Children are often overloaded with unrelenting schedules of school, homework, sports and community activities in our accomplishment-oriented culture. Not to mention the 24/7 Internet invasion of personal "down time," if there is such a thing as "down time" any more. Being connected and texting all day, and much of the night, is not exactly "down time."
The goal of keeping kids involved in educational and recreational activities is a worthy one - to raise educated, healthy, self-confident and accomplished individuals. But psychologist Dan Siegel says all this nonstop activity and pursuit of accomplishment may be having a dangerous side effect.
Parents are so busy managing their children's calendars that they miss the opportunity of just 'being' with the child," says Siegel.
We're raising a generation that isn't developing the skills looking inward, where resilience and kindness come from," Siegel says in a presentation, "Parenting for the 21st Century: Building the Neural Circuits for Resilience and Kindness," at the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education.
The understanding of right and left brain functions can help parents learn how to choose when action is the best choice, or when just 'being' together is what really has the most positive long-term effect.
"The right brain likes to be with what is," says Siegel. "That's one of the most important experiences anyone can have - ever."
"You are doing something by just being together. That is something a lot of people miss because they feel so anxious inside, they want to solve a problem," he says.
The fundamental connection that needs to be set up is not about ways to solving a problem, it's about being together," says Siegel.
If a parent doesn't take the time to align with a child's right hemisphere, the parent is doing what the rest of the world does – connecting with the left brain that's always looking outward. The right hemisphere looks at the interior of the self and the interior of others. The right brain is the emotional and nonverbal side. The left hemisphere is about solving problems, figuring out how to do things like being accepted by others. Siegel describes the Internet is an externally-focused set of stimuli.
When you child may be overly involved in logical or outward activities, or upset, these strategies can help a parent connect with the child's right brain for a calming effect, and offer a way of "being" with the child.
Even aside from awareness of brain science and the importance of understanding the connection with the right brain, many mental health experts encourage "down time" for children and parents together.
"Being unproductive together tells the child that the parent likes the kid, as he or she is," says Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Over-Scheduled Child.
Loving the child just as he or she is, without a doubt, is the greatest gift a parent can give," he says. What's important is the deep, inner conviction that children don't have to perform for their parents to love and cherish them.
"It's what's been called 'unconditional love'," says Rosenfeld. "It is what all kids, and all human beings, need to be truly successful in life."
Siegel, Dan, "Being Is More Important than Doing with Your Children," Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, Sept. 11, 2011.
Divecha, Diane, "A Guide to Your Child's Brain," The Greater Good Science Center, University of California Berkeley, Feb. 15, 2012.
Mason, Kyla Calvert, "The Downside of No Down Time for Kids," PBS Newshour, July 2, 2015.