As a parent, it is only natural to want the best for your kids. You want to help them excel in life and it is your responsibility to ensure that they have enough opportunities to witness and experience a wide range of activities. But when does enough opportunities’ become too much? If your children are exhausted by the end of the week, could it be possible that you are over scheduling your children? And let’s be frank while your kids may love playing softball, football or baseball and may ‘want’ to learn how to play the piano or indulge in their art lessons; the bottom line is that YOU are the one over scheduling them. These are parental decisions and parents need to make sure that they are allowing their kids enough down time to truly be a kid. Isn’t one activity at a time enough for a 5 year old?
For many parents, the over scheduling happens by accident. You see a listing at your local Recreation Department or YMCA for a Mommy & Me music class that starts at 12 months and you enroll, hoping to enrich you and your child’s life. You shell out the money, and then sit through an hour or two per week, listening to Mozart and letting your ‘barely a toddler’ child to beat on a drum. Your hoping that this experience will prepare them for preschool, help them learn to follow directions or even ‘socialize’ them to some degree. Most parents cringe at the idea that their child wont be socialized enough, or that they might not be ‘as good’ at things as another child. Truth be told, their development is hindered no more by Mommy and Me classes, than it would be should you allow them to explore a cabinet full of Tupperware containers.
Many parents defend their over scheduling by saying that their children love the activities. This is particularly true for older kids. Psychologists however, insist that when kids start whining about attending practices or classes, are missing sleep, are exhausted by the end of the week, or are unable to have any free time or down time where they can beat to the rhythm of their OWN drum parents are actually setting their kids up to fail or worse, burn out. This explains why so many young athletes today, peak before high school and then give up their sport of choice altogether before college. Or why, so many intellectual children drop out of college midway through in search of some sort of hiatus to experience down time. And, it also explains just one of the reasons why children today become bored so quickly.
If you aren’t sure if you are over scheduling your child, you should try this little experiment. Instead of going to class, or rushing to practice send your children out to the yard to play. Typically, an overscheduled child especially one who has been chronically so, will feel lost at sea on a wave of boredom. They won’t know how to fill their own time, and will likely seek out other ways to entertain themselves. They might come in looking for an Ipod, or flipping on a video game. Since they are so accustomed to their life being an entourage of events and activities, and are not accustomed to down town they have forgotten how to play.
Experts, believe that parents should drop around 10% of their activities right now. Instead of enrolling children in 2, 3, or even 4 extra curricular activities they should strictly allow their children to participate in only one a time. Not only, is this more affordable for the average family, but it also teaches children to make choices and to truly listen to their hearts when it comes to activities that THEY (not YOU) are interested in. Plus, by having them choose one activity at a time you are still allowing plenty of time for them to figure out what to do when they get sent out to the backyard to play.
Since part of the reason that so many parents over schedule their children is in the hopes of ‘getting them ahead,’ or ‘giving then an edge,’ you might find solace in the fact that experts believe over scheduling is actually counter productive to this goal. Experts also insist that over scheduling leads to ‘emotional isolation,’ and doesn’t allow them to truly be in charge of the things that they enjoy or are interested in.
It is important as a parent to set limits and boundaries with your children. Bottom line is that while your 5 year old may enjoy ballet class, they shouldn’t be forced to do it more than once or twice a week. And, the minute they start balking at the idea of class or losing interest parents should be listening. Certainly, you should make them finish the course they have signed up for which teaches your children responsibility and commitment, but they shouldn’t be forced to continue beyond that. Too often, parents decide what is good for their children, or what their children are good at based on their childhood or interests instead of letting the kids decide. And kids take note of the fact that they are pleasing their parents by participating, which puts a lot of undue pressure on the children.
You should also listen to your children in more ways than one. If you notice them getting cranky, if they seem to be developing attitude problems, are overly tired, are bored easily or have changes in their sleep or dietary habits they may be experiencing stress from too many activities. If they don’t seem to be putting much effort into their activities, are getting sick more often than normal, or are losing interest in going to classes or practices they likely need a break. Down time is a good thing and it is something that children of all ages need to be happy and situated in life. And best part, it’s free. Instead of singing up for so many activities and classes, consider choosing just one and use the rest of the time to enjoy the fleeting moments of childhood with your children.