Spring break starts today for many kids across the province — and the parents who didn't pack the time with activities might be onto something, says a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Vancouver Coastal Health.

The idea of "free unstructured play" is what Dr. Shimi Kang is prescribing to overwhelmed families trying to juggle soccer meets, dance lessons and ice time.

"There's not a lot to do in terms of how easy it is, it's just our own anxieties that draw us to do so much scheduling, ideally it's all about balance," she said.

The time kids aren't confined to a school schedule is the time Kang says is most valuable for their development of healthy habits related to creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and moral compass.

"Boredom is a word we stigmatize in our culture as wasting time, but if you look at boredom so many scientific inventions, wonderful poems, literature, come out of what we call relaxed wakefulness or times of contemplation."

Children who are used to scheduled activities might have trouble filling their free time with self guided imaginative play, and she warns that some of the expected whining will follow. But with some patience and a nudge in the right direction, she says kids always "find a way to play."

The reality of parents trying to fit spring break time into their own work schedule is a challenge and for those who need to use childcare services, Kang says to look for places that value free unstructured play.

"As anxiety rates are going up in kids, this is more available," she said, adding that programs she has worked with involve mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and gratitude which are "positive mental traits that are directly related to stress management and reducing anxiety."

Self-monitored screen time

With screens so readily available to quell the boredom, teaching kids about balance and monitoring their time on devices is important to help encourage productive activity.

"Technology is like air, it is everywhere, and like diet we want to give our children the education of healthy versus junk diet and technology."

Helping your children to make a list of the essential activities like eating healthy meals, exercise or outdoor time and sleep allows them to work with a skeleton schedule, ideally empowering them to create their own limits on devices and time for self guided activities.

The same goes for parents when creating schedules for the family.

Kang recommends prioritizing family dinners, unstructured play and enough sleep before filling in the rest.

"As a parent we want to give our child every advantage, however more doesn't mean better," she said.

With files from the CBC's On The Coast


To hear the full interview listen to audio labelled Boredom could benefit kids over spring break