With Our Kids’ Activities, When Is Enough, Enough?

 

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My young swimmers.

 

One of the many struggles of raising kids has to do with their extracurricular activities. What should we sign them up for and how much should they do?

The first thing we signed our kids up for was swimming. In fact, we started with a “mommy and me” class at our city pool when they were six months old. From there we went on to private swim lessons. The reason for our focus on the pool was water safety. We live in an area where most homes and all apartments and condos have pools, including our home. Young children die every year where we live and I was doing all I could to make sure my kids would not be included in those numbers.

While at the pool, we noticed older kids swimming laps with the Piranha Swim Team. We were impressed with their technique and the exciting energy of the team when they were on deck. We asked our children’s instructor if she thought our kids could ever make the team. When our son was six or seven years old, our instructor said he was ready. By that time we were taking him to piano lessons once a week, Boy Scouts, Karate, Tennis and had already dropped Tee Ball. Doesn’t that sound like a ridiculous amount of activities for one wee kid?

I remember racing from school to one activity followed by another. Realizing I forgot something, I erratically made a U-turn and hit a curb. I was shaking as I called Triple A to change my flat tire. Something had to change. This was not a healthy way to live.

We let go of Boy Scouts and Karate. We stuck with piano lessons and swimming. My son continued with tennis for a few years and in middle school tried basketball at his school, plus school plays.

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My daughter in royal blue.

 

I enrolled my daughter in ballet because that was my passion. Piano too, because it is supposed to do so much for mathematics and the brain. She wanted to swim, not be a ballerina. And she hated piano with a passion. She throws it out from time to time, how I forced her to take piano years beyond what was reasonable. It took both her ballet and piano teacher to suggest that enough was enough!

I wrote a story this week for SwimSwam.com with five tips for when your child wants to miss practice. There are so many things I’ve learned through the years. I wish I could go back and let my son know that he didn’t have to go to swim meets or practice and his love of music was just as important. I’d ask him if he wanted to quit, but he’d always say, “No, I love swimming.” He did, but he had interests that he was more passionate about and he didn’t want to disappoint us, because we’d invested so much of our family time around the pool and team. He wanted to be in Junior Statesmen of America. Plus, he started a band was writing music and performing around the area. We tried to make room for everything, but it was a struggle. Also, if I could get a redo, I’d have let my daughter quit piano early on. Why go through daily battles of practice and dragging your kids to an activity they don’t enjoy?

My advice looking back is to expose them to a number of activities and let them find their passion. Then support them wholeheartedly in whatever they choose. Also, don’t overschedule them. Allow them downtime to dream, reflect, play and be kids.

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A duet at the annual piano recital.

 

What advice do you have when choosing activities for your kids?

 

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When Should Children Specialize In Sports? Part II

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This is one of my earlier posts about sports specialization. I still agree with most of this, but I see one factor about earlier sports specialization that isn’t so great–repetitive use injuries. However, I don’t know if a swimmer’s shoulder would still be injured if they started at ages 9 to 11, versus age 5. That’s a tough question to answer.

 

“Do you ever get tired of trying and coming up short of your goal? You’re just not getting where you want to be and you’ve tried and tried again? For many people the capacity to push through obstacles to get where they want to go demonstrates a strength of character trait groomed and implanted in their early childhood. Changing one’s character later in life happens, but it’s usually difficult.” ***

Two common complaints against specializing in a sport at an early age are: it causes burnout, and there’s no clear advantage to it. (Last week I wrote about isolation and specialization.) 

I disagree with both based on my experience as a swim parent. What I find odd is how many athletes are going to burn out if they are achieving success? If they’re winning races and moving on to the next level, they will feel a sense of accomplishment.

I have a friend who was captain of his golf team at Harvard. He has a zero handicap. I asked him if he ever got bored playing golf.

He said, “I never get tired of hitting great shots.”

