By Dr. Katie Godfrey, LMFT
This time of year I often hear from parents that their child is struggling behaviorally after school. Oftentimes parents rely on screen time to give their child some down time after school. While this does keep a child quiet and entertained, it is not actually having a desired effect of the developing brain of a child. Some parts of the brain completely shut down while others get amped up, and many parents notice their child struggling with crankiness and other behavioral issues. While parents generally associate these behaviors with being tired, typically they are a result of screen time. Here are some indoor and outdoor alternatives to screens:
First, make sure child is adequately fed and more importantly, hydrated. Try having a reusable water bottle available in the car or on the bus so that they can have a drink on the way home. Whether they are going to rejuvenate indoors or outdoors, being fed and hydrated are key.
1. Create a Cozy Corner with a tent or some blankets. Add pillows and a soft blanket, and maybe a heated rice bag if it was a cold day. This is a great space for a child to unwind after a long day. Here they can play quietly with dolls or stuffed animals, enjoy a book, or do some drawing. Here is a link to Heavy Baby Dolls (https://www.bellalunatoys.com/products/heavy-baby-doll) which can also be soothing and therapeutic.
2. Reading time can happen with our without adults. Depending on their age, children can look at picture books or read a chapter book. Books without any words are especially nice for letting children create their own stories. I love Gerda Muller’s seasonal books: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_1_8?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=gerda+muller&sprefix=Gerda+mu%2Caps%2C832&crid=37BAJCVWYU0F
Audio books can also be a great choice. They are even available for free at the library!
3. Have a table set up with a puzzle where folks can intermittently play.
4. Handwork such as crocheting, knitting, or cross-stitch can be great for older children. For smaller ones, I love lacing cards and “finger knitting”.
5. Bake some cookies, muffins, or cook some soup. The smells alone are enough to relax and rejuvenate a person!
6. Get a new perspective! Lay on the ground and watch the clouds and branches of trees. What does everyone see? Or just daydream while looking at the sky!
7. Go for a stroll. Smaller children will enjoy a stroller or wagon ride. Older ones may like a walk around a park or neighborhood. Don’t limit yourself to “good weather” for outdoor time. During and after a rain is a great time for children to rescue worms off the sidewalk and return them to the grass.
8. Unstructured outdoor time seems to be in short supply these days. The majority of child’s play is structured. Even in schools that have multiple recesses, these times are generally too short to allow children to become fully involved in play. Here are some ideas to set up in the yard or park to get children started:
A couple of dish tubs filled with soapy water and clean water allow for the washing of dishes or clothes.
A sheet draped over a branch or a chair makes a marvelous fort.
An outdoor play kitchen (make one out of a large box!), accompanied by some baskets, buckets, and bowls for collecting objects from around the yard can lead to all sorts of imaginative ideas.
There are many ideas of ways for children to entertain themselves while tired without always involving screen time. I hope some of these sound fun and that you will enjoy them with your family!