School holidays: how children learn even when they appear to be playing.

Will your children have a happy Easter break doing things they love and avoiding boredom?  Are you confident that things will go well or do you wonder what to do for the best? Is this a time for rest and recreation or can children have a valuable and fulfilling time while still having fun?

14-03-23 Longview-5 daffodils
Children have few opportunities in term time to choose how they spend their time and the danger is that they become used to adults setting the agenda and supervising them. Freedom is exciting but also a responsibility that children have to learn how to handle.  Older generations may tell you how in their day they went out after breakfast and only came home for meals. Times have changed and few children now have that freedom to roam and to learn how to use their time well.  How can you help your child learn to be busy and enjoy what they are doing?

One possibility is to explore The National Trust’s 50 things to do before 11 3/4 which offers a range of exciting outdoor activities. Children can enjoy searching out these activities and ticking them off their adventure list.  But for lasting impact children need to discover those skills and experiences they want to return to again and again. Those repeated experiences tend to tap into a child’s strengths and provide lasting satisfaction.

happy-stick-girlOne of positive psychology’s recent contributions to our understanding of wellbeing is Flow.  Flow defines a state in which a person is truly engaged in and fulfilled by what they are doing. They are completely absorbed and time just flies past. You are more likely to experience flow when you engage in an activity which has enough challenge to stretch you but where you also have the confidence in your skills to succeed.

One solution to making the school holidays fulfilling and avoiding boredom is to discover what your child can do which creates flow.   How can they spend their time with things that really engage them?

For many children that involves finding activities that use their chosen talents and interests.  When children already know what they enjoy they just need the opportunity to get involved with something that is meaningful to them. Younger children will need some help to discover what suits them.  Art, dance, sport and drama are strong contenders for creating flow.  As long as a child has some freedom to choose how they interpret the activity creatively there is a strong possibility they will enjoy it more and experience flow.

What do you look out for to show when flow might happen? Here are 7 signs that flow is likely

1) There are clear goals which give your child something to aim for

2) Your child has the skills needed to meet the demands of the activity.

3) Your child feels confident and in control regarding the situation and the outcome.

4) The activity requires concentration and focus.

5) The activity is intrinsically rewarding; that is, your child wants to do it for their own satisfaction rather than to please others. .

6) The activity is quietly absorbing, your feelings of self-consciousness, worry, or the frustrations of everyday life are pushed aside.

7) Sense of time is altered; hours may seem to pass by in minutes, or minutes can seem like hours.

Your child doesn’t have to be an athlete or an artist to experience flow. Flow experiences are attainable by most anyone.

Consider for yourself those activities that transport you to a place beyond your day-to-day concerns and feelings.  What absorbs your attention?  Is it cooking a new recipe?  Reading a book with your child?  Solving the Sunday morning crossword puzzle?  Going for a long cycle ride? Working in the garden? Some people experience flow at work but others don’t, it all depends on how well your job fits with your passions.

A happy and fulfilled life comes from within, knowing your personal strengths and how to use them, rather than from a hedonistic and pleasure seeking life.  Life satisfaction and wellbeing stem from a sense of purpose and meaning: what do I love to do, what matters to me?  This is deeper and more lasting than a pleasure seeking life.

Helping children to find that personal sense of meaning and purpose may sound like a tall order but getting started is really quite simple and a lot of fun.  We can’t control what life will bring but we can help young people to be ready to give their best.

So where will you start? Watching and talking to your child about what they love is a good start. Have fun and enjoy the journey.egg_blueTrad


About hooperj

I am a child psychologist and wellbeing coach and author of What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish which is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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