There appears to be a clear advantage of specialization in a single sport — at least sports like golf or swimming, where there are specific skills and techniques. If a child is jumping from sport to sport, rather than focusing one sport, that child probably won’t progress much — unless they are truly gifted athletes.

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When swimmers hit a plateau and don’t improve for more than a year — which is like multiple years to a person 11 or 12  years old — but they stick with it and eventually break through and improve — the life lessons learned are incredible! Talk about a reward!

Take my daughter who is turning 18 this week. She began swimming at age five. She had lots of improvement until about age 11 when she couldn’t break the one minute mark for the 100 free for more than a year and a half. I’ll never forget her frustration, but she also showed determination. She didn’t quit. She didn’t try another sport for a season here or there. She worked very hard and rarely missed swim practice.  At a Junior Olympic swim meet — she went 57 seconds in the 100 free.

Her coach asked her, “What happened to 59 and 58?”

She said with a smile, “They are highly over-rated!”

The lesson she learned was that with hard work, success will come eventually. In the meantime, perseverance was nothing to sneeze at. She’s still swimming, by the way, and earned a college scholarship.

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Regardless when a child starts a sport, they have to love it! They can’t be putting in the hours to please their parents or their coach. Also, when they are very young, it has to be fun. If they aren’t having fun, it’s tough to keep them in the sport.

Building character and strength in our children can be a part of their specialized sports experience!

***The quote is from SWIMSWAM: Jason Lezak & Seeds of Third Effort (worth reading!) by Chuck Warner, coach and author of And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence: This article is about Jason Lezak’s difficulties in college swimming and how it prepared him for the most amazing Olympic relay. Ever. 

More valuable info for parents about swimming can be found at USA SWIMMING.

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When do you think children should specialize in a single sport? What advantages and disadvantages do you see?

No Parents Allowed!


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This week, while I am recovering from surgery, I am reposting some of my earliest blog posts. Enjoy! I’ll try to make it back to work next week.

I was sitting outside a roped off area with a sign posted “No Parents Allowed” at a three-day swim meet in LA with close to 1,400 swimmers.

“But, I HAVE to get my son this bottle of water,” a mom begged the volunteer parent wearing a neon orange vest, who was in charge of guarding the entrance to the “swimmer’s only” area.

“ARE YOU PROMISING TO GET MY SALLY TO HER EVENT ON TIME? I’M HOLDING YOU ACCOUNTABLE!” another mother yelled with her finger wagging in the face of the orange-vested volunteer. The mom was shaking in frustration and anger.

I sat calmly by — watching, observing, and remembering  —  that was me. Not the yeller, but the one pleading. My daughter is 18 and going off to college next fall. She’s been a swimmer since age five.

Helicopter after helicopter mom argued and pleaded with the volunteers, who are swim parents themselves, on how they’d just be a second to find their child, bring them water, lunch, or make sure they made it to their event.

I wanted to tell them “RELAX!” If their swimmers had made it this far, to the season’s championship meet, they’re going to be okay. Calm down, let them hang out with their friends and teammates. They’ll be fine and will survive. After all, I had just made it through watching my daughter swim the mile. I didn’t get up once and scream, “GO!” which I have done at every flip turn for the past 15 years. If I can calm down and let go — you other moms can too!

And — if they don’t drink enough water, or miss their event — they might actually learn from it.

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Here are 10 great things to remember as a parent of children in any sport. It’s from USA Swimming.

10 COMMANDMENTS FOR SWIM PARENTS

I. Thou shall not impose thy ambitions on thy child.

II. Thou shall be supportive no matter what.

III. Thou shall not coach thy child.

IV. Thou shall only have positive things to say at a competition.

V. Thou shall acknowledge thy child’s fears.

VI. Thou shall not criticize the officials.

VII. Thou shall honor thy child’s coach.

VIII. Thou shall be loyal and supportive of thy team.

IX. Thy child shall have goals besides winning.

X. Thou shall not expect thy child to become an Olympian.

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More handy tips can be found at USA Swimming’s page for parents.

