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Time Out for Kids

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (December 17, 2015)

When we think of ‘time out’ for kids, we often think of it as a punishment after they have done something wrong and we send them out of the room/into their room/in a corner so that they can have ‘time out’ to think and calm down before saying sorry and rectifying their mistake. I have my own views about the importance of time outs and how to implement them effectively but today, I’m not talking about time out as a form of punishment, but necessary time out as a time to ‘clock out’ and rest.

Recent reports have come out in Hong Kong with horrific statistics. A survey of more than 100 students showed that 35% of the suffered from back-to-school anxiety, 25% didn’t know how to handle stress and an astounding 24% shared that they had contemplated suicide. A recent study on youth mortality found that in the 3 reports published since 2008 about the topic, 85 youth committed suicide, which is more than the 83 accidents accounted for.

When will we wake up to this problem and do something about it?

Rubber bands snapping

Rubber bands are an amazing invention and each rubber band is a different length, size and has a different level of ‘stretchiness’. The purpose of a rubber band is to be stretched and to serve its function. However, if stretched too much or for too long, rubber bands will snap and can’t be reconnected.

In the same way, we as humans were meant to stretch and grow, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. From fragile babies, we were created to grow and be ‘stretched’ to reach our potential as youths and adults. However, in the same way as rubber bands, we each have a different level of ‘stretchiness’ and will each snap at a different level of pressure. It’s important that we stretch enough to grow but not so much that we snap.

Everyone is unique

The question then is – “how much pressure makes a ‘rubber band’ snap?” It’s difficult to answer that because everyone is different. I’ve had parents ask me how any activities is a ‘suitable number’ for them to enroll their children for. And honestly, the answer depends on the child him/herself. For some children, they have the capacity and enjoy learning 10 different things and thrive on it. For others, they would be too stretched by that and can only enjoy 2 activities and do them well.

Everyone’s limit is different but the statistics we’ve seen in recent years should be a wake up call for all parents, teachers and caregivers. Are we giving our children more than they can handle? Are we sufficiently teaching them how to deal with pressure and stress? Are we giving them enough time out to play and relax?

As adults, we are always taught to have ‘work-life balance’ where we “shouldn’t take work home” and should find hobbies to help us relax. I don’t know about other people, but after a long day at work, I like to go home and mindlessly watch TV for a while or go out for a fun dinner with friends. I try not to bring work home and maintain a work-life balance. And for the most part, people would commend my choice of lifestyle.

However, let’s look at the life of a student. He goes to school all day (which is similar to our day of work) and after all that cognitive stimulation, he leaves school just to learn more at tutorials, then goes home to do homework, practice playing instruments and revising for upcoming tests. There’s no time out, no time of relaxation and it would snap any strong rubber band.

The solution to this societal problem is systemic and goes deep but my suggestion for individual application is to have ‘time outs for kids’. This is a time given to kids to have them relax, do what they want, play and have some down time. I’m not suggesting that we just let kids go wild and play without being responsible for their work but I am suggesting that we reevaluate what our kids can and should handle and how much time out they should enjoy. Maybe your child just needs 15 minutes to play after school before being recharged enough to do homework; but maybe your child needs an hour to creatively draw and express his/her emotions before being about to concentrate on other tasks. This requires knowing your child’s needs but whatever the length of time is, all kids need time out. After all, don’t we all?


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