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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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?

 

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?