you’re there for company and security but are being left alone to their own thoughts.
Don’t worry, when your child has had enough ‘own time’ they’ll let you know!
It might be sensible to make sure there is space in the day for them to have this very sort of experience and personal time.