FYI, the top photo of my daughter’s relay team was taken by a 12-year-old teammate, who obviously can make it to her events, stay hydrated, swim fast, and take great pics! The second photo is my daughter 12 years ago. The last photo was taken from the “parents only” section of the East LA College pool.

Video of my daughter’s 400 free relay from TAKEITLIVETV from Feb. 17.

Advice for teens and parents–be present in the moment

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Enjoying a moment in Seattle with my son.

I discovered some profound parenting advice in an online publication called the Montgomery Advertiser in a short column called “Parenting: Teach your teen to live for today” by Tom Tozer and Bill Black, Dads2Dads.

“Slow down, the future is always ahead of you

The future isn’t a destination. It’s not like arriving at school or stopping at the gas station. Your future is composed of intangibles — hopes, dreams and possibilities. The future urges you to keep moving, dreaming, changing and growing. Simply put, the future is that part of life that once you arrive, you’re still not there. No wonder it’s hard to look at and to answer that probing question: What are you going to do with your life?

“Young man, young woman, set your goals but keep them flexible. Evaluate them. Discard those you lose interest in and make new ones. Keep your options open. Now’s the time to try new things, to make new discoveries and prepare for sudden forks in the road. Welcome those sharp curves and U-turns. These detours help you evaluate the direction you’re taking. Relax.

“While you certainly want to set your sights ahead, avoid getting so wrapped up in plotting, planning and pursuing the future that you fail to enjoy the present. The future is a great place to think about, but the present is the best place to be.”

With my kids going through transitions in their lives, from childhood to adulthood, and not knowing exactly the path to what they want to be, I will share this article with them. So much of our lives are spent planning and preparing for the future. But what is the is future? (In reality, we go from point A to point B and that B becomes point A.) We never get into the future. We have the moment we are in and should try to make the most of it.

I do spend a lot of time reflecting on the past and anticipating the future, but I also take time each day to enjoy the now. How do I do that? By enjoying a moment out in my backyard, watering my flowers. Walking around my park each morning before I “start my day.” Spending time being with my friends and family—by putting my phone down.

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I took a moment to capture the beauty outside the pool at PAC 12s.

With my mom the past few days, I sat with her and we played hand after hand of cards. We whispered together playing Bingo and Laughter Yoga. (Ha ha ha -Ho ho ho. YAY! was the chant we learned and filled the room with belly laughs.) I stopped my life to be with her and be in the moment. With our son, he stopped his busy life last week to be with us and we enjoyed our moments together—whether we were at the pool watching the meet or taking a day trip to Pike Place Market, downtown Seattle.

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A wonderful day with my kiddos.

How do you enjoy the moment and get away from the planning and preparing for the future?
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What My Kids Learned While Staying Wet

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This was one of my first blog posts. This is also one of the pieces that I wrote about how positive swimming has been for me, my husband and kids. I hope you enjoy it!

One of the most important things they learned is perseverance. That stick-with-it never give up attitude that is ingrained in their brains after years of trying for swim goals and just missing them. Then trying and trying again and again until they make them. The very nature of swimming 50 weeks a year, six days a week, makes kids tough.

I’ll never forget my daughter’s frustration of missing her junior national cut by fractions of a second for two years. She didn’t give up. She worked hard. She would still miss.

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“Are you kidding me!” She said looking at the scoreboard to see her missing the coveted junior national cut by mere tenths of a second after dropping three full seconds on an 800-meter freestyle race.

The next race, she said, “I’m so done with this!”  She dove in with more determination than ever, and yes, she made her cut, dropping seconds on her 200-meter free and coming in second place to one of the fastest girls in the country.

So, what does all this have to do with life?  Take her hardest class, AP Stats.  She knows that she can do it. She just has to put in the work and time. That may mean getting up and into the classroom at 6 a.m. for extra help, rather than staying warm tucked into her bed. But, she does it — all on her own — without me suggesting it. Her teacher told me, “I know that she will do whatever it takes to be successful, so I am not worried about where her grade is today.”

