How much is too much for young kids?

 

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Ballet recital for my daughter in royal blue before swimming took over their lives.

I read a question from a mom wondering what to do because her eight-year-old doesn’t love swim practice as much as the other activities she’s doing. She wondered if anyone else had experienced this and what she should do. She also mentioned that her daughter is really good at swimming, wins ribbons, and also has tons of other activities.

 

How many activities are too much for a child? From CNN several years ago I read “Overscheduled kids, anxious parents” by Josh Levs:

“Parents need to teach their kids to balance human doing with human being,” said clinical psychologist Paula Bloom.
Kids need to know they’re not defined by what they do, she said. They need time to play, experiment, rest and figure out who they are.
“As parents, we’ve got to get over our anxiety that we’re not doing enough. Creating a sense of safety, helping kids have confidence to try certain things, those are the things that matter.”
As kids get older, they’ll show you more and more what they’re interested in, Bloom notes.
And, yes, we all make mistakes.
“As adults, your kids are going to tell their therapists, ‘Oh my parents never let me play piano,’ or some other activity. It’s going to happen. Being able to tolerate that is really important.”

When my kids were little, I kept them really busy. We didn’t have a neighborhood where they could go out the door and play. We had to schedule playdates. Then we got into signing them up with their friends for countless activities like tennis, golf, ballet and swimming lessons. One mom would say she heard about an activity and wanted to sign her child up if mine did, too. Pretty soon, my kids didn’t have a night after school without a scheduled activity.

When I was a kid, I’d go home after school and after 30 minutes to an hour of homework, I didn’t have too much to do. I think a lot of downtime allowed me to be creative, reflective and of course, hit that list of chores that Mom always left us to do.

What did we do without structured activities? Sometimes, my brother and I would fight. But mostly we made forts in the woods, whacked out trails with machetes through blackberry brambles, and rode bikes around a three-mile loop. We were pretty active and unsupervised with our imaginations running wild.

Advice for the mom of the eight-year-old? I think eight years old is pretty young to be committed to one sport—especially if she’s not wildly passionate about it and wants to do something else. Let her experience a variety of activities. Maybe swim seasonally or take a break and go back to it. We can’t want it more than our kids.

There’s plenty of time at eight-years-old for a child to be a child. There’s plenty of time for a year-round commitment in the years ahead. And maybe it won’t be in swimming.

Here’s a list from Kidspot from Bron Maxabella from an article called “How many extra-curricular activities should kids do?”

Signs the kids have too much on:

However, there are signs that are madly flashing to say we’ve overstretched ourselves. They may even be saying that we’re heading for a giant crash. Here are some of them:

  • The kids have started digging in about not going to the classes I want them to go to (still happy to go to their choices though!).
  • Each week feels like I’m on the rat wheel, driving from one place to another and arranging one child to go in that direction and another to go over there. The logistics are making my head spin.
  • The kids are doing a lot of things, but not many of them at their full potential.
  • There is only one school night a week (Friday) when no one has anything on.
  • There is hardly any time to just hang out together or have a mate over after school – this is probably the worst thing of all.
  • We don’t have enough time in the week to get homework done satisfactorily.
  • The kids are getting emotional and naughty because they’re tired, so everyone is crying and yelling far more than they should be.
  • It is getting harder and harder for the kids to unwind at night and even harder for them to get up in the morning.

Basically, by mid-term everyone is exhausted and by end-of-term we’re in a bit of a mess! The kids are tired, I’m tired, the whole routine is tired. We need a proper time out!

 

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My kids did have time to play super heroes.

How many days a week should kids have activities and how do you determine what is too much?

 

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How not to raise quitters

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Piano duet at a yearly recital.

In an article called “My mom’s one sports rule? No quitting,” by Samantha K. Smith on espnW.com, I remembered the t-shirts one of my all-time favorite swim dads came up with for the Piranha Swim Team, “Winners never quit, Quitters never win.” We wore those shirts with pride for years.

