Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How Much is Too Much?

Many parents with good intentions have a difficult time deciding how many extra-curricular activities they should involve their children in. Parents want to allow their children many opportunities to learn and grow in different areas. As a result, some children end up in music lessons, multiple organized sports, and various other activities, leaving them with barely any unorganized play time and less family time. Parents also seem to be overscheduling their children at younger and younger ages. One study found that a stressed pre-schoolers brain looks like a stressed adult brain with high levels of cortisol and adrenaline. Children may respond to this stress by acting out. As a parent, I have noticed a lot of pressure to get my kids involved in everything available to them at their ages. So what can parents do to make sure their children are not overscheduled and are participating in meaningful activities?
  • Do not push your child too hard to do something they do not want to. Let them have an active voice in choosing what they would like to participate in, within your limits.

  • Recognize that children do not have to try everything in order to become successful well-rounded adults.

  • Do not force your child to do something just because you feel you missed the opportunity as a child.

  • Make sure you are still leaving time for sit-down family dinners the majority of the week.

  • Make sure you still have time that you are able to spend altogether as a family and one-on-one with each of your children.

  • Recognize when your child is stressed out and try to minimize their scheduled activities when this occurs.

Finding the right balance between scheduled and unscheduled activities is difficult. And organized activities can have great benefits for your children. I think the key is making sure that you allow your child to be a child with plenty of time for unstructured play. I loved the organized sports I participated in as a child, but some of my fondest memories are climbing up the tree in my front yard with my brother and sister and reading books, or playing army with my brother through the wheat field next to my house, and I always enjoyed playing neighborhood night games like kick-the-can. If our kids are overscheduled, they cannot fully enjoy just being kids. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the LDS church shared the following in a talk entitled "Good, Better, Best" found here:

"In choosing how we spend time as a family, we should be careful not to exhaust our available time on things that are merely good and leave little time for that which is better or best. A friend took his family on a series of summer vacation trips, including visits to memorable historic sites. At the end of the summer he asked his teenage son which of these good summer activities he enjoyed most. The father learned from the reply, and so did those he told of it. 'The thing I liked best this summer,' the boy replied, 'was the night you and I laid on the lawn and looked at the stars and talked.' Super family activities may be good for children, but they are not always better than one-on-one time with a loving parent."

"The amount of children-and-parent time absorbed in the good activities of private lessons, team sports, and other school and club activities also needs to be carefully regulated. Otherwise, children will be overscheduled, and parents will be frazzled and frustrated. Parents should act to preserve time for family prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, and the other precious togetherness and individual one-on-one time that binds a family together and fixes children's values on things of eternal worth."

As we schedule our children in various activities, I hope we can think about what will truly benefit them the most. Please share your thoughts with us on the following:

How have you managed to not overschedule your children? How do you decide what activities are the best to involve your children in? Do you think that overscheduling is a problem?

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