Intentional parents help their children learn skills, gain confidence, grow in character, find interests, and experience new opportunities. When they are young, we desire to give them every opportunity to discover what they love and where they will succeed.
Often, this results in busy family schedules. We are presented the opportunity for busyness by living in communities that offer countless options. We feel compelled by the fear that our kids will fall behind. And we are guilted into the life by relatives, friends, or neighbors.
Even worse, there seems to be a little voice inside each of us calling us to impress others by the success of our children. As the philosopher Ernest Becker might say, “We exalt our children into the position of our own ‘immortality symbol’.”
Somewhere along the way, childhood activities became less about the goals outlined above and more about trying to keep up with everyone else. They became less about our kids and more about us—as if busy, successful kids is a badge of honor we could wear on our sleeves to parties and social outings.
41% of children, age 9-13, said they feel stressed either most of the time or always because they have too much to do. And more than three-quarters of kids surveyed said they wished they had more free time.
Now, don’t misread me. There is great value in extracurricular activities. Kids learn teamwork, discipline, and social skills. Some studies correlate physical play with improved intelligence. Each of us would be wise to count the benefit of involving our children in a variety of extracurricular activities.
That being said, we would also be wise to consider the costs associated with overscheduling children.
More and more families are eating dinner on the fly, often grabbing fast food on their way to soccer practice or music lessons. Unhealthy eating habits aside, this robs many kids of the important, life-influencing opportunity of simply eating together and discussing the day.
Overscheduled kids miss out on opportunity for extended free play. Free play allows kids to burn off energy and learn social skills in an unstructured environment. It provides opportunity for kids to exercise their imagination, create games, and refine rules. It forces children to learn awareness, police themselves, and develop empathy.
Overscheduled children lose the space to simply be with themselves and learn the art of being alone. In our noisy, busy world, the importance of developing the life skill of solitude, meditation, and quietly being with oneself can not be overstated.
Children need an opportunity to explore their world and themselves. They should be provided the space to discover their own passions and talents. Overscheduling kids from one activity to another often stunts their development in this area.
It would be wise for us to rethink the heavy scheduling of our children.
What strategies might we implement to slow down and create margin in our family’s schedule? Consider these 9 ideas.
Slowing Down Your Family’s Schedule
1. Discern where the motivation is coming from: you or your child. Take a step back and honestly evaluate the activities, teams, organizations, and clubs your child is enrolled in. Is the underlying motivation truly the welfare of your child? Or are there personal motivations shaping your decisions: succumbing to pressure, trying to impress other parents, or trying to make up for missed opportunities in your own childhood?
2. Determine an ideal baseline number of activities. Without consulting your calendar, ask yourself this question: “Ideally, how many hours each week should my child be involved in structured, organized activities outside of school?” This will likely vary by age, personality, need, and even season. Once a baseline has been determined, compare this with your current calendar. Are the numbers close? Or do adjustments need to be made?
3. Elevate the importance of family dinnertime. According to the American Dietetic Association, eating together as a family during adolescence is associated with lasting positive dietary choices in the future. Eating together as a family promotes relationship, understanding, and love. It provides opportunity for kids to digest not only their food, but also the events of the day. Elevate its importance. Guard it. Most likely, you will not be able to eat together every night of the week. But using it as a reference point in your decision-making will provide a valuable filter in saying yes or no to future opportunities.
4. Schedule time for yourself to be with them. The most important influence in their life is you. You love them the most and know them the best. Too often, we take this for granted and just assume we will find quality time with them as we go our separate ways. But quality time does not occur without the presence of quantity time.
5. Leave space between events. A spaced-out calendar is more enjoyable than one crammed too tight. In your weekly calendar, create space. Sometimes, this may mean waking early or eating early to relieve the anxiety of rushing out the door. Other times (vacations for example), this may display itself by scheduling one less activity each day—or adding “walk to the bakery” instead.
6. Develop a family, weekly routine. Help your kids navigate their schedules by establishing a weekly schedule. Some scheduled events are difficult to move: school, sports practices, religious activities. Others are more flexible: weekly chores, bathing schedules, play dates. Intentionally establish a family routine that children can learn to rely on each week.
7. Reduce your personal commitments. Embrace the seasons of life. There are times in our lives when we are more available than others. Raising young children is an important responsibility and will require time. Provide yourself with the necessary space to do it well by removing less-important commitments from your personal schedule. You’ll be glad you did. You can never get the time back once it’s gone.
8. Own less stuff. It is difficult to recognize how much time and energy our possessions take from us. They require our attention to be cleaned, organized, managed, maintained, repaired, and removed—not to mention all the time we spend on the front end just to make the money to buy the item in the first place. Owning less means less burden, less stress, less anxiety, and less time spent caring for it.
9. Leave room to add. If our schedules are so full with no room for margin, there is little opportunity to add something new or something better (whether that be joining a gym, getting to know the neighbors, or handling a family crisis). A too-full calendar leaves no room for addition. As you consider the coming months, take the bold step of actually under-scheduling your family calendar. This will provide margin when something better comes along.
Wise parents take their role seriously. They seek to develop talents, skills, and self-sufficiency in their children. However, they realize this does not occur best within the confines of a cluttered schedule.
Busy is not the same as productive. (tweet that)