How do you feel when you are alone, it’s quiet, and you are not doing or working? Are you comfortable, at ease, relaxed, appreciative of the simple things around you? When I was growing up I never spent time alone, and when I did stop to be quiet, I was unsure of what to do. I felt almost scared to face the stillness, aloneness. There was one exception, and that was when I was at camp and we had rest hour every day. We had to sit or lay on our beds and either rest or be quiet. At first I resisted. I felt focused on others and wanting to get their attention, be silly or whisper. But after awhile, I began to feel differently. I started to relax, listen to the wind in the trees, feel the bedding on my skin, let my mind wander over things that had happened to me that day, become aware of feelings about people or experiences. It was the taste of learning how to be with myself, rather than having to be doing something all the time or always seeing myself in relation to others.
From the time they are born, children are given attention. But how much is too much? How do we know when they need time to themselves? How do we help them develop the ability to be content within themselves? Young children are sensitive, vulnerable to impressions, and full of curiosity and energy. Since we live in a high paced, multi-stimulated culture, they are bombarded with sensory input. We don’t notice what is happening to our children until one day we observe they can’t focus for very long, they are scattered in their approach to things, and need constant entertainment or else they are bored. What happened?
There are many factors that go into children being wound up and stimulus dependent. One thing that can help a child to slow down, get more in touch with themselves, their feelings and their own creativity, is spending quiet time alone every day. This can be defined differently for different ages. Even babies need quiet time alone. I had a friend who talked to her baby about spending some time alone every day, away from the rest of the family. She would leave a monitor in the room and be in another part of the house. The baby would lay in his crib and could play with toys. Sometimes there would be light music in the room for the baby to listen to. During this time, even if the baby cried, she left him alone. Once children get older, they can have alone time in their room with a few toys. Mostly, it is a time to play alone, without T.V. or others involvement. At Homestar Child Development Center, the 2 1/2 to 5 year old children have “Special Time” every day after lunch. They take a carpet square and one or two toys and find a space to play alone in. This lasts about 20 minutes. The older they get, the more time they can handle. We never make alone time a punishment, that’s why it is called special time. We want the time they play by themselves to be as enjoyable as any other activity, and a natural part of a balanced life.
When children get older, it is still important to have alone time. This is one of the ways children will be able to have a sense of themselves, their needs, and their integrity in the midst of growing social pressures. Spending time alone a child gets to know himself, his thoughts, feelings, experiences, interests. There is created assimilation time from busy days. Just like the body needs time to process food and turn it into useful energy, it also needs time to process experiences to turn them into useful learning. We wonder why children don’t learn well, why things don’t “stick”, why they seem to have to hear the same things over and over. This is part of the problem: they need the time and space to let experiences settle and sort themselves out. If you wait until they are teenagers and then tell them to go “sit in your room for awhile and think about what just happened” they won’t have developed the inner tools to be able to do that effectively. Wisdom, depth, understanding and insight come to children who have learned how to be calm, relaxed, at ease with themselves and able to watch and listen, not just be constantly involved.
What are some of the integral components of quiet time? It does need to be quiet. If it is at the same time every day, the household could agree to be quiet. Turn off the T.V., radio, phone machine, don’t talk or just whisper for the set time. Make it a ritual for the entire family. Quiet, soothing music can be listened to sometime. This is a good way to introduce children to classical or international music. It is actually not a good time for reading, as that is a more active activity involving the brain. This is a time to unwind the brain and settle more into the body and feelings. This time could be spend out doors playing in nature. Nature can be a great relaxer.
One other way to begin to give children the chance to experience an internal spaciousness, is through TRANSITIONS. Transitions are the breaks or pauses between activities, so that one activity can be completed and another one properly entered upon. At an elementary school where I used to teach, we used transitions to help children be fully ready to learn , rather than be herded from one subject to the next. We used a few moments of quiet, telling a simple story, listening to music, some quiet alone play time, quiet reading, and even sitting and looking at a candle for 5 minutes between lunch free time and the afternoon lessons. Children then felt calm to begin their lessons and able to receive new information or to engage with all their faculties. With younger children, transitions can be as simple as making sure everything is cleaned up before beginning something new (we do this at Homestar), making sure they are not being rushed from one thing to the next (this is crucial), or talking about what they have just done and preparing for the next thing by talking a little bit about it. Stretching for a few minutes, taking a walk outside, sitting for a few moments with the child; anything that creates a sort of calm break creates that sense of spaciousness in life that allows experiences to settle.
Recently a mother of a 10 and 12 year old said to me, “It’s the end of school and all their planned activities are over until summer starts. We have all this time to be together and no one knows what to do. It’s sad.” When the business stops, what’s there? Can you enjoy simple times with your children? A walk, baking a cake, giving a massage, planting flowers, having some tea; only if a child has learned to slow down and feel a relationship to himself, the family and the natural world, can an appreciation of the simple grow. If you start when they are young, you will create a foundation that will last their entire lives. If you start when they are older, you will have to probably be strong with your intention and remember what gift it is you are trying to give your child. Once that stimulus cycle is established, it is difficult, but not impossible to break. Be ready for some resistance! Be gentle but firm, talk about why you are creating “special time” and even do it yourself!
Children can be content with quiet, they don’t always have to be doing. There is an old Eastern saying: to learn to truly do, one must first learn to be. What does that mean, to be? In being there is a receptivity, an inner stillness, a sense of one’s self alone. When people can bring these qualities to their doing, we begin to see more conscientious, sensitive, responsible doing. This kind of inner peace is also necessary for positive relationships. Quiet time is one step in directing your child inward towards himself.