On a bulletin board mounted to the wall above my computer I’ve hung a large desk calendar that acts as our family command center, perpetually organizing our fast-paced life with four young children.
The oversized squares that encapsulate each date are chock-full with activities, meetings, schedules and reminders. Indeed, our family schedule is gaining some serious momentum with (almost) all of our children now in their school-age years.
Currently on my desk, sits a registration form for yet another activity my 10-year-old daughter’s shown interest in. Considering this additional extra-curricular commitment has sparked much thought and conversation in our household over the past week, and I think we’ve finally come to a consensus on our plan of action.
Finding a balance
Today’s children can participate in an abundance of structured extracurricular activities outside of the school day. Our challenge, as parents, is to find the right balance — for our children, our families and ourselves — between healthy enrichment and activity overload.
There are many benefits to participating in extracurricular activities. According to research presented by Harry Kimball from the Child Mind Institute, after-school activities, especially for older children, can provide structure and protection, which may deter kids from making unhealthy choices (involving substance abuse or other dangerous behaviors). After-school activities help children develop confidence, talents, passions and all kinds of relationships. They can offer outlets for creative expression and physical activity, too.
Over scheduling, however, can lead to stress, not only for our children, but also for us as parents. It’s easy to be caught up in the modern culture of busyness and it can be difficult to reflect on the consuming habits of our lifestyle.
Quality of life
Taking a mindful approach to our commitments — by looking at our time management, lifestyle choices and the cues our children give us through their behaviors — is crucial. Involving our children in these conversations and decisions is an opportunity to model and apply these critical life skills.
In the New York Times article — Overscheduled Children: How Big a Problem? — Bruce Feiler shares suggestions from psychologist Michael Thompson: Regardless of the activity in which your child is engaged, it’s more important to consider your child’s quality of life by asking the questions: Is your child joyful? Is he or she eating and sleeping well? Does he or she have enough time to complete homework? In the same piece, child and adolescent psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, author of The Over-Scheduled Child, commended involvement in enrichment activities, but expressed the importance of balancing them with down time.
Finding our own way
There isn’t a concrete solution that works best for every child or every family.
In my own experience as a teacher and mother of four, I’ve developed an understanding of how family values, dynamics and economics can influence the decisions families make for their children. What might work for one family may be out of the question for another.
Our plan of action right now is to pass up on this newest opportunity for our oldest daughter. When we made that decision together, thoughtfully, she even expressed some relief. (Me, too!)
Yes, many of her friends will be participating and she’ll be missing out on this particular opportunity to develop a new interest and skill set. But making this choice will allow us to continue to have dinner together as a family each weeknight and provide an opportunity for some unstructured free time at home, which is a priority in our life right now.
Ultimately, the choice came down to intuition. I think our daughter knew it would be too much right now. She just needed the conversation, support and permission to say no.
I invite you to reflect on your own family life, consider your child, your family and yourself when making decisions that impact your family life.