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The Informed Parent

Slowing Down In A Fast-Paced Culture

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Apr. 04, 2005

In last month’s article with the light-hearted title “Lessons from an Infant and a Puppy,” we overviewed the importance of slowing down, asking for what you want, and being yourself. Each of my articles for the next three months will expand on one of these ideas. This month we’ll look at the importance of slowing down.

In the 1960s Paul Simon wrote “The 59th Street Bridge Song” (Feelin’ Groovy). The first lines go, “Slow down you move too fast. You got to make the moment last.” In our technologically based American society we are surrounded with the message, “You gotta move fast or you lose.” Making the moment last seems like an unaffordable luxury. Yet, for our own health and for that of our children, we must learn to slow down. Moving out of the fast lane requires making a conscious decision to take life more slowly. This choice also demands constant monitoring. Otherwise we inevitably find ourselves moving quickly again by default and habit.

The goal of slowing down is not to return to the pre-Industrial Revolution lifestyle. It is to look at how we currently live and to decide where we can take more time for the activities and space that rejuvenates spirit, mind, and body. It is the opportunity to teach our children, by example, to take time for self. We will enjoy the moment, and risk giving up some of what the media has led us to believe makes for a rich and rewarding life.

What Is Down Time?

When I think of down time, three things come to mind--sleeping in on Saturday mornings, sitting down in the middle of the afternoon to read a good novel, and taking a hot soaking bath. Each person has his or her own idea of what feels nurturing when there is no one or nothing calling for attention. There is no right activity for down time. However, there is a right way. It must be a time of moving slowly or doing nothing.

Two more lines from “The 59th Street Bridge Song” say, ”Just kickin’ down the cobble stones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy.” So often adults put looking for fun low on the list of daily priorities. We may arrange enjoyable activities on the weekend and take a yearly vacation. Often, though, we even “do fun” in a hurried fashion.

Down time means freeing up a portion of each day to sit and let our minds wander, or to putter in a garden, or to take a walk. It is taking time from concentrated focus. Dr. Barry Gordon, a professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins University, says that boredom can be a good thing. He states that just sitting and thinking about things is when some of the most important mental work gets done. You may have found that some of your best ideas have come during times of letting your mind wander while not doing much of anything.

Sometimes parents are afraid that if their children aren’t busy they will find ways of getting into trouble. This can be true if children don’t have enough to do or do not receive adequate attention from parents and caregivers. Few of today’s children, though, suffer from not having enough to do. By giving them time to daydream and move at their own pace they will discover positive ways of creatively entertaining themselves.

Practical Or Pie In The Sky?

The idea of slowing down may seem like an impossibility. Having children to effectively parent, jobs demanding our time and attention, and households to run, creating down time looks counter productive. It is only through multi-tasking that we feel able to accomplish all that needs to be done. Interestingly, a recent poll by the magazine SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN MIND found that while 90 percent of those polled engaged in multi-tasking six out of ten said they felt they were getting less done.

Dr. Barry Gordon, mentioned above, said that the selling point for slowing down is that it helps you speed up. Research indicates that when we switch from task to task, our brain needs to apply new rules each time. Thus it is actually most efficient doing one task to completion before beginning another. This does not mean that it’s inefficient to combine routine activities such as filing your nails while watching TV or rocking the baby while talking on the phone.

When we teach children to complete one task before beginning another, we are teaching self-discipline. I believe we are also teaching satisfaction. When I concentrate on doing one activity at a time, I derive more pleasure than when I attempt to juggle three tasks at once.

Ways To Create Down Time

As you pay attention to creating down time in your life and the lives of your children, you will come up with numerous ways that work for you and your family. Here are several ideas to get you started.

  1. Leave spaces in your daily schedule instead of filling each minute with activity. You will need to write these times on your calendar and honor them. This will take commitment and practice. Also, provide open time for the children. It becomes too stressful for them to move from school to day care to   soccer to homework each day. Sit as a family and help them choose two activities that they enjoy and would like to engage in during the week. Free the rest of the time for unstructured play.
  2. Provide some period each day, aside from homework time, where any technological equipment is turned off. This means TV, computer, Game Boy, and cell phones with instant messaging. Too often adults and children consider stimulation from technology down time. It may be entertaining but it is also highly arousing. It is not time when both body and mind are still and where the mind can wander.
  3. Develop a quiet hobby. Gardening, walking, yoga or tai chi, meditation, reading, playing a musical instrument for pleasure (as apposed to focusing on practicing for increased skill) are all examples of down time activities that adults enjoy. Children may like some of the same pastimes. Drawing, Legos, dollhouses, blocks and other toys that allow for creative play offer children time where the mind can be quietly focused.
  4. Eat meals at the table with the TV turned off. Learn, as a family, to eat slowly and converse positively. Settle any arguments before beginning the meal.
  5. Take time before going to bed listening to quiet music or reading. Provide the same ind of quiet time for children before they go to bed (See “Avoid Bedtime Battles” in THE INFORMED PARENT archives.)
  6. Drive the speed limit. Often I’ve driven five or ten miles over the legal speed. Having now practiced driving within the limit, I’ve found that the pace also slows my mind and brings more enjoyment of the scenery.
    We can also teach our children to move at a slower pace. Reminding them to walk in the house instead of run or to sip their milk instead of guzzle it helps them begin to move more slowly through life.
  7. Monitor yourself. Whenever you find yourself moving more quickly than necessary, take a deep breath and slow down. Self observation will probably discover that you work, move, eat and think quickly most of the time. You are not alone. It’s a societal pattern.

One of the last lines in “The 59th Street Bridge Song” says, “Life I love you.” When moving through life so quickly that we are tired, stressed, and unable to accomplish everything that we think we should, it’s hard to love life. What a gift to give our children and ourselves when we begin moving at a pace where we experience and truly enjoy life with all our senses.

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