School, sports, after-school activities, birthday parties and social commitments - all of these things compete for your child’s energy and attention on a daily basis. And now that kids are hopping on social media at increasingly younger ages, the pressure to participate can become fierce early on. All those images of friends playing sports, hanging out at a pool party or posing together in a gleeful gaggle may cause your child to feel like their schedule doesn’t quite measure up.
But no matter whose idea it is to keep kids busy and social 24-7, it’s ultimately every parent’s job to make sure kids don’t fall into the over-scheduling trap. Kids need their parents to make space for them to just be, so they don’t feel compelled to constantly do-do-do.
If parents don’t take an active role in supporting each child’s individuality, then their uniqueness is going to take a back seat to their busy schedule, and this can create feelings of isolation or even depression in kids, and lay the groundwork for workaholism later in life.
Kids discover their sense of self in the quiet moments of life when they can relax, be themselves and let their instincts lead. If they can’t find quiet, reflective moments in their overly busy lives, identifying individual desires may be delayed or denied. So be smarter than your sources, parents. Don’t let your child’s individuality get overlooked because you are keeping them steadily over-booked.
Prioritize the calendar
Before you add another activity into the busy mix, pause and consider what’s already on the schedule for the entire family. It’s only natural to want to do it all, but saying yes to everything will only exhaust everyone and cut into valuable family time. If you can manage another addition, consider it. If you can’t, then it’s time to prioritize.
Focus on enrichment
Does the activity bring more joy and energy into your child’s life, or does it create conflicts and anxiety? Joining the competitive soccer league may sound fun, but if your child does not enjoy the level of intensity, then maybe a local intramural league is a better fit.
Shrug off kiddie competition
Pressure to conform is ever-present in childhood. The kids next door participate in more activities than your kids? So what. Left to their own devices, kids will often compare their experiences with other kids and find theirs lacking. How many times have you heard that their friends’parents let them do this or that? Strong, secure parents can hear this without giving in to pressure. “They do? That’s nice. This is what we do and these are the reasons why.”
Find mentors of character
When you choose the activity, you also choose the role model who is in charge. Make sure coaches, organizers and leaders are the types of people you want influencing your kids. Mentors who focus on character model healthy choices, and allow kids to act like kids while helping them build skills in a measured manner. If you are concerned a coach or activity leader is over-zealous or too high-pressure, trust your instincts and investigate further.
Allow for downtime
Be sure your family has at least a day or two each week when no outside activities are on the schedule. Whether you participate in a religious Sabbath or not, everyone in the family can benefit from observing a weekly day of rest. And spending a whole day enjoying family time each week will bring your family closer and remind everyone that family comes first.
Encourage personal development
Kids need hobbies, just like adults. Private, personal activities that don’t have to be shared with others can be soothing, pleasurable and teach kids to become more self-directed. So if your child loves to bake, knit, build models or peer at the stars, support those interests. When you buy their special ingredients - pretty yarn, three types of glue or the slightly better telescope - you are saying, ‘I see you and I support the person you are becoming.’ Every child needs and wants this kind of recognition and acknowledgement from parents.
Be honest with yourself
Do you really care more about what others think of your kids than you do about your family’s overall happiness? Do you worry you are living in such a dog-eat-dog world that your child has to be hyper-busy to compete? Are you so concerned about your child’s social standing that you put them in activities they don’t care about to expose your child to the right kids? If any of these are true, take a step back. When it comes to scheduling your child, let their needs lead, not yours.
Watch for signals of over-doing
Is your child happily content or often tired and irritable? Do you have a mutual admiration society at home or are family members always snipping at each other? Is everyone sleeping well at night or is exhaustion the norm? Are you in charge of the schedule or do stress and pressure run the show? Remember that your family deserves to feel calm and content. Take charge of how you spend your time and your children will soon follow suit.
Relax, kick back and hang out
Take back your family’s quality of life by trying some of these simple strategies:
Have a family project you all work on year-round in a leisurely manner like a vegetable garden or even a puzzle.
Go on local outings with the mission of simply hanging out together.
Take an occasional family walk together in a go-to location when something challenging needs to be discussed and sorted out.
Watch a family double feature with popcorn, drinks and lively discussions.
Take the family to the library and spend an hour gathering books, magazines, music and DVDs.
Make Sunday brunch a ritual activity either at home or at an inexpensive local restaurant.
Have a casual but consistent family meeting once a week to get a better sense of how the kids are feeling about the ways they spend their time.
Christina is an author, journalist and coach who often writes on the topic of life balance and personal self-expression. She knows the power of saying no and is not afraid to use it.
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