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My son also swam. He worked so hard for every goal, trying to qualify for meets through ten years of year-round swimming. I’ll never forget his determination as an 8th grader. I was a chaperone for his Washington DC trip with his class. He knew he’d be missing too much swimming, so he would run up and down through the Mall, up and down the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, while everyone else strolled. At night in the hotel, he ran the gray cement staircases, up and down the five flights.

When he returned to the pool, he did it! He made his first Junior Olympic time.

Now he’s in college and he knows how to persevere. He wanted to work at the campus radio station. He put in his application as a freshman and was declined. As a junior he has been assigned a time slot on the FM station, moving up from his prior show on the AM.

You can listen to his show on kcsb here Fridays at 4 a.m. PST.

He wanted to be in the College of Creative Studies, “a graduate school for undergraduates.” He applied and was devastated when he was declined. I told him to move on, it was okay, get a ‘normal’ degree. But, he didn’t give up. The next year he applied again and was accepted. Learn more about the UCSB CCS program here. Just click.

I’ve had friends ask why my kids spend so much time in the pool, aren’t they missing out?

I beg to differ.  Spending most of their lives in the water has served them well. Being mostly wet has given them skills for life.

Find a local swim club here on the USA Swimming website.

 

 

Photo credits: The Palm Springs, CA Pool — one of the most beautiful views while swimming ever. My daughter diving wearing the yellow cap. Yellow-capped swimmers sometime at some club meet. And a great meme for a distance swimmer.

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The Pitfalls of Perfectionism and How We Can Help Our Kids Deal With It

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My son with his bandmates at his California Scholarship Federation banquet where he was named valedictorian.

In a recent article in the Washington Post called “Perfectionism among teens is rampant (and we’re not helping)” by Rachel Simmons, the author has three good tips for parents to help their kids with feelings of pressure and anxiety which stem from perfectionism.

I’m a perfectionist and I slave over my articles looking for typos. I come unhinged when one gets by me. Then, I expected nothing less than greatness from my kids–who by the way–didn’t let me down. When my son wanted the title of valedictorian and set out a plan his freshman year, I was there to help him make it. I’d remind him of his goal and to not let up his senior year during his quest. My daughter’s goals were in swimming and she was hard on herself and would turn frustration and disappointment in herself into fuel to try again and succeed.

I remember back in the days when I’d volunteer in the classroom, I’d watch kids who couldn’t finish their work if their life depended upon it. They’d write a sentence and then erase it, repeatedly. It was never perfect enough for them and they’d end up with a smudgy mess, which caused them more distress. My heart ached for these kids, and I tried to let them know they could just write anything down and it would be okay. My son struggled with his college essays because he said, “This is the most important thing I’ve ever written” and he would stare at a blank computer screen for eight hours each day.

Here’s what I learned from the WAPO article about perfectionism and how it leads to anxiety and depression. However, there are ways we can help our kids overcome the problems with perfectionism:

 I’ve spent the last two years talking with parents about the unprecedented stress and anxiety plaguing their adolescents — nearly half of whom, according to recent studies of college students, report feeling “overwhelmed by all I had to do.” Our conversations often end with parents expressing a mournful wish: “I just want her to be happy,” they tell me. “But she puts so much pressure on herself.”

As parents, we say this phrase from a place of good intention. We want to signal to our children that we don’t need or expect them to be perfect, and that we will love them no matter what. Yet the very phrasing of the statement — “on herself” — lays blame for distress at the feet of our teens, rather than a culture that is stoking the flames of their anxiety. It puts the onus for change on kids – just chill, we seem to be saying, and you’ll be okay! – letting the rest of us off the hook, even as we may unwittingly exacerbate their distress.

In fact, we may be making it worse. A new study called “Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time” finds that young people are more burdened than ever by pressure from others, and that includes parents. Psychologists Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill found that unhealthy perfectionism has surged among young adults, with the biggest increase seen in those who feel pressured by the expectations of others. Perfectionism, the study’s authors say, is a mix of excessively high personal standards (“I have to excel at everything I do”) and intense self-criticism (“I’m a complete failure if I fall short”). In its unhealthiest forms, perfectionism can lead to eating disorders, depression, high blood pressure and thoughts of suicide.