From the article:

 

“When it came to giving her children unsolicited sports advice, our mother got a lot of flack from her five kids who knew her experience was limited. The one and only story she told of her high school cheerleading days was about how the front of her skirt was longer than the back because the girl who’d previously worn it was pregnant. So we often went to Dad for help with our free throw or pitching form; we went to Mom for rides to practice, trips to the mall for new sneakers, and to locate the water bottle stash. Our mother worked late nights at the YMCA for our discounted memberships and paid our uniform and league fees without question each season. But she had one strict, abiding rule when it came to signing up for a new sport: There was no quitting.

“This was why I had new, never-worn softball gear hanging in my closet for the duration of high school. I’d ordered the uniform but remembered Mom’s tenet: If I was unsure whether I could make the full commitment, I shouldn’t officially sign on to the team.

“Now I walk into the basketball gymnasiums of my childhood and see parents storming off with their children after a bad referee call, or children quitting teams midseason because of playing time. In an age of helicopter parenting and participation trophies, my mother set out to teach us one of her most valuable lessons about commitment. If you make one, you see it through even if, and especially when, it’s not playing out favorably for you.”

I did let my son quit a few sports, but only because we had him overbooked with “if this is Tuesday it must be tennis” running from one end of the valley and back to get from piano lessons to the court. During a stressful rushing afternoon, I hit a curb, got a flat tire and realized that enough was enough. Eventually, we settled on a single sport and music. Our routine and life went swimmingly well from then on.

I interviewed the Anderson family for an article in SwimSwam magazine. The Andersons have three daughters, two are Olympic medalists and the youngest currently swims for a D1 university. The mom also had the same rule as the writer above. She said that each year she’d sign the girls up for swimming with the understanding that they were committing for the year. When the weather was no longer perfect sunny and warm and one of them asked to quit, she’d remind them that they had agreed for the year. When the new season started, it was once again warm and beautiful outside and her daughters would commit again.

There’s something to be said for sticking through it all—so long as the situation isn’t abusive or dangerous. A lot of life lessons can be learned when things aren’t perfect.

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Once we settled on one sport, things began to go swimmingly.

What is your rule for your kids and activities? Do you make them stick with it through the season? Did your parents have a “never quit” rule?

How ballet and swimming are eerily the same

 

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My daughter didn’t want to be a ballerina. She wanted to swim!

There was a period of time in my life when I danced. I was as passionate about ballet as my daughter is about swimming. Today I had lunch with a fellow Catholic school mom, who not only was a mentor to me with two older children in our school, but she was one of my ballet instructors, too. I haven’t talked to her for what seems forever–except for a chance meeting at the grocery store.

Her life forever changed when my husband was urging me to put away my computer and go to work with him. I confessed to my mentor/ballet teacher that I wanted to write, not work as a stockbroker. We were sitting across the long tables in the school gym at some parent meeting.

“I’ll do it!” she said. I looked at her in disbelief. She was a former Broadway dancer, a soloist in the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular and a former ballerina. Why would she want to enter into the financial world? But she did it. She went to work in my husband’s office and I went on with writing.

But what a mistake I made. I lost my ballet class. A special time in my life when my kids were both in elementary school, I spent several days a week in the dance studio with Elyssa, my teacher. There weren’t many of us, but it was a wonderful group. I told her today that it reminds me of my Masters swim group.

Here are a few things that ballet and swimming have in common:

• While you’re working out you do keep an eye out to see what everyone else is doing.

• We have great conversations with our instructor and each other (yes, we do in Masters, too, with a firm reminder by our coach to “keep moving” if the chat lasts too long while we linger at the wall.)

• We became a close-knit group in ballet class and were supportive of one another—just like my Masters group. We had a bonding moment at the start of class while we laid on the floor stretching. That’s when we could talk and share what was going on in our lives.

• Like Masters, we had a warm-up, went through some drills (combinations at the barres) and then the main set in the pool, or in ballet class when put the barres away and move to the center.

• In ballet, we ended with jumps, just like we end with a short kick set in the pool. Then the reverence to end the class reminds me of the warm down laps before I push myself out of the pool.

• Both swimming and ballet are very physically demanding and challenging. They both require a lot of inside the brain time, too—and they offer a release and an escape from all the other stuff going on in one’s life.

Interesting that I’ve realized I’m dancing in the pool. I haven’t changed that much after all, except I’ve found swimming is better for my knees.12745503_10209017757384931_7005852646538628157_n

What type of exercise do you find the most rewarding and how does it make a difference in your life?

5 Things That Affect Academics

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My daughter swimming with club teammates during break at the home pool.

I received a letter from my daughter’s University — The Center for Student Wellness — with interesting information for parents of children of all ages.

They said in the letter that they’ve found on their campus five main issues that affect academics:

  1. Stress
  2. Anxiety
  3. Work
  4. Sleep
  5. Cold/flu/sore throat

imgresThe letter went on to explain that while sleep is fourth on the list, sleep affects everything else on the list. I’m not quite sure how they distinguish “stress” from “anxiety”  because they seem to go hand in hand. However, they state that lack of sleep can be mistaken for stress–which in turn can lead to anxiety. That can make your student more susceptible to getting sick–which also will affect academics. They suggest seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Then your child will be in a better mood. Plus, they will score higher on tests and keep a higher GPA!

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As the parent of swimmers, my kids were good sleepers. My daughter still swims and she has no problem falling asleep. Ever. 

My tip for getting enough sleep is simple: Swim! It even works for me. I feel so much better after a good night’s sleep and I’m likely to get more work done and have a positive attitude.

Here are the tips from the University of Utah on getting a good night’s sleep:

  1. Go to bed around the same time every night, and wake up around the same time each morning.
  2. Have a quiet, dark space to sleep in that is not too hot or cold.
  3. Be sure to remove distractions like televisions, iPods, computers, and tablets from bedrooms. Beds shouldn’t be used for activities like reading, watching movies, or listening to music.
  4. Begin powering down lights and electronics about an hour before bed.
  5. Avoid large meals, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol right before bed.
  6. Limit naps to 20-30 minutes a day.
  7. Engage in regular physical activity.

BINGO! There is it. Number seven. If you have a child in athletics — particularly swimming — your child will sleep. Maybe that’s why they say that swimmers have the highest GPAs of all sports? Even though they get up at the crack of dawn for practice–they’ve had a full night’s sleep.

My kids during break.

My kids during break.

 

How does sleep or lack of sleep affect your day?

One Tip for Parents: Don’t Speak

 

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My daughter swimming on her own during vacation.

I read a great article, “The first rule of sports (and all) parenting: Don’t speak,” in the Washington Post by Nancy Star:

 

Your child doesn’t have to play in the Super Bowl for you to know the feeling. Their team was supposed to win and then they didn’t. What do you do? Being the mother of two girls who played soccer and ran track, I thought I knew the answer: Talk it through. Tell them you love them. Say it’s just a game. Remind them there’s always a next time. Isn’t that what good parenting is all about? Keeping channels of communication open even in tough moments?

Turns out the answer is no. I learned this when I had a “don’t speak” moment.

I understand this all too well. After my kids would have a disappointing swim, I’d try to reassure them. I wanted to take away their hurt and make them feel better. Most often after I’d say, “That wasn’t so bad,” or “You have another swim ahead,” I’d be met with negativity and a statement like “I sucked!”

I’d get a barrage of negativity that would take me by surprise. I never figured out that I wasn’t making it better for my kids, but was making them feel worse. They weren’t ready to talk about a bad swim with me and “hash and rehash,” as my daughter would say. I read in a David Benzel sports parenting book, “From Chump to Champ,” that we should wait for our kids to talk to us. We need to be there and listen. But, if we start the conversation first, even with the best intentions, they’ll probably pull away and stay quiet. They want to please us so much and may take any little thing we say personally, as though they’ve let us down. It’s best to be quiet and listen. They may surprise us and open up more than ever if we let them take the lead.

Here’s more from the Washington Post article with the mom watching her daughter’s varsity soccer team lose their final meet. She received advice from a dad, Peter, who had more experience with soccer parenting and she followed it.

“Their lead slipped to a tie toward the end of the second half. In the last minute of play there was a stumble, scrambling and a goal for the other team.

Parents supplied transportation for home games, so we waited while our daughters gave sullen high-fives to the winners and then huddled with their coach, listening as he shared his disappointment. When he was done they separated and, backpacks slung over shoulders, trudged across the field toward where we stood.

Watching their grim faces approach I wished a meteorologist were present to confirm my suspicion that 22 high school girls who’ve just lost a chance at a state title can change the atmosphere, collectively sucking the light out of the sky. Their fury was frightening.

But Peter had been through this before. “Don’t speak,” he said. As I started to turn my head he added, “Don’t look. Just walk. Go to your car. She’ll find you.”

I tried not to move my lips as I objected. “All I want to say is I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” he advised. “Don’t speak. Not until she talks to you.”

Because he had been through this before, I listened and walked to my car alone. I felt her before I saw her, walking silently beside me. Reassuring phrases immediately formed in my brain but, channeling Peter, I said nothing.

A moment later I noticed her teammates walking with their parents, mothers mostly, who offered words of consolation. “Are you okay?” and “You played well,” and “There’s always next time.” To me the words sounded gentle and kind.

The girls did not agree. “No,” they snapped, and “I sucked,” and “There won’t be a next time.”

By the time we reached the car, every daughter except mine was crying and the moms were, understandably, annoyed and lashing back. “Why are you yelling at me?” and “Being upset is no excuse for being rude.”

We were silent on the ride home, silent as I turned on to our street. It was when I pulled into the driveway that my daughter finally spoke. “That was such a bad game.”

I nodded.”

How do you handle your children’s athletic or academic disappointment?

 

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Cheering on a teammate at the PAC 12 Champs.

 

 

Perfect Fall Day: Go Apple Picking

 

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photo courtesy of Snow-Line Facebook page

 

When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband drove me 40 miles from home to Oak Glen to get out of the heat that lingers through September and October in the desert. I loved it. We stopped at the first orchard along the road, Riley’s Farm.

I was thrilled because not only was the weather perfect with a cool breeze, but it was a real live farm! You’d have to grow up in rural Washington like me to understand how I reveled in u-pick fresh raspberries and wandering through an apple orchard. It was amazing and I instantly fell in love with the place.

Years later, with young kids in tow I made the trek to Oak Glen with another mom and her two daughters. Our kids ran free through the orchard enjoying the experience as much as I did. We made it an annual event up until sometime during their high school years. We went with other families, too, and it was a great Sunday afternoon family-thing to do.

I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter had a day off from college swim practice on a Saturday and was able to sneak home for a quick trip. She said what she wanted to do most of all was to go apple picking. We figured out it’s been six or seven years since we’ve last been there. Since our Riley Farm days, we have a new favorite orchard, Snow-Line, for their freshly made mini doughnuts and apple samples. Then there’s Los Rios Rancho with the mile high French crumble pie. We planned on stopping at both.

Although we had a nice trip to Oak Glen, something had changed drastically that could have ruined it for us. Mobs and mobs of people. I’m talking about no less than 100,000 kind of crowds. The road was filled with cars parking on both sides for a mile before and after Riley’s. I watched in amazement while moms and dads manipulated strollers and tired kids through messes of cars to get to the farm. We passed on Riley’s and the next stop was to be Los Rios for the pie. The massive parking lot was full and the line out of the bakery went on and on around the building to who knows where. I was going to run in and grab a pie while my husband circled the parking lot, but that was a joke.

Our last hope was Snow-Line, which was as crowded as I’d ever seen it. In fact, I’ve never in the last 25 years seen it crowded before. It’s down a windy, tree-lined road a little off the beaten path. We were lucky to find a parking spot and my daughter got in a line that wrapped around the building for doughnuts, while my husband and I explored the store and sampled apples and infused oils. I was especially impressed with a cat sitting by the register, being very cat-like oblivious to the elbow-to-elbow crowd passing by.

Life doesn’t stay the same and I have no idea why it got so crowded at the apple orchards. I remember seeing a huge article in the LA Times a few years ago, so maybe that was it. At least we went, bought a bag of apples and doughnuts and drank apple raspberry cider along with our bbq trip tip lunch. All in all, it was still worth it.

