Your child benefits from having free time to grow
By Doreen Nagle
Gannett News Service
Do the kids scream "Stop the whirl, I want to get off!" as you shuttle them between basketball, flute and Spanish lessons? Maybe you need some ideas to slow the not-so-merry-go-round most kids and families are on today.
Gannett News Service
Two decades ago, kids had twice as much unstructured playtime as they do today time to just be a kid without having to be some place to learn, practice, compete or perform according to a schedule.
Children with little unstructured time miss out on creating and discovering on their own. On the other hand, a child allowed time alone to create can use his imagination to increase his self worth: "Look what I made, Mommy."
Even on family vacations (families today vacation together 25 percent less frequently than past generations) the kids are often still on a schedule, learning horseback riding or skateboarding.
Walking the line
There is a fine line between wanting to give children every opportunity to learn and participate, and pushing them over the edge. Examine motives: Are you gratifying your own need to have your child excel, or does your 6-year-old really want to take advanced Russian?
Stop the whirl
Kids are not just short adults. Lower your expectations of your child's performance. Forget the need to keep up with the Joneses; it's OK to take a season off from sports.
If you must be structured, schedule some unstructured playtime as religiously as you would a lesson you had paid for and committed to. Tell your children they have time to play with whatever they like, and then watch them light up.
When choosing extracurricular activities for your child, take into account not only what is available, but also her capacity for learning and what activities she enjoys. Is she musically inclined or tone deaf? Does he prefer sports in which a personal best is pursued, or does the thrill of being part of a team strategy excite him?
Limit the number of hours, days of the week or nights that the kids are away from home fulfilling commitments.
Praise your children where they are. Let them bloom where they are planted. Does it really matter if they receive a blue belt in karate vs. a green one?
Big fish, little pond. Not every child can or will excel in honors math classes. Instead of prodding them to the point of anguish, let your children rest on their laurels in a regular class. They will feel good about themselves.
Tip from the parenting trenches
"Balance is the answer. We trade off activities with free time. For instance, if my daughter has had a particularly rough week studying for a big exam, we let her get away without chores. After all, school is her primary work and she needs a vacation from 'work' stress just like everyone else does."
Doreen Nagle is author of "But I Don't Feel Too Old To Be A Mommy" (HCI, $12.95). She welcomes your parenting tips and concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org.