With After-School Activities, Less May Be More

Editor's Note: As parents, we naturally want our children to have as many opportunities for growth as possible. But how much is too much when it comes to after-school commitments? This advice from a certified parenting educator can help you strike the right balance for your family.

Could it possibly be the beginning of another school year? There can be an eager anticipation of the year ahead as new classes are formed and friendships are renewed. Moreover, the beginning of the school year marks the renewal of extra-curricular activities: soccer, music lessons, religious instruction, dance classes, Scouts, gymnastics, and on and on and on. Involvement in these activities can enrich your children’s lives and help them to master increasingly difficult skills. They also create a sense of connection to people and a feeling of belonging to organizations and groups that are important to them.

However, transition to the structure and demands of the academic year can cause quite an adjustment, which is felt by everyone in the family. The change in pace alone can cause ripples of tension in the house. No longer can days be unstructured and evening plans decided spontaneously. There are now set schedules to follow and increased responsibilities to meet — places to go and things to do. Even for children whose summer was structured with camp or other activities, the school year still brings with it added pressures.

The issues with over-committing

Your children’s schedules may be frenetic and exhausting to them and to you. You may feel pushed to enroll them in activities, not because they want to participate but because so many other children are so involved. Or you can be coerced by your children, against your better judgment and intuition about what is right, to have them do more than feels comfortable to you.

Society puts a great deal of emphasis on children’s achievements, both in school and in extra-curricular activities. There is pressure for children to acquire skills at too quick a pace and for their parents to enroll them in an overwhelming number of activities. However, this can have a negative effect on your children’s development, causing them to grow up faster than is good for them or to be overwhelmed by the expectations placed upon them. They often don’t have the opportunity to relax, play, be quiet and be unscheduled. In other words, to just be kids.

While learning and building broader skills are certainly very important parts of a child’s healthy development, remember that a balance of work and free time is essential for children. It is helpful to appreciate the value of having fun and to even enjoy some silliness yourself. Play is children’s work, and children who are allowed to play are likely to be more emotionally healthy and creative than those who are not given the time. Being aware of this can take a lot of pressure off you to sign your children up for multiple activities and can help to make the transition to the fall schedule less stressful for the whole family.

Each family needs to decide for itself the degree of structure, involvement, and busy-ness that feels right. There is no one correct formula for every family and every child. Some families relish and thrive on a very active schedule, while others need more down-time to feel comfortable and nurtured. Following are some things you can consider that will help you to develop the balance that fits your family’s style and preferences.

How to maintain a balance

  • Know your child and your child’s limits. Take your child’s temperament into account when deciding how many activities he/she should become involved in. Certain children can handle and cope with a very busy schedule; others need more quiet, unstructured, free time.
  • Know your family and recognize its needs. Often today, family members are so rushed that there is little opportunity to connect with one another. It is important to create opportunities for family togetherness and times for pleasure and relaxation. These times can be as simple as scheduling a few times a week when everyone eats a meal together and shares the events of their day. If dinner doesn’t work for your family, perhaps breakfast will. Others find that planning a few family “dates” each month is a good way to connect with one another. No matter how crazed everyone is, if you can make sure that this together time is included in the schedule, everyone will benefit.
  • Know yourself and your own limits. If you find yourself being resentful of your children’s busy schedules and the endless carpools that result, step back to create a healthy balance for everyone. Remember that by taking care of yourself in this way, you will be modeling for your children how they can take care of themselves.

Audrey Krisbergh is a Certified Parenting Educator. This article has been reprinted with permission from The Center for Parenting Education.

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