Stop using those words. Parents might do well to consider a different tack. “It’s so hard right now to feel like anyone is successful enough,” you might say. “We are all feeling the pressure, and I hope you’ll tell me if I can do anything to make things easier.”

Look at the big picture. No matter how much you urge them to relax, and how much you mean it, your child probably grapples with highly stressful environments away from home, whether it’s where they go to school, the teams they play on, or the peers in their social circle. Most teenagers I know long for empathy from their parents about their struggle. Validating how tough it is out there will go a long way.

Make sure your actions match your words. Many teenagers I’ve talked to call their parents’ bluff when told that they just “want you to be happy.” They suspect what their parents secretly want is a high GPA. New research is confirming teens’ claims, finding that, when it comes to parents, there is often a split between what we tell our children — “just do your best!” — and what we may actually believe.

I believe the article I wrote last week about being “good enough” is important. It’s okay not to be the most outstanding, but more important to be balanced in life with love, work, hobbies and enjoying what you do.

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My daughter with some of her spoils from swimming.

 

How do you help your children overcome the tendencies of perfectionism?

Parents shouldn’t dwell on children’s problems

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When kids are little, they have smaller problems.

If you’re a parent like me, we tend to get caught up in our children’s problems–whether it’s a failing grade on a test or hearing that someone talked behind their back. When my kids are unhappy, I’m unhappy and I want to: 1. Find out as much information as I can and 2. Go to war or solve their problem. I’d start off by asking my child a whole bunch of questions so I could sort out what was going on for myself. Then I’d often call someone to vent, like a close friend or family member, to get their opinion and ask for advice. What was the point of all this talk? Was I really helping my child–or not?

In a Wall Street Journal article called “Don’t Overdiscuss Your Teen’s Problems” by Jennifer Breheny Wallace, she says “Well-meaning parents can sometimes dwell too long on a child’s difficulties with friends and school, doing more harm than good.”

 

You can read a few excerpts here:

When the mean girls (or boys) strike at school, many parents naturally want to ask about every last detail—and then they continue to check in to see how the situation is going. A growing body of research suggests, however, that dwelling on such problems can do a child more harm than good.

Talking through a child’s troubles is healthy in moderation. But when children routinely engage in what psychologists call “co-rumination”—excessively rehashing and speculating about problems with a parent or a friend—it can amplify stress, impair judgment and increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression.

Co-rumination involves continuously repeating details or feelings about a situation, or discussing it again even when no new information is being introduced, says Amanda Rose, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, who developed the concept in a 2002 journal article. “Parents who co-ruminate with their children are on the right path in building warmth and closeness in their relationships,” she says. “They just need to learn to stop some conversations sooner.”

Now that I’m no longer on the daily parenting track and am an empty nester, I can look back and realize that I was a co-ruminator and probably should have stopped conversations much sooner. My daughter said I liked to rehash the rehash. I had an overzealous opinion of what was right or wrong and I never could leave a wrong untouched. If I believed a teacher or so-called “friend” hurt my kids, I became the mama grizzly. In reality, kids do behave badly and can say mean things to each other. It doesn’t make it okay, but replaying it with your child is definitely not going to make them feel better.

I am learning to listen and not say too much. The problems my kids encounter today, I do want them to share with me, but I’m not here to solve anything. I can’t wave a magic wand and make it better. They are on their way to becoming independent adults and can figure out what they need to do. When my son calls up and says, “I need your advice on something,” I mostly listen. He wants someone to discuss an issue with and usually comes up with his own solution. He’s asking for a sounding board, not a problem solver.

 

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I miss hanging out every day with my kiddos.

 

What is your opinion about discussing problems with your kids? How do you approach a situation where they’ve been hurt and are unhappy?