Downtime… What’s That?

July 2022

By Ariella Soffer, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

Did you sign up for that tutoring? Or that enrichment? Is your kid doing the lax camp? I heard that soccer camp is really great for improving skills…

From the time I had children old enough to sign them up for camps, or after school activities I felt like I was doing a tug of war or balancing act between what my kids were asking me to do/what I felt pressured to do, and what I know I need to do to help them have a balanced schedule… which includes downtime.

As parents, we want to give our kids as many opportunities as we can, and most of the time, that translates into offering them (and signing them up for) activities – tutoring, coaching, sports, enrichment etc. I do it too… However, we chronically do not attend to the value of our children being bored and having to figure out what to do on their own.

Summer is a good opportunity for us to let our kids have free time, be bored, not have homework, and take a break! They have been through a lot during this pandemic, and while kids and teenagers often do not express it in the same way adults do, they need downtime.

In almost every way, every year, our children are expected to learn more and faster than generations past. My second grade son’s teacher this year told me that the skills they are learning this year are actually third grade skills – it begs the question, why do our kids need to know everything so much faster? The end game is the same, and it interferes with their creativity. I will not get into my educational philosophy here and why I would rather my children attend school in Stockholm. However, decades of psychological research demonstrates that downtime, which includes boredom, is what leads to creative, innovative thinkers.

Here are some ways to try and think about building downtime into your and your children’s days this summer.

Generally, maintain schedules: It is still important to anchor the day with similar morning and bedtime routines. It is so easy for us to fall into the habit of letting our kids stay up and wake up late, but it dysregulates our kids (and us for that matter). It is one thing to move bedtime 30 minutes and, it is another to disband the rules. Same with mealtimes. Try to keep routines and schedules the same. Kids (and teenagers) need structure in these ways more than they realize, and it is our job to help them regulate in this way.

Let your kids know the schedule so they can plan: Embedded in this is that you are helping your child learn to regulate. When there is structured downtime, and I would also advise that most of the downtime does not involve screens, kids should try to organize and plan how to fill their time. They might not say to themselves, “I will play basketball then paint for 20 minutes”, but they know the anchors of the day and can try to think about how to fill it. Depending on the ages of your kids, you can create a visual schedule and review it with them. Perhaps leave activities out or suggest things they like to do if they have trouble thinking about things to do or if they are weaning off devices.

Get outside: Summer is a great time to be outside. Find ways to help your kids be outside! Of course, for some of us, this is easier than for others, but it is imperative to get fresh air and sunshine!!!

Avoid Overscheduling: It is tempting to schedule our kids for camps or activities every day to fill all their downtimes. The problem this causes is that there is no time to be bored – to have to come up with something to do. It is so important not to ignore that creative muscle. Having downtime is the only way for our kids (and us) to have to come up with something to do.

I am with you that as parents, it is so much harder in the short term to help our kids find creative ways to fill their downtime when they struggle with it. I am right there with you. But I assure you that the short-term investment is worth the return. Think about all the ways that, as adults, we are hit in the face with ways to “relax”… mindfulness, yoga, retreats to destress from our busy days. What we are trying to teach our children early is to take time to reset and how to turn boredom into creative play.

I wish you all a restful summer, mixed in with a little bit of boredom and downtime amidst having to tend to the real-life “stuff”!!


Ariella Soffer, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who owns a group practice in Manhattan. Dr. Soffer’s practice specializes in parenting consultation, sports psychology, perinatal mental health in addition to general mental health concerns. Soffer & Associates Comprehensive Psychological Services website can be found here: