The Very Real Appeal Of Slow Parenting
Fewer obligations and more space for unstructured play and family time? This parenting style forces your hand — and deserves your attention.
For many parents, life’s pace is far too frantic. Family calendars are packed with playdates, music lessons, and sports practices. Even downtime at home can feel fast-paced as parents struggle to reign in the constant flow of information and entertainment options made possible in the digital age. But being run ragged isn’t the only option. A solution? Consider the more deliberate slow parenting style.
Slow parenting is a direct response to the more more more trap of modern parenting. It eliminates the idea that kids should be afforded every good opportunity. Instead, it abides by the the notion that they should be given meaningful experiences they have time and energy to process. Importantly, it stresses that parents shouldn’t give kids so much to do that they lack sufficient free time to explore their interests and the world around them. This allows kids to discover themselves, recuperate between organized activities, and have downtime to bond with family members.
Although it may not be for everyone, slow parenting is worth considering if parenting has become a race and you’d like to explore a more manageable pace of life, says marriage and family therapist Nadia Teymoorian, Psy.D., clinical director of the Moment of Clarity mental health facility in Orange County, California. In her work with families, Teymoorian has found that slow parenting principles are often valuable in helping parents increase the meaningful interactions they have with their children.
“When parents embrace a slower parenting style where they’re not feeling pressured to constantly entertain their children, kids learn to generate more ideas, explore their own interests, and find enjoyment in simple, non-stimulating activities,” Teymoorian says. “Slowing down can help cultivate patience and a sense of presence. This allows kids to see the world around them and develop a richer internal life.”
When parents embrace a slower parenting style, kids learn to generate more ideas, explore their own interests, and find enjoyment in simple, non-stimulating activities.
Slow parenting is an extension of the slow movement, started by Canadian journalist Carl Honoré nearly two decades ago when he pushed back on fast-paced life with his book In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed. The slow parenting movement blossomed with his second book Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting, wherein he honed in on the pitfalls of helicopter parents who micromanage and overbook their kids’ lives to the detriment of their mental health, resiliency, and independence.
So, how exactly does the slow movement play out in parenting? Well, as one might imagine, slow starts with the family schedule, but also bleeds into other aspects of life as parents look to create enough space to get some breathing room for themselves and their kids.
Here are four ways to embrace slow parenting and help the whole family take a deep breath and slow down.
1. Resist The Urge To Overschedule
Overscheduling comes at a cost — not just in terms of depriving kids of the opportunity to rest, but also in squeezing out valuable relational time that allows parents and kids to have closer relationships.
“When we resist the urge to overschedule our children, we force ourselves and our kids to prioritize what is most important,” Teymoorian says. “And when we cut activities, we aren’t just saying ‘no’ to things, but we’re prioritizing opportunities to connect to each other by spending more quality time together.”
Different types of downtime, including playtime and family time, play an important role in helping kids recover from the stresses of daily life. The rub is that when their friends are involved in multiple activities or there’s pressure to not fall behind in the great race to build resumes that colleges will find appealing someday, the pressure not to fall behind is intense.
Researcher and Stanford professor Denise Pope, Ph.D., recently shared with Fatherly what the process of building schedule boundaries looked like with her kids as her family took a hard line against overscheduling.
“Our kids wanted to be involved in a lot of activities,” Pope said. “So we actually sat down and looked at the schedule and said, ‘Okay, if you think you can do these activities and get your homework done and still get your 8 to 10 hours of sleep, we'll allow you to try this schedule.’ But we also built in some escape clauses together in case that agreement couldn’t be met or if they started to get stressed to the point where it affected their ability to handle their schedule.”
In other words, you don’t have to rule with an iron fist when your kids are interested in a club or activity. But putting up boundaries that discourage overscheduling can help everyone from becoming overwhelmed.
2. Preserve Time For Free Play
Faced with the prospect of being home all day as a family, without any obligations to get to, lining up activities for the kids can keep everyone from driving each other bonkers. But there’s value in setting aside unstructured time for kids to play in ways that are voluntary, intrinsically motivated, and, most importantly, fun.
“Free play and imaginative activity without rigid rules foster creativity, problem-solving, and social skills in children,” Teymoorian says. “Kids grow in self-confidence as they are allowed to explore their interests, make decisions, and navigate play decisions.”
So, even if you have the perfect craft project lined up for the afternoon, it’s sometimes best to let the kids continue making a pretend meal or building a blanket fort with their siblings if they’re caught up in the moment. After all, it’s not like the work you’ve done to plan the craft has to go to waste. It’ll still be there for the kids to enjoy later in the day or the next time they have a day off from school.
3. Embrace Boredom
Despite the importance of unstructured play time, there will be days when kids counter opportunities for play with the dreaded “b” word. When they feel like they’re about to die of boredom, a slow parenting tactic is to hold the line and not bail them out with a list of curated activities. Because no child has actually ever died from boredom.
Although you may have to withstand some whining, bored kids will eventually learn to stretch their creative muscles and come up with something to do. But you don’t have to totally abandon them in their time of need. “There has to be a fun book on the shelf” or “see if you can invent an interesting game outside” are gentle suggestions that leave enough openendedness for kids to tap into their creativity and resourcefulness.
When left to their own accord, kids may come up with slightly risky ideas for play. Rest assured that such activities are a healthy antidote to boredom. Climbing a tree or trying to break rocks with a hammer might result in a minor scrape or bruise, but research indicates there are a number of ways such activities benefit kids' development, such as developing executive functioning capabilities, risk-management skills, self-confidence, and independence.
4. Practice Digital Wellness
Even in the early days of the slow parenting movement, media consumption was flagged as a potential trap because of how advertising could drive kids toward the high of constantly buying the latest and greatest toy. Flashy ads also invited tension into the parent-child relationship through kids making incessant requests for the latest and greatest thing they saw on TV.
The media landscape has changed drastically since then, but the impact of screens is still powerful, going so far as to literally change young kids’ brains by increasing deficits in impulse control, attention span, executive functioning, and overall cognitive functioning.
Although parents can subscribe to are ad-free options for gaming and streaming at a premium price point to undercut some of the initial concerns of the slow parenting movement, incessant requests from kids for more screen time can still introduce a frantic and sometimes adversarial component to the parent-child dynamic, not so dissimilar to when kids beg for new stuff.
Thus, screen time remains a difficult problem for slow parents. Media abstinence just isn’t an option most families are willing to embrace. This is why Teymoorian advocates for a conscious consumption of media with a focus on digital wellness. She doesn’t recommend cutting out screens altogether, but instead focusing on empowering kids to use technology positively, with consideration for their overall well-being.
“Digital wellness for kids involves mindful and balanced use of digital media, focusing on learning and creativity rather than constant entertainment,” she says. For example, instead of mindlessly scrolling through YouTube Shorts, they can use an app that allows them to create digital art.
Additionally, parents should turn their attention inward. “Parents can foster healthier relationships with digital devices,” Teymoorian says, “by modeling responsible online behavior that helps children understand the importance of balancing screen time with other activities.”
As with most aspects of slow parenting, “mindful and balanced” is the key. Because just as frenzied parenting isn’t working for a lot of families, screeching-to-a-halt parenting isn’t a healthy option in the long term either as kids benefit from enriching activities like clubs, teams, community groups, and creative arts activities.
Taking steps to remain present in the moment is a key focus of the slow movement in general and slow parenting in particular. But be aware that it takes quite a bit of brake-tapping to get family life slowed down to a reasonable pace — and keep it there.
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