When was the last time you spent time with one or more of your children in an unplanned, unstructured activity? Do you feel anxious when you have time with your children alone? Do you feel that you should arrange play dates when your children “have nothing to do”? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone.
More often than not, parents in today’s society have never learned how to “be” with their children or to “play” with their children. In fact, I believe that many of them are afraid to be with their children. They want to do what’s best for them, and yet they don’t trust that unstructured time with them can be what is best. They have simply lost that instinct.
Many experts have come out and told parents that over-scheduling is not healthy for their children, but for many it is still a way of life for their family. They plan so many activities per child that a computerized scheduling system seems necessary to coordinate the carpools, coaching, games, dance recitals, etc. Some children are stressed; others seem to go with the flow. But I have never met a parent in this situation who is not stressed by the constant on the go schedule.
So why do parents get themselves and their children into this situation and seem unable and unwilling to change it? Somewhere over the past few decades, parents lost confidence in themselves as those that knew what was best for their children. At the same time, a proliferation of sports and activities for children developed along with the idea that early involvement was necessary for a child to be able to become competitive and successful when they were older.
A corresponding competitive spirit among parents emerged and seemed to match the growing industry of coaching, tutoring, and instructing young children in everything from soccer to computer science. Parents feared that their children would be at a disadvantage were they not included in these sorts of activities and so the idea that time spent with teachers, coaches, instructors and the like was “better” than time spent as a family arose. What’s more, for some parents, living vicariously through their children’s achievements, can become a powerful force of its own. With all of these competing factors, where does this leave the role of the family in a child’s life?
If you see signs of this kind of behavior in your own family and are tired of this lifestyle for yourself and for your child reflect on the following… Children do best when they are involved in sports or arts programs that stress enjoyment rather than intense competition. Children also avoid stress and the associated “burnout” when they have a variety of activities and are not pushed into “one” sport or activity to the exclusion of all others and of family time.
Children need time with you. Throwing a ball, shooting baskets, playing music, dancing in the living room – enjoying one another — are all very important ways to connect with your children. Sounds old fashion? Well it is! But try spending some unstructured time with your child and work through the anxiety you will feel that your child is “missing something”. Then follow some simple rules:
- One team in one sport per child per season, and one non-sport activity such as in music, art, dance, creative writing, theater or computers.
- Avoid very intense competitive leagues or traveling teams that require a child to practice more than one to two times a week or that demand play on holiday weekends and during vacation time.
- Avoid intensive dance, gymnastic or music programs that require rehearsals more than two times per week.
If you follow these rules there will be plenty of “off time” for both parent and child. And you will hopefully see your anxiety decrease and your confidence increase as you spend more time with your child.
Lastly, remember — the chances of a child becoming a professional ball player, an Olympic gymnast, or a professional singer are really very small. But the chances that they will become a parent themselves who will have children who need them is really much greater. Try focusing on life lessons and developing skills that will help them meet those challenges and become better human beings. You will likely find far greater reward and satisfaction in these pursuits – and so will they.