 

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photo courtesy of Snow-Line Facebook page

 

From the Sno-Line Orchard website:

Snow-Line Orchard is a family-owned apple farm, winery & cidery in Oak Glen, CA and the surrounding area. We provide a variety of fun & exciting activities, including wine tasting, raspberry picking and more. We provide friendly service from a family business, a beautiful picnic area with the oldest Italian chestnut tree and mini apple cider donuts that are a huge hit.

Our original packing shed, historic cider mill, ancient chestnut tree, and beautiful picnic grounds make the perfect backdrop for your next family outing. It is always cooler in Oak Glen so come enjoy some fall weather with our mini cider donuts and Augies coffee or escape the summer heat to our picnic area while enjoying a glass of our very own hard cider or wine. We carry a broad selection of products; fresh apples and cider, u-pick raspberries, cider mini donuts, artisan balsamics and oils, local honey, unique gifts, and farm made wine and hard cider.

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At Riley’s Farm, we used to go on field trips with our kids in first through fourth grade. I loved those days and I believe all the kids and chaperone parents did too. This is what I found on Riley’s website:

Nestled in the apple growing foothills of historic Oak Glen, Riley’s Farm is a working apple orchard and living history farm featuring pick-your-own fruit, living history education, dinner theatre, group banquet facilities and extended, historically-themed overnight stays.

If you’re a teacher or a youth group leader, we have educational day trips of all sorts to meet your needs:

Revolutionary War Adventure

The Civil War Adventure

Gold Rush Adventure

Old Joe Homestead Tour

Colonial Farm Life Adventure

Overnight Revolutionary War Adventure

 

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Lots of people wanting those freshly made mini cider doughnuts at Snow-Creek.

 

3 Things I Noticed About An Empty Nest

I wrote this after my youngest left the nest in 2014. It’s 2017 and the nest is still empty, but we get visits now and then. We’ve planned trips to see both kids this fall and I’m looking forward to the moments we get to spend together. All in all, the empty nest is not that bad! Here’s what I noticed the first few months with no kids to take care of:
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Towels

Let’s start with towels. First off, we own too many of them. I gathered our towels into one room and separated the wheat from the chaff. I asked my son Robert if he needed any. I recall sending him off to college four years ago with a small set of matched towels. He’s survived with those two towels all this time? Plus, a beach towel of course — since he goes to UC Santa Barbara.

One of the most beautiful campuses ever. UCSB

One of the most beautiful campuses ever. UCSB

Eighteen towels and two dozen or so hand towels and washcloths sit on his bed, awaiting his return Thanksgiving weekend. These 18 towels didn’t make the cut to remain members of our family — unless they commit to being shredded into rags.

images-3The next thing I noticed about my towels is that I’m no longer washing them every time I turn around. Raising two swimmers as well as overly hygienically-conscious kids, I believe they went through four or five towels daily — each — which never got a second use. I no longer have to hear the thump, thump, thump of my washing machine doing a jig with the over-packed, heavy towel load.

images-5Groceries

Have I mentioned that I raised two swimmers? We joined the Piranha Swim Team around 1999. I honestly believe that having my kids involved in swimming was the single best thing we ever did as parents. Sure, the kids worked hard. Yes, it was a time commitment. But, I will repeat, it was the single best thing we ever did. You can find a lot of my articles about the benefits here and here and here. Read what my friend has to say about swimming here.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

So, what does this fact have to do with groceries? Well, it means I bought a lot of them. All the time. Robert drank a half gallon of milk a day and a box of Cinnamon Life every two days. Kat could eat whatever she wanted and she liked my sole, chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, and brown medley rice. At least I think she did because I was always cooking and buying more groceries.

Life-Cinnamon-Detail.sflbToday, my refrigerator is bare and I rarely cook. There’s no reason to buy more than three items at a time at the grocery store. When I enter the store, I don’t need a cart. I use the little hand-held basket.

images-4Dishes

 I cannot seem to get a load of dishes to wash for the life of me. My sink is empty. My dishwasher sits bare and lonely.

I guess that’s what they make Thanksgiving weekend for.

This is a photo of Kat. She didn't want to be a ballerina. She wanted to swim!

Why Kat joined the swim team. “I don’t want to be a ballerina!”