As a teacher it can be easy to see that not only do we as adults lead extremely busy lives, but so do our children. People used to ask me if my class was difficult to teach on a Friday afternoon because the children were tired. You might be surprised to discover that it was not Friday but Monday that was the most affected. Most of the children had spent the greater part of their weekends involved in so many extra curricular activities that by the time Monday rolled around, they were absolutely worn out.
Of course, it is important that our children take part in these things but I wonder whether we are scheduling too many activities for them. In days gone by, children spent many hours involved in imaginative play. They created cubby houses, played Cowboys and Indians or spent time watching ants walk along the back fence. It seems that we as modern parents might be afraid that if we don’t give our children access to all of the opportunities available, we will be somehow depriving them and affecting their future prospects. I wish to propose that by trying to timetable every waking moment for our children, we are depriving them of the opportunity to develop a great number of more important life skills.
Children need time to learn how to problem solve, make decisions, develop relationships, and build self reliance. Children, like adults need time to think, reflect, contemplate and read. Free time teaches children to be self sufficient and gives them the opportunity to solve problems that don’t occur in tightly structured, adult led activities but do occur in real life. The ability to process an activity they have just completed can only occur in those quiet times when they are free from distractions and the pressures to perform. If we are filling every waking moment, these things simply cannot occur.
1) They are always busy. – If your child has no down time, time to just sit, think, play, be alone, then they are probably doing too much.
2) They constantly complain about being tired. – Headaches, general feelings of being unwell, difficulty sleeping, can all be warning signs of too many activities.
3) You spend too much time in the car.- If the car has become your second home because you are always shuffling your children from one activity to the next, perhaps it is too much.
4) Your children are losing their friendships – If it is impossible to arrange a play date after school because there are no free afternoons to fit one in, then that’s a sign it’s time to cut back.
5) You no longer sit down to eat together as a family– When one parent is always out running a child to another activity, time to develop family relationships can suffer.
6) You feel tired from all of the running around– If you feel tired from all of the driving you have to do to get your child to all of their events, consider how the child must feel actually having to participate in them.
8) Your child feels pressured to achieve. – Do your expectations match their ability? If there is a mismatch between their ability and what they are required to achieve, persevering can be detrimental to their self image.There must be physical space for there to be mental space. Click To Tweet
If some or all of these points resonate with you, there are definite steps you can take to turn the situation around.
1) Think about whether it is your child who is pushing for the activity or yourself. If it is important only to you, consider dropping it.
2) Limit your child’s scheduled activities to no more than 3 each week. eg. 1 sport, 1 social activity such as scouts and 1 artistic activity such as music or art. Ideally these should not take up more than 1 hour per week each.
3) Make time to play with them. Play catch outside, go for a bike ride, play board games together, eat dinner as a family. Make these activities about fun rather than about competition or winning and develop in your child an enjoyment of doing an activity for its own sake rather than for an external reward. See ‘I stopped exercising and now I’m much healthier‘ for some thoughts on this.